Gastrointestinal Discomfort


We spend a lot of time training our bodies in preparation for race day but time needs to be spent on experimenting with a fuel plan to ensure we won’t fall victim to preventable stomach issues. Gastrointestinal discomfort can interfere with performance and the enjoyment of a race.

Running is a high risk sport for gut problems due to “joggling” of the gastrointestinal system and some people are more prone than others.  Females for instance are at higher risk. Other factors include running at high intensities, being unfit for the required exercise, dehydration and the consumption of certain foods before or during running.

Some nutritional advice that may prevent gastrointestinal discomfort while running:

Common culprit foods
Avoid these foods before races which may cause reflux and sometimes diarrhea: Fatty food, spicy food, caffeine, peppermint oil, chocolates and alcohol.

Lactose and Fructose
If you have a malabsorption for these common sugars it will cause diarrhea which is often exacerbated by exercise. Lactose is found in milk products so avoid any milk, ice cream, cheese, yogurt in the hours or day before a big race. Fructose is found in fruit and fruit juices, although also often added to sports drinks and foods. Check labels for added fructose or fruit to avoid these.

Fibre intake in the day and hours before a race
High fibre foods may be a big culprit in causing diarrhea or cramps during running. Avoid high fibre breads, high fibre cereals, nuts, seeds and baked beans in day and hours before the race.

Excessive intake of high fat foods or high protein foods before the start of the race should be avoided. Ensure that the last solid meal is taken at least 3 hours before the start of a race. Liquid meals e.g. Ensure or Nutren Active are great low fibre alternatives to a meal.

You should remain hydrated before and during running. Often complaints about gastrointestinal upsets following the intake of fluids are due to dehydration and a delay in drinking, rather than the fluids itself.

Energy drinks and foods taken during running
Ensure that this carbohydrate drink contains a solution of 4-8% carbohydrate i.e. isotonic or hypotonic. Most sports drinks have this concentration. Cola drinks contain up to 11% carbohydrate and results in slower absorption of fluids, which may result in gastrointestinal discomfort. Some energy foods are high in fibre e.g. cereal bars, breads and fruit and should be avoided during a race.

Remember to always experiment with your fuel plan before an important race. What works for others does not necessarily work for you.