Found on Ironman.com and written by Ben Greenfield
Keep your stomach cool, calm and collected at your next race with this no-nonsense advice.
If you flip through the pages of most sports nutrition manuals, you’ll read that bloating, indigestion and gas are simply by-products of excessive calorie consumption during exercise. While it’s true that feasting on gels, sports bars and energy drinks during a workout can certainly slow you down and give you mild to severe stomach discomfort, the reasons for gut issues can go way beyond simply “eating too much.”
There are three main reasons that triathletes get digestive frustration in training and racing. Here’s what to look out for and simple steps for getting back on the right track.
1) Lack of digestive enzymes
When you eat a meal, down an energy gel or even take a sip of sport drink, your pancreas and small intestine secrete enzymes to break down the proteins, carbohydrates and fats into useable nutrients. These nutrients then pass from your intestine to your bloodstream.
Sometimes, however, one of three problems shows itself. One, the amount of food you eat exceeds your digestive enzymes’ capacity (this is very typical among high-calorie consuming, active individuals). Two, your pancreas or small intestine have a genetic inability to produce a certain enzyme (such as lactase, which digests lactose sugars in dairy products and is deficient in folks with lactose intolerance). Three, your gut is ravaged from periods of poor eating (college, anyone?) and simply unable to produce adequate enzymes. When this happens, you get gas, distention, flatulence, diarrhea, steatorrhea (or fatty oils in your stool) and unintentional weight loss.
→The fix: Take digestive enzymes. I pop two digestive enzyme capsules called “caprazymes” before my two biggest meals of the day (including before pre-race meals) and I’m good to go.
2) Insufficient stomach flora
Probiotics are the good bacteria in your gut. They line your digestive tract and are responsible for attacking foreign invaders (like food poisoning compounds and toxins) and also for enhancing the efficiency of your digestive system. Prebiotics are fiber-based sugars that provide food and sustenance to the probiotics. A deficiency of either probiotics or prebiotics puts you into a state of insufficient stomach flora and not only seriously compromises your immune system but will give you trouble digesting meals properly as well.
→The fix: 1) consume a wide variety of fermented foods with natural amounts of good bacteria (such as kefir, kombucha, yogurt or pickled foods); 2) consume a full-spectrum probiotic; and 3) consume high amounts of vegetables and fiber to feed the probiotics, or include a greens supplement that has lots of fiber in it (greens capsules or powders are available at most health food stores).
Note: In a very few cases, if you’re combining high amounts of carbohydrate consumption with high amounts of fermented foods—a lesson I learned when I chased complex starches during a 112-mile ride with oodles of kombucha, broccoli, and the like at a recent training camp—then too much stomach flora can also be an issue.
3) Insufficient stomach acid production
Stomach acid plays an important role in the digestion of proteins and absorption of minerals and vitamins, and signals the release of digestive enzymes and bicarbonate from your pancreas, which is crucial for digestion. Insufficient stomach acid can cause absorption of partially digested food molecules, which can lead to food intolerances or alleriges.
→The fix: In addition to taking probiotics and digestive enzymes, try some of the following tips:
-Increase your fiber intake by adding a handful of dried prunes or ground flax or chia seed to your diet.
-Eat sprouted grains, legumes, seeds and nuts, which will improve digestibility.
-Consume two to three tablespoons a day of extra virgin coconut oil. (Good antimicrobial properties.)
-Make some dietary changes by eating more frequent smaller meals instead of fewer large, heavy meals.
-Don’t eat right before bed, but maintain an upright position for about 45 minutes after eating which will allow for easier digestion.