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Digestive problems in sports

Päivämäärä 12/02/2020

Digestive problems in sports

Päivämäärä 12/02/2020

We begin the trail season with energy, a desire to improve further but without forgetting that we are at the start of the 2020 season and the body is still not used to the training exertions that await it.


Because of this, we should have a lot more care when choosing your food before and during competitions as, during this time, we push our bodies to the limit and it will be much more sensitive to foods that it doesn’t tolerate well or that we have tried before. 

Intestinal problems due to sports are mainly suffered by swimmers and runners, affecting up to 80% of participants (and up to 90% in extreme sports). These are identified as:

- Upper digestive tract: burping, acidity, reflux, nausea, stomach pain, stomach saturation, vomiting…

- Lower digestive tract: flatulence, intestinal cramps, hyper and hypoperistalsis, diarrhoea, intestinal bleeding, intestinal pain…

Due to the low gastro-intestinal impact of the sport, cyclists are the least affected group.

Women are much more likely to suffer from these.


 How do we aggravate these, and how can we recover from them?

1. A sluggish digestion due to training: when in training, blood from the digestive system gets transported to the muscular system, which makes digestion more difficult.

2. Continuous impacts on our organs and our physical system: Runners, particularly long-distance runners, suffer from micro-lesions in the intestinal wall due to the impact caused by this sport.

Normally these don’t cause any health problems for sportspeople, but they can be very uncomfortable and can directly affect performance. 

Sometimes, these effects can increase (particularly the micro-lesions and gastric or intestinal bleeding) when we train or compete in hot environments and/or when we are not well hydrated.


Advice for avoiding the occurrence of these discomforts:

1. Avoid foods that are rich in fats and fibre on the days before and during the competition.

 2. Avoid anti-inflammatory medications like Ibuprofen and aspirin.

3. Avoid commercial fruit juices that are rich in fructose (the majority of them).

4. Start the training or the competition well hydrated and continue to hydrate during the whole trial.

5. Keep in mind that the carbohydrate content of drinks before and during the trial should at most around 60g/hour. If a gel, gum, bar-type supplement is taken as well as the drink, the total carbs for these, as well as the drinks, should not be more than 60g/hour.

6. Choose easily digestible foods.

7. Choose simple cooking methods that won’t slow down the digestion (grilled, boiled, steamed, baked, microwaved, papillote…).

8. Calculate the amount of energy that you are going to consume during the training or competition in order to provide enough nutrients, thereby avoiding hypoglycaemia, dehydration and reactive hypoglycaemia.

9. Know how to choose the type of carbohydrate according to what you want to achieve: instant energy of low duration, slow energy release for a longer lasting effect, …