Keep it in your pants - fueling to avoid nausea while training for endurance sports
Every endurance athlete, both social or professional in standings, has one too many horror stories about a training session and / or (much worse), a race day taking a turn towards the grim due to an uneasy stomach and its related symptoms. Nausea presents in endurance athletes in many ways - most common out there on the road. Either barfy, queasy, dizzy and the worst, and very common, ummm, well, the poops. When you think about it, these aren’t ailments, they are warning signs and signals to your body to stop what you’re doing when you’re out on the road. But on race day, and even in training, you simply can’t “just stop”. So instead of trying to cure them once they’ve started, how do you prevent them in the first place?
What’s that warning sign trying to tell you, what is the root cause that you need to fix to get through those long kilometers? It’s that common combo of nutrition and hydration. I’m by no stretch a coach, a dietitian, or even a very well performing social racer; but I have enough kilometers under my belt at this point to have traveled just over half way around the world on foot in under 5 years. I have completed two full marathons, 10+ half marathons, a really horrible off-road mountain marathon thingy, a couple of olympic distance triathlons, and some legit long distant swimming races. So while I may not be formally educated in the ways of fueling, I’m street smart when it comes to shitting your pants on the side of the road due to incorrect nutrition for the course at hand.
The commonly accepted science behind that gut-churning feeling you get from endurance output is pretty simple when it comes to nutrition and hydration. You’re nauseous out on the course because your electrolytes are out of whack; your hydration may be on point but isn’t replenishing you properly, and your fuel days before was not adequate. Straight up, you’re doing all the right tactics, but you’re doing them wrong. Eating the incorrect types of foods, at the incorrect times. Drinking too much water. Not drinking enough water. Ignoring your electrolytes. Forgetting about salt. Focusing on pasta (!?!?!), ignoring your proteins. This list goes on in any basic combination… you get the idea.
Below, please have a look at my sage advice for how to develop out the fueling, training and race day eats that will get you to the finish line, upright and smiling - instead of hiding in a porta-potty! Yikes. Again, I’m not a pro, not a guru, definitely not a doctor. I’m not a trainer, I’m not a dietitian, I’m not even a very nice person. I’m just a broad that has run, biked and swam thousands of kilometers, and I’ve done it oh-so right, and oh-so wrong.
- A typical race training program is between 12 - 16 weeks long. Experiment for the first 10 weeks! Then, take your learnings, and lock them in. Apply these learnings for the final few weeks religiously, no cheating at all. If you feel good in training, you should feel great on race day. Write down what you’ve tested out each week, in pretty serious detail. Mix and match your plan through trial and error until you feel great. After each training session, just mark down a quick rating on how you felt. I use smiley faces or frowny faces, it’s pretty cheesy, but a quick visual of how that fuel “attempt” turned out. An easy app like Run Keeper tracks your kilometers, allows for detailed notes, and provides you with a one-touch rating system for visual reference.
Understand hydration. Here’s a really simple hydration calculator to help you plan optimal intake during exercise. In my very personal experience, when it comes to endurance training, nausea takes over often due to the fact that you’re only rehydrating with water alone. This was the biggest light-bulb moment I’ve had in 5 years of long-distance racing. When you sweat, you are sweating out more than just water. When you hydrate, you’re only drinking water. A nurse, and long-distance athlete, advised me to add about ¼ cup of pure fruit juice and a pinch of salt to my water pack. This changed my world. Salt and potassium are the keys to running and feeling great on the course. Experiment with the amounts, and the timing of taking in these extras during your training sessions. It can be tough to pack enough liquids on training days to meet your hydration needs. I’ve been known to drive the course before training and stash a few bottles in the bushes, plan routes that go by public water fountains, and beg and plead with friends and family to run support for me and meet me at the halfway mark to swap out my bottles (and hit me up with sunscreen and snacks too). On race day, water stations are a given. If this is your plan, be sure to research what type of liquids will be served, and make sure to use them in training to avoid surprises. Also, if it’s Gatorade on the course, train with it but cut it by at least half with water to avoid that notorious blue gut rot.
- Eat during your training, and do it before you’re hungry. I didn’t buy into this for a long time - eating on the course is inconvenient, and I hate those gel packs. An impossible texture to choke back on the road, and a sticky mess left behind. Wasn’t going to be told otherwise! Then I got serious about my training, and took on one-too-many long runs without food. There was barf, there was shaking, there was me, in tears, on all fours on the side of the road. It was time to fuel DURING training, and during race day. After a whole lot of (ugly) trial and error, I came up with a super simple fuel that works for me. What do I eat on the course? I make a really easy run cookie that goes in my pack. It’s includes 4 essential ingredients: bananas (that key element of potassium, that’s a major part of electrolytic balance), oats (carbs, giving you a continued burn through training), peanut butter (protein and fats, just a touch of each for long term energy) and salt (the other half of the electrolyte equation). I time my intake on these cookies to get me through 4-5 hour long training sessions, multiple times per week. They keep the barfs at bay, and the bowels in tact. These are the money-makers. Everyone has their power food that they swear by. I’ve seen everything on the course from a full out peanut butter and jelly sandwich, to a bag of popcorn in hand. Try anything and everything you deem “testable” and track what gets you to the finish line feeling tip-top and guts in place.
- A final note on fueling and hydration: These activities matter long before the morning of the training session or race. You need to ramp up your plan for at least 3 days before a big session. What does that mean for me?
- 4L of water per day for 3 days leading up to a big session or race
- No booze, not even a glass (sorry, it matters)
- Balanced carbs, fats and proteins, in the same order, every day, in a nice clean format. Keep it simple and easy to digest.
- Mind your coffee. 3 days leading up to a session or race, stick to 2 cups max, 2 hours before you train.
- The night before, eat a clean and balanced meal by 7pm - don’t hammer back the pasta. Have some oats or whole grains before bed in a small serving. Load up on water. Sleep tight.
- The morning of your long session or race day, eat and drink and finish your coffee 2 hours before you hit the start line.
- Most importantly: NEVER DITCH YOUR FUELING PLAN IN THE HEAT OF THE MOMENT. Arrogance will not get you there faster.
Remember, this is only advice. Mix and match my thoughts and suggestions. Prove them right, prove them wrong - write down your action plan and avoid crapping your pants at the finish line in front of your friends and family. Talk to your coaches, your cohorts and experienced athletes that have done it many times in the past. If you want to try full recipes and instructions for my race cookies, check out this link for clean eating fuel to take you to the finish line. Happy run/bike/swim. Upright and grins at that final kilometer; boozy drinks and junky eats to celebrate, but not until after you’ve crossed the line.
Authored by Becky Parisotto | Becky is a client of Next Level Performance, a so-so endurance athlete, and a decent cook, blogger and head chef at www.whitewop.com
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