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Nutrition
PLAYBOOK FOR AVOIDING GI DISTRESS
By Bob Seebohar


The most common gastrointestinal (GI) distress issues include cramping, bloating, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. There are a host of causes and just as many signs and symptoms. If you have ever had GI distress before, it seems like there is no method to its madness. At times it may be easy to identify the culprit but the majority of the time, it appears that the GI distress happens when least expected, mostly during the run portion of a triathlon.


Being proactive about your approach to your run training and competitions is the first step in controlling the risk of GI distress. Following a metabolically efficient eating plan with the focus of controlling blood sugar by combining food sources of protein, fat and fiber at almost every feeding is the first step in allowing healthy gut functioning as well as teaching your body to use more fat as energy at higher intensities of exercise.


Now, to the other big players in GI distress that are more specific to the logistics of what you are doing (or shouldn’t be doing) during the race. The following points are considered to be the more common causes of GI distress for triathletes.


 


NO. 1: BLOOD SHUNTING
During exercise, oxygen rich blood is diverted to the working muscles to support locomotion and thus blood is shunted away from the gut. When you are running off the bike and try to consume too many calories, blood is needed to aid in the digestion process so the body becomes confused regarding where the blood needs to be distributed. The only efficient way blood can be redirected to the gut to aid in digestion is if you slow down or stop. Since that is not always a viable option during a race, it is better to feed fewer simple sugars (you develop this ability through you daily metabolically efficient nutrition plan). Metabolically efficient athletes usually only need to consume between 10-30 grams of carbohydrate per hour thus reducing this digestive confusion.


 


NO. 2: THE BIKE BUFFET
I have seen far too many athletes treat the bike as an opportunity to consume as many calories as possible, especially during long-course racing. Unfortunately, the calories that you burn cannot match the calories that you eat due to different metabolic rates and digestion complications. Thus, it is more realistic to utilize my rule of consuming 10-30 percent of the calories that you burn per hour.


For example, if you burn 600 calories per hour on the bike, this would mean you would eat roughly 60-180 calories per hour to allow for successful digestion and the prevention of GI distress. A more accurate competition day nutrition plan including hourly calorie needs (eliminating any guessing) can be measured by through a simple metabolic efficiency test.


 


NO. 3: FLUID OVERLOAD
Similar to the previous point, just because you may lose a liter of fluid per hour through sweat (the average range is 0.5-1 liter per hour), doesn’t mean you should drink that much. While athletes differ in their ability to process fluids and environmental conditions differ, I usually recommend drinking between 12-24 ounces of fluid per hour. Over-drinking can predispose athletes to hyponatremia and can also cause bloating.


The important take-home message is that being proactive and controlling both your daily and competition nutrition plans will help to minimize GI distress. If you experience GI distress, it would be beneficial to keep a GI distress log to track the trends of what type of symptoms are present so you can develop a plan to eliminate them. Remember that it takes between 24-72 hours for the body to fully digest food so pay particular attention to what you eat the 1-3 days before a race.


Bob Seebohar, MS, RD, CSSD, CSCS is a sport dietitian and elite triathlon coach. For more information and to order Bob’s books, visit www.fuel4mance.com or contact coachbob@fuel4mance.com


30 USA TRIATHLON SUMMER 2013

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