Gastrointestinal Problems in Athletes

In this article, we'll explain how to design a menu that you can follow prior to competitions. This will help you to avoid gastrointestinal problems during the event.
Gastrointestinal Problems in Athletes

Last update: 19 May, 2020

One of the athlete’s biggest fears is suffering from gastrointestinal problems during or just before a competition. This can be either diarrhea, indigestion, gas, or stomach pain. The causes can vary from too much fiber to eating out-of-date food.

So, in this article, we’ve put together a series of strategies to avoid all of these problems that could affect your performance at the worst time. Check them out below!

Don’t change your meals before the competition

One of the golden rules when setting a pre-competition menu is not to make too many changes. If you know something works and you feel good, eat it. But in general, it’s a good idea to choose low-fat, clean, and easily digestible foods.

Whatever you eat, make sure you get enough carbohydrates for the event and add a quality protein source to prevent muscle catabolism.

So, for example, a great meal before a competition is the classic grilled chicken and rice. It’s not a good idea to add sauces, juices, or processed foods to your pre-competition meals.

It’s also important to make sure that the food you use is in good condition and cooked properly. Not cooking meats or other foods enough could cause you some serious problems later on.

A woman enjoying some delicious healthy food.

Beware of certain foods

There is a group of foods that ferment in the intestines and cause gas. These foods typically include things such as legumes and foods that are rich in fiber.

Therefore, before a competition, it’s a good idea to choose refined rice or cereals instead of their wholegrain varieties. This will speed up the absorption of nutrients and decrease the risk of gas, diarrhea, or abdominal pain that could jeopardize your performance.

Another thing to avoid is spicy foods, which could upset your stomach.

Gastrointestinal problems: water temperature

One aspect to consider when it comes to hydration is the temperature of the water that you drink. Drinking water that is cold can help to empty your gastrointestinal system faster than drinking warm or hot water.

This is why it’s a good idea to drink cold drinks, both before and during the competition. This will reduce the chances of bloated feelings or an upset stomach and ensure that you’re well-hydrated for the event.

Don’t forget that a loss of one percent of total body water reduces performance by around 12 percent, so it’s essential to maintain and stay hydrated [1] [2].

Preventing diarrhea

There are a number of ways of preventing excessive bowel movements or diarrhea, which can be very uncomfortable before a competition.

First, we recommend reducing your fiber intake in the days prior to the event. Choose foods rich in carbohydrates but foods that are slightly refined to decrease the intake of insoluble fiber.

A woman suffering from gastrointestinal problems.

On the other hand, you should be careful with fruits and vegetables, which are a source of soluble fiber that can increase the fecal bolus. The day before a competition, you should choose protein and carbohydrate-rich foods and avoid overly fatty foods and not overdo the vegetables. Make sure you also drink a lot of water.

Gastrointestinal problems in athletes: conclusion

Most gastrointestinal problems in athletes are caused by poor nutrition. Eating microbiologically risky foods or foods that contain a lot of fiber can cause lead to stomach and intestinal problems before a competition.

Therefore, it’s important to know your body and to know what foods are good for it. Then, it’s important to choose low-fat meals in the run-up to a competition and not vary your meals too much. If something works, it’s best to stick to it.

Finally, hydration plays a key role in performance. As we mentioned, it’s a good idea to choose slightly cold drinks because they help to speed up gastric emptying and decrease the risk of discomfort and pain.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

    1. Nuccio RP., Barnes KA., Carter JM., Baker LB., Fluid balance in team sport athletes and the effect of hypohydration on cognitive, technical, and physical performance. Sports Med, 2017. 47 (10): 1951-1982.
    2. Lee EC., Fragala MS., Kavouras SA., Queen RM., Pryor JL., Casa DJ., Biomarkers in sports and exercise: tracking health, performance, and recovery in athletes. J Strenght Con Res, 2017. 31 (10): 2920-2937.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.