If you are anything like me, one of the first things you do before a race is check out where the porta-potties are along the course…just…you know…in case.
Or if you are like my friend, you gobble down a preventive Imodium…because….you know…anything can happen in a race.
More often than not, I would not deal with bad issues, but still from time to time my stomach would let me know it was there and that it had a strong say in the matter.
It would shut me down or worse: things would go out the wrong way. Not cool.
Through trial and error though, I’ve learned I can manage things much better mostly by learning what works and doesn’t work for me.
But what made matters worse? I was trying to follow popular advice and opinion.
That’s right! It turns out some of the things we’re told to eat before, during, and after by our coaches, running magazines, and training partners aren’t so good for us after all! And may even impair your performance when you end up not feeling good. That is wrong!
So here are my three favorite tweaks to your diet before, during and after races for a happy stomach and a porta-potty free performance. Imodium might not be happy about it, but we know you’ll be!
Before the race
Instead of a big bowl of oatmeal 3 hours before a race sip on a smoothie about 90 minutes before the race.
Why would you want to lose precious sleep and get up 3-4 hours before the start of a race to ingest an enormous amount of oatmeal? I remember doing that before my first marathon, I was not even hungry but I was told I needed to eat a enormous amount of carbohydrates 3-4 hours before a race.
The thing is….this is not entirely true, if you have done things correctly and eaten a balanced diet in the days before and rested a bit, your glycogen tank or also known as your carbohydrate reserve should already be full. If you are getting up early anyway because you need to travel, have a light snack such as a banana or a sports bar. Now to top off your tank before the start, sip on your own smoothie made with the following ingredients, mix and match as you like. The smoothie will keep you hydrated and empty from your stomach pretty rapidly for zero stomach upset. Start sipping on it 90 to 75 minutes before your race.
Mix and match smoothie:
1 cup almond milk
1/2 cup frozen fruit you like (blueberries, mangoes, banana)
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt or a third of a scoop protein powder
1 tablespoon chia seeds or even a nut butter of your choice.
With 30-40g carbohydrate and 10g protein, you are good to go.
During the Race:
Ditch the sugar packets of death (ahem I mean gels) and try nibbling on real food!
Gels quickly fix your blood sugar levels during a race, but at a price. What’s that exactly? Well now that you’re on em. YOU are on them for the rest of the race and are subject to their every whim and fancy. You are on the sugar roller coaster.
What do i mean?
You feel good for 15 minutes, but then you feel like crap. Your mood and energy levels plummet just as fast as they went up. You might even feel a little light headed.
Then as sugar levels go down, you reach for the next gel which now results in a gel overdose. You know, the feeling in your stomach that there is way too much stickiness and sweetness in there. Now all you want to do is vomit, not run fast.
Unless you’re a particular type of endurance masochist, a good alternative would be to nibble on real food every 15 to 30 minutes instead of a gel. It could be a sports bar, your own homemade nibbles (like my Trail Sushi!), or a food pouch such as those from Clif Bar or Munkpack.
Make sure that you don’t ingest more than 10g of carbohydrate at a time to keep your blood sugar under control. Look at the label to give yourself an idea of how much you should eat at a time. If that seems too complicated, you can also use a slow release starch as those mentioned above and sip on a dose every 60 to 90 minutes. But remember: for races shorter than 75 minutes you won’t need to take anything in reality. .
After the Race:
Instead of fast-food burgers try fast-food burgers.
No this is not a typo! Recently there was a study that looked at the effect of fast food on recovery. The reality is that if you analyze a fast food burger on a macro-nutrient level ( ie carbohydrates, protein, fats), it has the recommended levels of carbohydrates and protein to help you recover. At the micro-nutrient level (vitamins, antioxidants, minerals) a fast-food burger might not be the best option and I would not advise doing this everyday, but if you are traveling and that is what is available, go for it!
So In-n-Out Burger here I come. Personally, I still ask for the burger wrapped in lettuce (trying to avoid the gluten you know) but I enjoy the fries!
One last note, it is never recommended to try something new during a race so practice during training and see how your stomach feels with these recommendations, everyone is different.
For more great nutrition tips and awesome “behind the scenes” science on what really works for endurance athletes just like you, check out my blog at inprove.me!
Isabelle Nadeau, PhD
Follow me on Twitter @inproveme