How to Prevent Stomach Problems in Triathlon Training

There are a lot of triathletes who suffer from gastrointestinal symptoms that are often associated with racing. These include gastroesophageal reflux, heartburn, delayed gastric emptying, diarrhea, and intestinal bloating and flatulence.

Although they do not represent a danger to health, these symptoms often affects performance, and are more pronounced during long races and to those who become dehydrated.

Gastroesophageal reflux: The esophagus is a muscular tube with a sphincter at the lower end. Normally, the muscles in the wall of the esophagus contracts when you swallow food, so that it moves down toward the stomach. The sphincter on the other hand, prevents the contents of your stomach from coming back up.

When exercising, both of these processes can be temporarily impaired because of the increase in intra-abdominal pressure that results in the reflux of acidic contents in your stomach, towards the esophagus.

There are actually a few effective remedies for this problem, although one important strategy is by avoiding food, or things that have the capability of relaxing the lower esophageal sphincter. These include caffeine, smoking and alcohol.

Taking chewable antacids or other over the counter antacid may provide you some relief. For most part, exercise induced GER causes only mild, self limited symptoms and as of now, is not known to cause any long term problems.

Delayed gastric emptying: The majority of triathletes know the importance of taking sufficient amounts of liquid, electrolytes and energy sources during prolonged periods of exercising. Unfortunately, not everything ingested passes out of the stomach quickly, which is an issue that is more pronounced when exerting more.

This often results in a feeling of always being full, and bloating can lead to nausea and vomiting. More importantly, dehydration will happen when less fluid is delivered to the intestines. When athletes become dehydrated, they experience a decrease in gastric emptying that will only hasten dehydration.

DGE can have a significant negative impact on an athlete’s performance. Unfortunately, there is no known way to completely prevent this, nor is there known treatment for it. However, the best preventive measure that you can do is to ingest a balance of high and low energy fluids so that the concentration of sugars is balanced and prevented from getting too high.

Once DGE becomes apparent, the only available remedy is by decreasing the effort of exertion to a level that is below 70 percent of aerobic capacity and by avoiding high-carb sports drinks and instead, opt for plain water. In doing so, you are restoring a normal rate of gastric emptying. Once the symptoms have subsided, athletes can now raise their level of exertion and pay more attention to their fluid intake.

Intestinal bloating and flatulence: There are actually two reasons why this happens: swallowing air and taking in a high concentration of simple sugars. Air ingestion occurs most of the time while swimming. Once it reaches the stomach, the air can pass into the intestine. Having a significant quantity of air in the bowels will cause uncomfortable cramping and bloating. The best thing to do to avoid such things from happening is by encouraging belching, to expel any air that you ingested while swimming.

Your stomach is not capable of completely absorbing simple sugars in high concentration. This is another reason for uncomfortable cramping and bloating. The best thing that you can do to avoid this problem is by minimizing the concentration, and amount, of simple sugars that you ingest.

Diarrhoea: Another common problem that endurance athletes encounter is diarrhea. This can be attributed to fluid shifts and decreased absorption.

Drinking too many fluids with high concentrations of simple sugars can cause the fluid to be drawn from the bloodstream, towards the intestines. This will speed up the intestinal transit, that could possible result in severe diarrhoea, and lead to dehydration. Once again, the best way to prevent such case from happening is to ingest lower volumes of fluids that contain simple sugars, and increase water intake.

Good luck!

Terry

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