Training Your Stomach to Run

Most triathletes spend countless hours doing specific training sessions with the goal of increasing strength, building lean muscle mass as well as muscular endurance. Quite simply, the reason why we train is all based on these aforementioned physiological principles so that we can deliver our best performance on race day. While we focus on training key muscle groups, many athletes neglect one of the biggest muscles that we should be training, our stomach. Now, this doesn’t mean training our abdominal muscles (which are important for core stability), but more so, increasing our tolerance of the nutritional demands of race day during specific training sessions. Research indicates that athletes who do not practise their nutritional strategy in training may be twice as likely to develop stomach issues during a race compared to those who practise this in training.

For the vast majority of triathletes who have experienced stomach issues during races, I am sure you will be getting flashbacks to a race (or races) where your stomach refused to cooperate and even resulted in an unscheduled bathroom break mid-race. This should not be the norm as there are simple and effective methods that you can use to reduce the chances of an upset stomach on race day. As a triathlete, you can and should be training your stomach for racing, just like you would any other muscle group.

The reason why many athletes have problems during racing compared to training is that they expect their bodies to be able to absorb and tolerate the larger nutritional intake during race day, without having trained with this same intake. If you think about it in terms of the swim, bike and run distances of an Ironman 70.3 race, you would never race an event like this if you had never done each of these distances in training, during your preparation. So, why would you ever race an Ironman 70.3 having never practised and trained with the nutrition needed for an endurance event of this length?

This sounds so simple in theory, however, how many times in training do you honestly practice, learn and refine this essential component of endurance racing?
Being that everyone is different in weight, sweat rate, as well as their nutritional tolerances and absorption, there is no one-size-fits-all strategy to race day nutrition. This is why it is so important to practice using different products and amounts in training to see how these variables can be tailored to your individual needs. I know that some athletes will prefer more solid food, such as energy bars, whereas others prefer a strictly liquid intake, like energy gels.

Once you have mastered your nutrition plan in training, it is important to be able to transfer this to the race course. The ideal situation is that you can carry all of your nutrition with you while racing. However, this is not always possible, and for many races, you will need to rely on the aid stations for additional hydration and calories. In the weeks and months before the event make sure that you research what the event organisers will be providing on the race course, and how often you will have an opportunity to get what you need while racing. This research will allow you to possibly try these products in your training, to see how they work for you and if you need to carry more of your preferred nutrition products during the race.

When it comes to triathlon, nutrition plays such a huge role in our race day performance, so it is of the utmost importance that we spend time training this skill just like we would for swimming, riding and running. The more time you spend refining and training your body for the nutrition demands of racing, the more likely you are to avoid an upset stomach on race day.

Below is a session that I regularly do to train my body for the nutrition demands of an Ironman 70.3, which can be used to show you how I train my stomach for the demands of race day.

Key Ironman 70.3 – Nutrition Training Session

4am Wake Up: Race breakfast – 2 cups quick oats with water, 1 double espresso, 1x MUSASHI BULK protein shake.
5:45am: 1 gel and 200mls water.
6am Start Ride Session: 3hours including finishing with a 40-1hr15min race pace, time trial effort. Practice consuming 8 x energy gels, 1-litre water and 750mls of sports drink/electrolyte tabs.
9am Run Off Bike (R.O.B) Session: 20min at Ironman 70.3 race pace. Then 5 x 1km holding race pace with 1minute rest between each. Practice consuming 2x energy gels, water and flat cola as per race day (every 5-10min).


Sam Betten

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