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No more gastrointestinal discomfort in competition: Here's how!

How to avoid gastrointestinal problems

If you’d like to learn more about optimal competition nutrition in detail, then you can have a look at our big MoN knowledge center.

But what if, during the competition, the gastrointestinal tract rebels and the necessary nutrients cannot even be absorbed?

In this blog you will learn how to finally get rid of gastrointestinal discomfort, so you can fully concentrate on the competition!

How does gastrointestinal distress occur in the first place?

What goes on in your stomach is influenced by several factors. In this context, we speak of various extrinsic (external) as well as intrinsic (internal) factors.

Gender, fluid balance, and intestinal flora are intrinsic factors.

Intensity, duration, type of sport, altitude, thermoregulation, timing of competition, and temperature are extrinsic factors.

The more intense a (training) session or competition is, the higher the probability that discomfort may occur. The same applies to the length of the training/competition: the longer the session, the more often gastrointestinal discomfort occurs.

There is evidence that the duration of the exercise session has a greater impact on gastrointestinal problems than the intensity. With increased activity of the autonomic nervous system, gastric motility is inhibited, gastric acid production is increased, and stimulated intestinal activity leads to an increased urge to defecate or even causes diarrhea.

In addition to the mental tension, the intensity and duration of the stress creates an additional demand for blood circulation for the muscles as well as the skin.

A blood flow change takes place. Blood flow to the digestive organs is reduced, which may result in functional disorders or inflammation of the mucous membranes of the gastrointestinal tract.

Options to reduce gastrointestinal problems

Refrain from anti-inflammatory drugs

So-called “non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs” represent a group of medications that help with pain, inflammation and fever. These include substances such as acetylsalicylic acid, diclofenac, ibuprofen and paracetamol.

To avoid an increased risk of stomach problems during exercise, try not to take any of these substances before the session. The substances mentioned have effects on gastric juice. In addition, bicarbonate is released in the duodenum, resulting in a stomach mucosal lining change of the gastrointestinal tract. Thus, strain-induced bowel injury and permeability is further exacerbated by the medications.

Try a low-FODMAP diet

FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols, which are short-chain carbohydrates (sugars) that are poorly absorbed by the small intestine. Adhering to the low-FODMAP diet 1 to 3 days before a strenuous session can prevent poor carbohydrate absorption in the gastrointestinal tract and bypasses exercise-induced gastrointestinal symptoms. The following foods are low in FODMAP and therefore recommended:

Fruit: lemon, orange, tangerine, kiwi, passion fruit, honeydew melon, ½ banana, berries

Vegetables: lettuce, zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, beets, carrots, radishes, pak choi, ginger, fennel, spinach, pumpkin, potato, sprouts, olives, broccoli

Cereals: gluten-free products, millet, oat bran, corn, quinoa, amaranth, psyllium husks

Dairy products: lactose-free milk & yogurt, hard cheese, butter

Meat and fish: any lean meat, seafood, all types of fish.

An example meal before the competition could be:

Cooked rice or rice flakes + water + oat milk + blueberries + maple syrup + flax oil

Please note that the FODMAP diet should not represent a long-term dietary pattern, but should only be used selectively!

Avoid large amounts of fiber, fats and proteins before competition

Dietary fiber is important for a healthy diet. However, they also mean work for your stomach. Whole grains, fruits and vegetables (except bananas and peeled potatoes), beans, legumes, nuts and high-fat milk should be avoided immediately before a competition.

The same is true for fats and proteins. Because both are difficult to digest. So if you eat a lot of fats and/or proteins before exercise, it can cause gastrointestinal problems and negatively affect your performance.

Empty the bowel before the competition

Sounds banal, but should not remain unmentioned here: Try to go to the toilet before the competition. A coffee in the morning or a good breakfast in general can be helpful.

The same applies here as with “train the gut”: you know yourself best, but you should already test what works in advance. Not just on the day of the competition!

Start with a balanced fluid intake

The required amount of fluids is very individual and depends on several factors (e.g. sweat loss). In principle, regular drinking is important in competition and the fluid intake can individually range between 300-1000 ml per hour.

Try to continuously take in small amounts and not drink too much at once. Especially at the beginning of the race you should pay attention to a sufficient fluid intake, because at this point the gastrointestinal discomfort is not yet so strong.

Also prevent “hyponatremia.” Hyponatremia is an electrolyte imbalance, where sodium levels are too low. Here, in case of great sweat loss, the HEAT products with more salt (SLOW and POWER CARB HEAT) can help you in particular. If you have the option, choose cold drinks on hot race days as they improve bowel circulation.

Make sure your carbohydrate intake is appropriate

Balanced carbohydrate intake during competition has been shown to reduce gastrointestinal distress.

Due to the sensitivity of our gastrointestinal tract under stress, it is especially important here to feed the body well – and not to provoke further stress by a deficiency supply.

Because we know that stomach problems are a big issue with (top) athletes, we make sure that our sports nutrition from MoN Sports is well tolerated. Our top athletes also appreciate this.

We use only natural ingredients and avoid all artificial flavors, which only unnecessarily burden the stomach. We also avoid lactose, gluten and soy, to which there are often intolerances.

Our POWER CARB is excellent for long competitions. The carbohydrates quickly enter the blood and are thus available to the organism after a short time. In addition, the POWER CARB is super tolerable, so you can consume up to 80g of carbohydrates per hour.

If you can’t carry a water bottle, our GEL 40 is a great alternative.

When and how to best consume our carbohydrate drinks, especially in your sport, is revealed by our Fuel Calculator.

As with hydration, it’s best to consume small, steady amounts of carbohydrates during the race to avoid overloading your stomach.

“Train the gut” for the win

Start already in training to adjust the body to higher amounts of carbohydrates. The gut is just as trainable as your endurance!

However, the following applies here: Do not rush. Slowly increase your carbohydrate intake in training at high intensities, so that in the long term in competition – depending on the requirement – you get to 70-120g carbohydrates per hour.

If you are unsure how many carbohydrates you really need during your workout, we recommend our Carbohydrate Overview.

Step by step to individual nutrition: Keep a food diary

The above methods have been tried and tested. However, there are always other methods circulating that can improve gastrointestinal symptoms.

The following methods are to be questioned critically, as they have not yet proven to show any clear benefits. These include: Strictly gluten-free diet, dietary supplements, and probiotic additives.

A strict renunciation as well as dietary supplements are not absolutely necessary as long as you pay attention to certain points.

In general, a food diary can help you learn from your own experience and work out your individual eating habits step by step.

Try to gradually incorporate the above points into your training and competitions. Write down as precisely as possible when and how much you took and how you felt.

After all, there is no one nutrition plan for all athletes. People are still individuals and what works for one athlete doesn’t automatically work for you.

Louise Burke (2021) Clinical Sports Nutrition.

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Robert Gorgos

Robert Gorgos

Robert is a authority when it comes to sports nutrition science. As a nutritionist, he coaches many well-known top athletes, including the professional cyclists from BORA – hansgrohe. At the same time, he is a competitive athlete himself. And: Robert has developed the sports nutrition of MoN Sports.

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