Essential Sports Nutrition


How to avoid GI issues on race day

Photo by Deuce Bradshaw.

Unwanted in training and competition, GI issues frequently impair performance and recovery. The three main causes of GI symptoms include physiological (reduced blood flow to the gut), mechanical (bouncing/jumping) or nutritional (diet/sport nutrition). For example, during exercise, blood flow to the digestive system is impaired so the stomach may reject ingested food or fluids, sending them out of the body - either up or down.

Common upper and lower GI issues include:

Intestinal cramping
Side stitch
Stomach pain/cramps
Loose stools/diarrhea
Intestinal bleeding
Urgency to defecate

Severity differs depending on the athlete and sport.

For example, the high-impact nature of running may jostle the gastric system, contributing to lower GI issues. In cycling, posture on the bike may increase pressure on the abdomen causing upper GI issues. Among swimmers, swallowing air from short and rapid breathing may cause belching.

Additionally, using a straw-based hydration system or gulping fluids (especially carbonated drinks) may cause aerophagia – which is a condition of excessive air swallowing, contributing to GI issues.

To reduce the risk of GI issues during exercise, follow these practical guidelines:

  • ·     If you get gassy with dairy and fructose, consider a lactose or dairy-free alternative and avoid grapes, apples, asparagus, melon and juices when gut flow may be compromised (ex. high-intensity training, competition day).
  •       Reduce/avoid high-fiber food such as cruciferous veggies and high-fiber cereals/grains and replace with potatoes and plain breads in the 4-24 hours before intense or long duration activity.
  •       Avoid high-fructose foods such as soda, candy and juice, as well as carbonated drinks around workouts/competition.
  •       Stay well-hydrated before, during and after exercise. Dehydration can exacerbate GI symptoms. Drink frequently in smaller amounts on a schedule throughout your race instead of big gulps randomly occurring when you feel overly thirsty to reduce the risk of a sloshy stomach.
  •       Allow 4-6 weeks to train your gut to improve intestinal absorption with ingested foods and fluids. Don't wait until race week to try out your race day nutrition plan. Consider the formulation of your sport nutrition products to ensure optimal digestion and absorption. In other words, don't concentrate your products.
  •      Trial and error to figure out what works/doesn’t work before and during training/competition. Keep your pre race and race day fueling and hydration plan simple so it's easy to execute under pressure/nerves/stress.
  •       NSAIDs and aspirin are associated with an increased risk of GI complications, mucosal bleeding and ulcers. Avoid as much as possible, and avoid before and on competition day.
  •      Stay calm and relaxed. Stress can exacerbate GI issues. 


Don't believe everything that you see on social media

Within the endurance sport world, it's not uncommon to see/hear of athletes manipulating training and the diet in an effort to change body composition, to improve health or to boost performance.

Although endurance sports welcome all body shapes and sizes and training approaches, many athletes accidentally fall into the mindset that to be successful, an extreme style of eating and a rigorous training plan is necessary This begs the question "is training for an athletic event just a socially acceptable way to disguise an obsession with exercise and disordered eating habits?"

Even if you are not obsessed with training miles, body image or the marginal gain approach, it's still rather easy to become extreme with your choices when training for an endurance event - especially if you are following the journey of another athlete. There are many athletes who have been forced away from the sport due to injury or health issue (mental or physical), only to spend years trying to put together all of the broken pieces that occurred from a body that was damaged by extreme choices - such as restrictive eating and overtraining.

Endurance sports often attract a specific personality type - driven, hard-working, competitive, perfectionist, type-A, etc. It's not uncommon for individuals with underlying eating, body image and obsessive-compulsive behaviors to enter the world of endurance sports - only to realize that these issues are exacerbated when training gets more serious. Behind the hidden lens of social media, it's difficult to know if a driven, dedicated and hard-working individual - who is sharing his/her tips, giving advice or sharing his/her personal journey - could be a person who has a very unhealthy relationship with food, exercise and the body.

With so much misinformation circulating over the web, via word of mouth, on YouTube and on social media, often given by inexperienced, unskilled and qualified "experts," I caution you to not believe everything that you see, read or hear. Athletes and experts are not always transparent and this can have a detrimental effect on you, the "follower" or "client." Social media provides a very skewed reality.

And this isn't limited to athletes. Coaches are also to blame. Inadvertently, a coach may reference weight as a limiter to performance, suggesting that a way to improve health, performance or body composition is to weigh daily, cut out certain food groups and avoid carbohydrates at certain times of the day. The coach may then blame athletes for lack of progress or compliance if results are not achieved. Instead of flexibility and freedom, your life becomes an obsession of food, numbers, results and data.


Conquer your inner critic

Have you ever noticed that you are constantly talking to yourself? While you may not always be aware of what's going on in your mind, there's often a conversation or two going on in your head.  Don't worry - you are not alone in this. We all have an inner voice.

Interestingly, most people are incredibly hard on themselves and have a really harsh inner critic. For athletes, saying things like "You are too fat" or "You are so slow" or "You are not ready" or  "You should just give up" or "You will never be successful" are not productive thoughts - especially if you are approaching a workout or race.

