Digestive disorders while cycling
Stomach cramps, diarrhea on exertion, inability to eat during a race, nausea ... a lot of digestive disorders often encountered in cycling or triathlon. What are the explanations? What treatments? Are there secrets to avoiding this digestive disorder?
The origins of digestive disorders: possible explanations
During exercise, the body adjusts circulation to bring oxygen primarily to the muscles. As a result, the entire digestive system is less vascularized, which is quite tolerable for 2 to 3 hours of exertion. Unfortunately, it sometimes becomes a problem that goes beyond that.
Decreased digestion during exercise
The activity of the digestive system is regulated by the work of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). This part of our complex neural network is, by definition, self-organizing. During exercise, the heart rate rises, body temperature increases, but digestion is less active. On the contrary, at rest, heart rate and body temperature decrease, digestion is activated.
Bad diet before the race
Eating a very rich meal right before a race can largely explain the onset of digestive disorders. As we explained earlier, the body needs rest in order to be able to digest it calmly. Therefore it is necessary to respect 3-4 hours between the last meal and the start of physical exertion. This last meal should be light and low in fat!
Poor nutrition while running
An excess of fast sugars (gels, energy pastes, sugary drinks, etc.) can also explain the appearance of digestive disorders. However, they are necessary to regularly recharge the batteries during exercise, but they are also relatively difficult to digest. Don't overdo it!
state of tension
Pre-workout stress partially explains these digestive discomforts. why ? Because stress activates the sympathetic nervous system, which limits the physiological process of digestion. Some athletes describe a "knotted" feeling in the stomach before an important competition. The last meal is poorly absorbed by the body, which can lead to diarrhea, bloating, stomach pain and a feeling of "ball" in the stomach ...
The position of the cyclist on his bike
The position of the cyclist is atypical. Indeed, double bending for long hours does not facilitate digestion because the entire digestive system is compressed, especially the stomach. It can be fun to play with repositioning and directed ventilation for relief. We return to this below.
How do we avoid the emergence of these disorders? Solutions to digestive disorders from effort?
What meal before exercise?
Here is an example of an ideal meal before prolonged exercise: rice (slow sugars), turkey breast or other white meat (protein, low-fat), compote (fast sugars in liquid form). Above all, avoid excessive intake of saturated fats, fiber (fruits, vegetables and dried fruits are difficult to digest), dairy products (cheese, yogurt, etc.) and acidic and carbonated drinks (orange juice, soda, etc.).
Should you drink a lot?
We have long been repeating that we should drink a lot. That's how many athletes (especially cyclists: a water bottle handy!), end up with hyponatremia. Hyponatremia corresponds to an excess of water in the extracellular medium, which directly leads to an excess of water inside the cells of the body. Nausea,
vomiting, and a dislike of drinks are clinical signs of hyponatremia. You have to drink if you are thirsty, contrary to what we have been hearing for several decades. Excess water can be harmful! Adapt your water intake to the intensity of the effort and the climatic conditions. You won't drink as much in the winter as in the heat for the same effort!
Before and during exercise, avoid foods that are difficult to digest! Energy drinks (RedBull and others), dairy products, fatty foods, spicy foods, vegetables and legumes (lentils, white beans, etc.), and carbonated drinks should be avoided.
Swallow liquid, not solid!
Eating liquids is easier for the body to absorb than solid food. Prefer liquid and try to chew well before swallowing. This will make your belly work easier!
Guided ventilation and gastric infusion
In cycling, it can be interesting to straighten up regularly (every 10 minutes) and breathe freely. On each inspiration, let the abdomen bluntly inflate and then deflate as you exhale. Breathe calmly and more slowly. Hold this for 30 seconds, while decreasing the pedal rate slightly. This allows pumping of the stomach located below the diaphragm.
Preparing for a long effort
The best advice to give may seem obvious: gradually accustom your body to prolonged exertion. By training regularly in this way, you will accustom your digestive system to this particular type of restriction. It is not uncommon to see athletes who are surprised to be victims of digestive disorders when they never train long distances! The body is clearly not ready to undergo such effort.
Test yourself in training!
Another key tip: Test several types of foods and products as you train. Find an eating routine that is unique to you. You will notice in the races that everyone has their own little habits before, during and after the race. Don't change everything at the last minute!