GI Distress — The Not So Sexy Part of Long Distance Racing & Training (Part 2)

How to Limit Nausea, Vomiting and Diarrhea Mid-Race – Pre-Race Strategies

Yesterday we talked about all the many causes of GI distress. Today, we discuss pre-race strategies to limit your risk of race day distress.

Now, for all of those causes of GI distress we discussed yesterday, you may think that if you cut back on your fluid or food intake that you’ll be better off to finish your training runs or race with less risk. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. You may stave off the GI distress, but you will almost be guaranteed of hitting the dreaded “bonk” at some point in your run. For events longer than one hour, carbs are key for fuel and performance for your body. Too little fluid and too little carbs in your system and your muscles and brain will start to shut down and not function as well. Ever get a case of “brain fog” or feeling disoriented on a long run? That was likely the result of too little glucose or sugar in your system. Your brain requires sugar to function, as do your muscles. Your body also has to maintain its water content. So don’t neglect hydration or sugars to fuel yourself thinking you’ll avoid GI distress. You’ll avoid one problem, but create another in the process.

So, with ALL the many causes of GI distress, you may still be thinking that you’ll likely “just have to deal with it.” But thankfully, that’s not necessarily the case! With some planning, experimenting in training, and knowing the triggers, you can do multiple things to avoid the dreaded GI issues.

How to Minimize GI Distress

Pre-Race Tips

  • Increased fitness has been shown to result in decreased blood shunting away from the GI tract. Better blood flow means better digestion and less GI distress! So get out there and train!
  • Training Log – as you log your training miles, keep track of your mileage, pace, weather, symptoms, and what you eat and drink to identify trends. You may notice some foods/drinks are fine at cooler temps, but your tolerance to them goes down as it gets warmer outside. Same thing applies for distance and pace. Keeping track of it will make it easier to identify what the culprit may be and help you know when you can take in certain things based on various conditions.
  • Practice with different fluids and foods in training – you’ve all heard the phrase “nothing new on race day!” Find out what will be on course and train with it to see if your body can tolerate it. If you need on course nutrition as a Plan B, you don’t want to be surprised to discover your body doesn’t like whatever is there.
  • Be prepared for it to suck as you experiment! As with anything trial and error, there will be errors as you find the things that your body doesn’t like in training. That means you’ll have the GI distress in training, but know that means you can increase your likelihood of race day success by avoiding those errors come race day!
  • Illness – If you’ve been on antibiotics, taking probiotics can help reset your GI tract by returning the normal balance of good bacteria to your gut. This will improve your system’s overall tolerance to food and drink.
  • Hydrate – Start hydrating well a few days before race day! Starting the race in a fluid deficit will set you up for a challenging race.

So there you have pre-race day strategies to work on to help limit GI issues for you come race day. Just like with your aerobic and strength training, your body can learn to adapt to new things, but it takes time. So try different foods and drinks as you train to see what you like, what your system can tolerate, and get it used to what you’ll use on race day!

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s conclusion on limiting GI distress with race day tips and strategies!

Dr. Jeanne Williams, PT, DPT, OCS
We help endurance athletes (from beginners to pros) train and cross the finish line faster and injury-free!


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