You may not realize how much your inner critic is telling you that you are never good enough. These destructive thoughts may be difficult to identify, especially when you are stressed, nervous, overwhelmed or anxious.

One of the biggest mistakes of the inner critic is acting on your thoughts. If you hear that you are "too fat" you may suddenly feel the need to diet or overexercise. If you hear that you are "not ready" for your upcoming race, you may suddenly feel the need to validate your fitness/race readiness by trying to prove to yourself that you can do the distance or specific efforts/paces. Or you may even give up before you have a chance to try, all because you've convinced yourself that you are not good enough.

It can be difficult to live a fulfilling life with so many private conversations going on in your head. Because these thoughts can greatly influence how you feel, act and behave, overtime these self-destructive thoughts can affect your self-worth, self-confidence and may negatively impact your overall health, relationships and quality of life.

It's time to stop being a victim to your own verbal abuse. Become aware of these thoughts, ask yourself if you'd say the same things to a dear friend or close family member and then examine the evidence to determine if these thoughts are accurate. Even if you do feel that your thoughts are true, it's ok to be a work in progress. No one is ever 100% ready or perfect. 

When your inner voice is being overly critical, acknowledge that your thoughts are probably an exaggeration and are not speaking the truth. For every insult that you hear in your head, challenge that thought with a more compassionate response. This may be difficult if you are not use to recognizing your strengths and capabilities but it's important to learn how to speak to yourself in a more kinder and respectful way. 


Wetsuit Testing

As a lifelong swimmer, wearing a wetsuit is not something that I need when it comes to open water swimming. I actually would much rather swim without one. However, if a triathlon is wetsuit legal, I'll be sure to wear one as it does keep me warm in cold water and it gives me a little lift to make swimming faster a bit easier. Because I've spent over two decades mastering my body position, alignment and tautness in the pool, the wetsuit doesn't give me a huge advantage when I swim in the open water. Whereas for Karel - who just learned to swim in the summer of 2012 - the wetsuit gives him everything he needs to "speed up" his swim times. For me, I don't get the same significant advantage.

For the past five plus years, we had a great relationship with Xterra wetsuits. The Vengeance was our wetsuit of choice and it worked really well for us. My fastest wetsuit legal open water time in an Ironman was 57.04 - set in Ironman Austria in 2016. Karel also had several great Ironman and 70.3 times with his Vengeance wetsuit.

After partnering with ROKA this year, we purchased our new wetsuits and wondered - will this wetsuit be as fast and comfortable as our Xterra wetsuit??

After St. George 70.3, Karel was wondering if his new Roka Maverick X wetsuit was really as fast as his previous Xterra Vengeance wetsuit as he wasn't so thrilled with his swim time. So, we decided to put them to the test with a wetsuit pool test, prescribed by Gerry Rodrigues. 

Gerry R. with Tower 26 posted a podcast (and video) on how to test wetsuits. He stressed the importance of testing a variety of wetsuits, instead of just purchasing a wetsuit based only on price, popularity or hype. We have had a few of our athletes use this test to try out different wetsuits and not surprisingly, even though we have partnered with ROKA, some athletes found that other brands worked better for them. 

After an exhausting week of training as we gear up for Ironman 70.3 Chattanooga on Sunday, we decided to do our wetsuit test on Sunday afternoon in place of our normal Sunday PM swim.

After warming up for around a 1000, we did the test which was:
5 x 100's at race pace w/ 10 sec rest (per wetsuit)

We used our smartphone stopwatch to record the times to be as exact as possible. Karel went first with his ROKA suit and then I went second in my Xterra wetsuit. We swam a 100 yards right before the test just to adjust the wetsuit and to get a good feel of it in the water. After we both completed the first round, we put on the other suit. Whoever was on deck recorded the times with paper/pen and gave the 10 sec countdown so that this was a blind test (not knowing what times you did until it was complete).

Along with the times, we also recorded our immediate feedback with each wetsuit. With years of experience with our Xterra Vengeance wetsuit, we always found it comfortable to put on. But after comparing it to the ROKA, we noticed how much better our arms felt with the ROKA. We felt like the ROKA was more fitting, allowing for a more natural swimming feel. We both agreed our arms were more tired in the Xterra whereas with the ROKA, it felt much more efficient and smooth. Karel immediately mentioned that his RPE was going up in the Xterra and in the ROKA he never felt tired. Subjective feedback is important when doing a wetsuit test for a wetsuit may be fast but if it exhausts you or feels uncomfortable, it's probably not the right wetsuit for you.

The purpose of this blog is not to say that one wetsuit is better than another. As I mentioned above, we have athletes who don't wear ROKA simply because it doesn't work for them. Try out a variety of brands well in advance of your upcoming race so that you can feel confidence and comfortable when swimming in the open water.

Here are the results of our test:
As a reference, Karel usually swims 1:22-1:25 for 100 yards if doing half IM effort with short rest in the pool. As a comparison, I typically swim 1:14-1:16 for 100 yards if doing half IM effort with short rest in the pool. You can see how much the wetsuit helps both of us, but specifically how much it helps Karel as a non-swimmer. 
Karel ROKA

Marni ROKA

Karel Xterra

Marni Xterra