Race Nutrition – 5 reasons it keeps me up at night

Jillian Mooney
August 2, 2018

Sleepless nights are all part of endurance racing.

It’s a bit much though when I start losing sleep with just over 3 weeks to the Race Around Ireland start line.

I’m in the detailed race nutrition planning phase and I’m acutely aware of the many ways my best laid out plan can go awry. Why – because, regardless of nutrition strategy, the health and function of the endurance racer’s gut during a race is often the difference between a great performance and a DNF.

Why do I worry so much? Here’s 5 good reasons:

1. Think about your gut as a 9 meter (25-30ft) food processing plant packed tightly into an abdominal cavity. And it’s not a straight forward food processing plant, it’s convoluted, it twists and turns in crazy ways. In those 9 meters your gut has to break-down, process, absorb and transport fuel around the body. That’s a big job at the best of times but when you go endurance racing…..

2. …..you essentially fold that convoluted 9 meter food processing plant in half and suspend it between a saddle and a set of handlebars. And we’re talking folding it in half for days and nights with very little upright relief. That kind of impedes the advancement of food and all the processes that have to occur so that food is turned into energy. And then…..

3. …..you restrict blood supply to your 9 meter food processing plant, diverting blood instead to working muscles. Bear in mind that your gut’s essential function depends on a healthy supply of oxygen and nutrients (which you’ve now depleted). After all, it’s a muscle too. And while you’ve folded it in half and restricted blood supply to it….

4. ….you’ve also asked it to process more calories per 24 hours than any other time period. We’re talking 4-5 times the calorie load. Is it any wonder that many a gut rebels, shuts down, stops functioning efficiently, gets bloated, nauseous, etc.?

5. And one last thing – your gut is often called the second brain because it is intimately connected to your nervous system, your autonomic nervous system to be exact. This means it can be significantly impacted by emotional, mental or physical stress (endurance racing anyone?) resulting in nausea, diarrhoea, constipation and gas. Lovely stuff when you’re trying to push on.

If it all goes horribly wrong and your gut stops functioning efficiently, you probably have enough stores to get through maybe a day, depending on your metabolic flexibility or your ability to burn fat. Sooner or later though you’ll come to a slow and disappointing stop. It’s the fastest way, bar an accident, to DNF.

Yep, race nutrition keeps me up at night.

How to keep Joe’s gut functioning for a 2000+KM race, when I know he’s capable of going for 48 hours with minimal stops? When I know he’s going to be pushing on from the start line. When I know the weather may turn cold diverting even more blood supply away. When…when…when….

The race nutrition plan is coming though. I hope my sleep will too…..