This post first appeared on the Run Experience in a slighter shorter, modified version. Have fun trying new things!
If you are like me, one of the first thing I do before a race is check out where the porta potties are along the course. Just in case. Or if you are like my friend, you are packing on the Imodium before also just in case. Most often I do not have to deal with such issues but the idea of eating food as your stomach shuts down. Here are some ideas on how to tweak your diet before, during and after races so to minimize GI issues and be healthier.
Before the Race
Instead of a big bowl of pasta the night before a race try a couple of sweet potatoes.
Carbohydrate loading before races as long been the practice of endurance athlete. For 2-3 days before the race we were told to eat boat loads of pasta, bread and the likes. This practice can bring its own problems such as bloating, water retention and even GI issues during the race. It has been shown that this practice is not necessary. Especially if the week before an event you are taking it easier and eat a healthy diet. The day before an event you can increase your carbohydrate ingestion a tad bit. Some suggestions would be to include the day before a bowl of rice, sweet potatoes or just plain potatoes. If these don’t fancy you try something sweeter like a bowl of ice cream but don’t overdo it.
Instead of a big bowl of oatmeal 3 hours before a race sip on a smoothie 90 minutes before.
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, If you have done things correctly, you glycogen tank should be full from the day before. If you are getting up early anyway because you need to travel, have a light snack, such as a banana or a sport bar. Now to tank up your system before the start, sip on your own smoothie made with the following ingredient, mix and match as you like. The smoothie will keep you hydrated and empty from your stomach pretty rapidly. Start sipping on it 90 to 75 minutes before your race.
Mix and match smoothie:
1/2 cup frozen fruit you like (blueberries, mangoes, banana)
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt or a third of a scoop protein powder
1/4 cup uncooked old-fashioned oats or you can also substitute with a slow release carbohydrate powder such as UCAN or Carbopro
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:
Instead of Gatorade try a drink with electrolytes only.
Gatorade is very popular among athlete and the reason is clear, it has the right amount of electrolytes and carbohydrates to keep you going. Nowadays the recommendation is to drink to thirst during racing or training so that you don’t overdrink as hyponatremia could ensue. The problem with using Gatorade is that anytime you drink you also ingest carbohydrates which could lead to GI issue. A better practice is to separate your electrolyte fluids from your cabohydrate consumption (see next paragraph for recommendations. Use an electrolyte powder in your water such as Nuun or Base Salt or bring electrolyte pills with you if you plan to drink water instead at aid station. (Salt Stick). Salt intake is very individual and for shorter races we probably do not need to take any, however it is not a bad practice to prevent hyponatremia.
Instead of gels try nibbling on real food.
Gels are a quick fix to maintain your blood sugar level during a race. But it can also bring you on the sugar roller coaster. You feel good for 15 minutes than sugar levels go down and you reach for the next gel resulting in gel overdose. You know that feeling in your stomach that too much stickiness is in there. Another alternative would be to nibble on real food every 15 to 30 minutes instead whether it is a sport bar, your own nibble or a food pouch such as these from clif bar or munkpack. Make sure that you don’t ingest more than 10g of carbohydrate at a time to get your blood sugar in control. Look at the label to give you an idea of how much you should eat at a time. If that seems to complicated, you can also use a slow release starch as mentioned above and sip on a dose every 60 to 90 minutes. Again for races shorter than 75 minutes you won’t need to take anything in really.
After the Race:
Instead of chocolate milk try your own recovery drink.
Chocolate milk has a good reputation these days thanks to marketing wizards and studies that the milk industry sponsored that shows that milk is excellent for recovery. And it is, it has a good amount of proteins, carbohydrates, electrolytes and antioxidants from the chocolate. However most of the carbohydrate comes from the sugar added. Try your own recovery drink instead, similar to the pre-race smoothie just add some extra protein by using milk instead of almond milk or add up to 1 cup of greek yogurt or up to one scoop of your favorite protein powder. Drink within 2 hours of completing your event earlier if you are doing back to back hard effort (crazy you).
Instead of a beer try a non-alcoholic beer:
There has been a lot of press about beer as a recovery food. It is definitely not bad at all because it contains carbohydrate, electrolytes and vitamins. However, it is the alcohol that hurts and can blunt adaptation signals in your muscles. Also too much alcohol could act as a diuretic and impairs re-hydration. Try a non-alcoholic beer instead and add a bratwurst with it for some protein. I know it is not the same thing but now you know…
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 macronutrient level (fat, carbs, protein) it is not bad at all. However at the micronutrient (vitamins, mineerals, antioxidants) level it might not be the best and it would not be advised to do this everyday but if you are traveling and that is what is available, go for it!