Guide Your Gut: Nutritional Training for Race Day

Perfect your running nutrition & race day fuel with these tips
May 2, 2014

Hunting for the nearest bush or concealed alleyway as a matter of sudden and unexpected urgency is a scenario we’d all prefer to avoid when out running, but it’s one which most runners will have experienced at some time or another. Tummy troubles from improper running nutrition affect a high percentage of runners, with symptoms ranging from uncomfortable – feeling bloated, stomach grumblings or cramps, to more extreme conditions like nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, which are not only an unpleasant nuisance but can dehydrate you or put an end to a race before its even begun – not to mention putting you off running fuel on the go.

Dehydration, gastric jostling and a redirection of blood flow from the gut to your active muscles are just some of the possible causes, but running nutrition and training can play a role both as a trigger and a treatment of gastrointestinal issues on race day. Planning the type and timing of the last meal before you run, as well as your race-day running fuel, can affect your susceptibility to issues, so for those of you who do suffer tummy troubles on the go, here’s a few helpful hints and tips to try:

Meal timing

    • Aim to have your pre-run meal 2-4 hours before your training or race & only have a light snack or nourishing drinks in the hour leading up to your run.
    • If racing or training early in the morning, you could have your large meal the night before and a light snack in the hour before your run.
    • If you want to use energy gels or other race-day running nutrition, test out the flavors/brands while you’re sitting at home or while running errands.
    • If you can’t stomach running fuel on a normal day, it’s going to be even tougher with heightened senses on race day. If you handle it well, try it on a long route you know (and know the bathroom stops) next.

Meal type

        • Ensure your pre-race running food is low in fat and protein
        • Avoid high fiber running food in the day or days before a race



        • Avoid dehydration; aim to start exercise well hydrated (straw colored urine)
        • It's more effective to drink water throughout the day before a long training run or race rather than large volumes on the day
        • Use sports drinks (4-8% carbohydrate) for optimal fluid & carbohydrate absorption

High Sugar

        • Avoid high sugar drinks (>10% carbohydrate) before the race and during competition
        • Avoid high fructose foods & drinks before competition


      • Avoid lactose before competition in favor of alternatives. Even if you don’t normally have an aversion, on race days your body can process nutrients differently, so you want to choose running food that’s lactose free or made with soy or nuts.

For those of you who are distance runners or ultramarathoners, chances of completing a run without symptoms is slim, but with all those hours of pounding out the miles, being able to consume running fuel on the go is essential. The good news is, just as your muscles and aerobic system adapt to training, so can your gut. Regular nutritional training in the form of eating and drinking while running, and using sports drinks with a mix of glucose and fructose, can help train the gut to both tolerate and absorb that all-essential running fuel: carbohydrate.

Ultimately, our preferences and what we can tolerate before or during running are unique to us, and as such you need to be practicing your personal nutrition strategy during training to figure out what works best for you and help train that gut.

Main Photo image of cramping stomach: 9nong; Vegetable basket:


Rin Cobb

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