Going Long: A Different Perspective to Fuelling

Celtman: The Best Tri in the UK 2012
Have you any signs telling you to go slow?

Did you know that gastro-intestinal complaints affect 93% of those competing in Iron distance events, forcing 7% of competitors to abandon? So, the chances are that if your targeted event is over this distance, you are going to suffer one or more of the symptoms shown below.

Upper Abdominal Symptoms

Lower Abdominal Symptoms


Intestinal/lower abdominal cramps


Side ache/stitch



Stomach pain/cramps

Urge to defecate




Intestinal bleeding

The effects of these complaints can be disastrous for your performance as well as being pretty unpleasant. One suggested mechanism for GI symptoms is that there is a lack of oxygen in the lower GI tract, resulting in an inability to process enough fuel at the required rate. Sometimes it’s simply impossible to take a sip of a sports drink or get a gel down without feeling nauseous. But failing to do so may mean that you’ll soon be doing the Ironman waddle or running towards the nearest bush.

The good news is that there are quite a few things you can do to avoid these symptoms, as reported by Erick Prado de Oliveira and Asker Jeukendrup in their recently published article. You can download the full article by clicking on the link here gut-health.pdf.

In this blog, I’ve summarised their recommendations and given a few top tips of my own.

Top Tips

  • Training the Gut: Regularly practice nutritional strategies in training. This is likely to improve the ability to process carbohydrates closer to the rate that is required for long-distance events. This means fueling in training as you intend to do in racing. This doesn’t mean practicing it once or twice but having a specific focus in your training programme. For the gut to adapt to processing high amounts of carbohydrate may take many months to occur but short-term fixes are better than nothing.
  • Avoid milk products: The guidelines are not fully clear in the article, but using soy or rice based milks which don’t include lactose in the lead up to and during the event seems sensible.
  • Minimise high-fibre foods on the day or even days before competition: Fibre keeps us regular and accelerate fluid loss. This isn’t desirable on race day so minimising fibre in the lead up to the race may help.
Nigel Mitchell

Nigel Mitchell, the Team nutritionist of Great Britain cycling Team and Team Sky, is responsible for my messy kitchen. I love the vegetable smoothies he recommends to get loads of nutrients in whilst minimising fibre intake. A video on how to make them is on YouTube and I’ve provided my own recipe. It makes me feel great.

Kirkland’s Recipe

3 beetroots

1 cucumber

3 carrots

Big squeeze of honey

Chunk of ginger

Various bits of fruit

No banana (it clogs the juicer)

Soy milk to top up

  • Avoid aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs: They can have really dodgy consequences.
  • Avoid high-fructose foods: in particular drinks that only have fructose.
  • Avoid dehydration: There’s now some evidence to demonstrate that in some instances, the effects of dehydration may not be as bad as previously reported. However, in longer events it’s really important to get enough fluid in to maintain GI health.
  • What works psychologically?: This isn’t in the article, but eating food you like, rather than using sports specific products can be of benefit. I remember a spectator handing me a jaffa cake as I hit the 10km to go mark in my first Ironman…. it is still my most memorable meal!



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