Has this ever happened to you?
You’re in the middle of your training session, and out of nowhere, you feel the undeniable pain of an upset stomach, or maybe it was combined with nausea and bloating, or maybe you’re just always cautious about where the nearest restroom is while you’re out training.
Many recreational and elite athletes can relate to having experienced gut symptoms during a run, intense training session, or even during competition. So although these symptoms, often termed “Runner’s Gut” are common, it doesn’t mean that you have to put up with them – and this is where nutrition comes into play!
We have collated the key nutrition strategies that you need to know, that can be implemented to your pre-training and intra-training nutrition, to help reduce the severity or manage these uncomfortable gastrointestinal symptoms, so that you can get the most out of every training session without letting your gut get you down.
1. Train your gut & don’t try anything new on the day
Our body is highly adaptable, not we can see this with exercise, but it also applies to our gut. It’s important to train your gut for eating during exercise, especially if they are longer than 1.5 to 2 hours of moderate to high-intensity exercise (such as long-distance running, triathlons, cross-fit tournaments, tennis matches, soccer tournaments, marathons, cross-country skiing, cycling). This is because we only have a set amount of stored energy that is set to last approximately 1.5-2 hours of moderate to high-intensity exercise. Additionally, trialling foods during training sessions is the best way to train your gut up for a bigger event, and remember to stick to what you know and usually do, rather than trialling a new food or drink on the day of competition, as you simply don’t know how your gut may respond.
2. Taking in the right type of intra-training foods/drinks
During training, picking the right foods/drinks to fuel your session is key. Choosing options that are carbohydrate-rich, and low in fat, protein and fibre will ensure that the food/drink can be easily digested and utilised as fuel during training. The best options include sports gels and energy chews (e.g. Bloks), depending on preferences, as well as a sports drink (aim for one that provides 4-8g of carbohydrates per litre such as Gatorade, Powerade, Maximus and Staminade, rather than drinks that provide greater than 10g or more per litre, such as fruit juice, soft drink and energy drinks. Having more carbohydrates in a drink does not necessarily make it a better choice, as these drinks can cause further risk of gastrointestinal upset, as this amount of carbohydrates increases osmotic pressure in the gut, causing water to be drawn in, leading to potential symptoms such as bloating, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. So, it’s best to stick to options that you have tried before and have an understanding of their nutrition content.
3. The types of foods eaten 30mins-2 hours before competition matter!
Foods that are higher in fibre, protein and contain fats should be included as a part of a regular healthy diet, however, when it comes to competition time, following the usual healthy eating guidelines isn’t necessarily a priority. Instead, consuming foods that are higher in easily digestible carbohydrates (such as white bread or crumpet w/ honey, a small ripe banana, dried fruit, cereal bars) and that are lower in fibre, fat and protein in the 30mins – 1 hour leading up to your competition, will ensure that the food can be digested and absorbed in time. As we know that once exercise begins, blood flow is redirected away from the gut to the muscles as a “fight or flight” response, so it is important to ensure all food is digested prior to competing, in order to prevent negative gastrointestinal side effects.
5. Hydration strategy
In the days leading up to competition and even in the hour beforehand, having a hydration strategy is key. This means ensuring you hit your daily fluid requirements (30-35mL/kg body weight) in the days leading up to the competition and getting in enough fluids (but not too much) in the hours beforehand. Small sips regularly is a good strategy to prepare before your competition starts, and this could include a sports drink, as this will increase your glucose intake pre-competition.
A note on gut-related medical conditions: If you have been diagnosed with a gut-related medical condition such as irritable bowel syndrome, coeliac disease, irritable bowel disease, or disaccharide enzyme deficiency, it may be best to speak with an accredited practicing dietitian to receive tailored advice around your pre-training/intra-training nutrition strategy, to ensure you can perform as best as you can on the day.
A final note…
So, don’t let these gut symptoms get in the way of your fitness and sporting achievements, whatever they may be – take our advice, and learn to train your gut. Best of luck – The ABS Team