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How to Avoid Gut Rot

Words from our Co-Founder - Mark Flis
In my fifth season of racing cyclocross, I still had not figured out my fueling strategy.  Post-race my stomach was always uncomfortable and bloated, to the point where traditional post-race recovery beverages were unappetizing. I submitted to the fact that ‘cross gut was inevitable, just part of the process of a one hour intense effort.

Then in 2014 I went on a road trip with Jamey to a cyclocross race outside of Los Angeles.  The fueling strategy I learned from Jamey instantly solved my gut rot issues.  While we’re sharing a story about a cross race, these same principles can be applied to running, other types of cycling; anything in that 30 – 90 minute range of effort. 

Back to LA.  3 ½ hours before the race, Jamey is making oatmeal.  A lot of oatmeal.  Oats, little brown sugar, little salt, berries, a few nuts.  When amassed, the concoction is about the size of three balled up fists.  We then hit the road to go to the venue about 3 hours pre-race.  Jamey is eating this concoction in the car, sneaking in bites when stopped in LA traffic; timing is everything.  And that’s it for food.  I asked, “Do you eat an energy bar an hour before?” Nope.  “Do you slam a gel right before you head to staging?” Nope. 
Here is what I used to do.  2 hours out I would try to eat some oatmeal or a small sandwich. 1 hour out from go time I would sneak in a bar of some type.  10-15 minutes before the race I would slurp down a gel.  The first half of the race usually went fine, then the stomach discomfort would start.  10-15 minutes after the race without the distraction of the effort, I felt awful.

Simple ingredients, amount, and timing make all the difference.
What to eat
The goal is to make sure your energy stores (glycogen) are topped off.  This means shoot for carbohydrates.  Oatmeal is a common one. You can also do pancakes. Rice can be more palatable for afternoon or evening events.  Add some fixings.  Berries, nuts, raisins.  Dollop of peanut butter. Egg or avocado on rice. Whatever suits your tastes.  
How much to eat
Take your hand, make a fist.  Get a sense for the volume of 2-3 fists.  After this amount of food, I am starting to get uncomfortably full.  Sometimes I am actually forcing it down.  This is fine because we are timing this.
When to eat
Try for 3 hours before the event.  3 hours gives the body enough time to fully digest the food, top off those energy stores, and allows you to stop by the port-o-potty before race time.  If you simply cannot eat that much, feel free to vary.  Try a little bit food but 2 ½ hours before race time.
Other Tips
Gels- I eliminated the pre-race gel from my routine. A gel sends a 100 calorie glob right through your stomach into your small intestine.  Water is absorbed into your small intestine to help dilute the glob of gel and then the bloating starts.  Gels are to be consumed with a fairly large volume of water. I never wanted to have 20oz of water sloshing around my stomach before a race so I skipped this and ate a gel with only a few sips of water.
Slightly hungry-  It is ok to feel slightly hungry at the start line.  Your energy stores are topped off.  The food is processed and through the system.  Occasionally, I miss time my pre-race meal or simply cannot force enough down.  If I am 60-90 minutes pre-race and feeling hungry I’ll eat a few bites of a banana or some leftovers from the pre-race meal.
Not just for racing- This fueling strategy can apply to training too.  Doing the local Wednesday worlds group ride at 6pm?  Your co-workers will look at you in disgust as you consume an abnormally large bowl of oatmeal in your cubical at 3pm.  Turkey Trotting at 10am in November?  A big stack of pancakes at 7am sounds good.
Every person is unique. This strategy worked for me.  Jamey has used this method of simple foods and timing for years.  Once I adopted this routine, I have stuck to it the last 4 years because it works for me.  If you find you have the dreaded gut rot after your event, give this a try.

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