Wednesday, April 8, 2015
How to Combat GI Distress in Endurance Athletes
When I was in high school, I often suffered "GI (gastrointestinal) consequences" after hard workouts or races. However, I just assumed that was part of running hard and there was nothing I could do about it. I wish I had known back then what I know now: GI distress is not something you have to grin and bear; GI distress can be avoided and prevented. Whether it is diarrhea, stomach cramping or nausea, these symptoms can be controlled with proper sports nutrition techniques.
Poor hydration is the most common cause of GI issues both during and after activity. This is because during activity, the body shunts water to the muscles to fuel exercise, leaving the gut with whatever is leftover. In times of dehydration, what fluid is left is often minimal. Athletes should take in about 2 cups of fluid 2 hours before a workout and 1 cup of fluid 1 hour before a workout. Once the workout has started, drink 8-12 ounces of fluid per hour of workout. This is obviously a huge range that can be perfected with practice and assessment. Not even close to where you should be? Start with small increases of perhaps only 25% more fluid per hour than you are drinking now. Training the gut to absorb more water is possible. Also realize that electrolyte supplementation may be necessary to help the body hold on to water and stay better hydrated overall.
2. Decrease or avoid fiber
In the 2 or so hours before a workout, decreasing or completely avoiding fiber may be a good way to solve GI problems. This is because fiber isn't actually digested by the body, but instead passes through the gut, requiring lots of fluid to help it along. Without enough fluid, problems arise. When planning your pre-workout snack, instead of whole wheat toast, try white toast. Perhaps switch to a peeled apple instead of fresh berries. Maybe oatmeal isn't the best option for you. As odd as recommending white products sounds, fiber isn't always an athlete's friend pre-race or pre-workout.
If you follow the above and still have problems, perhaps you need to give your gut more time to adjust. Back off a bit on the volume of food or fluid and see if you feel a bit better. Then, increase more slowly to your goal volume. If you are trying a new product, give it a few workouts before assessing how well you tolerate it. Try different flavors or different brands of the same class of fueling products. Everyone's gut is a bit different, so these simple swaps can mean big gains.