Stress and Food While Racing

Stress and Food While Racing
By Emily Miazga, M. Sc. Clinical Nutrition
Creator of Em’s Power Cookies and Bars
3x Speight’s Coast to Coast Champion

I believe it’s safe to assume that we all get nervous before a race or competition. The butterflies in the stomach, nervous jitters, and seemingly endless pre-race toilet stops are very common. Being a little nervous is OK but when more serious problems arise such as throwing up and diarrhoea which compromise performance, it is time to address the causes. Spewing is not a pre-requisite for racing, or an indication that you’ve “gone hard enough”; it is totally preventable and unnecessary. Whatever experience you may have with this, you are not alone. I have worked with many athletes who have stomach issues particularly with eating foods whilst training and especially throwing up while racing. The table below gives you a breakdown of some of the problems, and the solutions to fix them:


  • Nervous energy creates a feeling of nausea before an event
Gut function shuts down due to stress hormone response
Work on relaxation exercises, consume foods that are easy to digest on race day and try to nibble on food and sip drinks in smaller doses pre-event
  • Feeling of nausea and loss of energy during an event, but not necessarily throwing up
Over-consuming food and drink faster than what the stomach can absorb, often exacerbated by nervous energy
Don’t exceed 1g carb/kg body weight/hr racing. If you experience this, relax and back off on intake, but maintain small sips of drink or gels or bites of food every 20-30 mins until nausea has subsided. Don’t panic (this is what happened to me in 2006 C2C which I won)
  • Throwing up during or after an event
Over-exertion in combination with nervous energy and over-consuming sports drinks and/or gels and/or salt tablets
Same as above. Plus practice adding real food in training because drinks/gels alone can be hard on the stomach after several hours – the body will rebel
  • Diarrhoea and general stomach upset
Eating foods too high in fat, protein, fibre or spice before or during an event
Eat a high carbohydrate diet for 24-72 h pre-event. Avoid excessive protein/meat, fatty foods and moderate fibre intake. Race day is not the time to experiment with high-fibre foods or fried egg sandwiches with Tabasco
  • Unexplained stomach problems
Eating a new food or drink on race day when your body hasn’t had a chance to adjust to it
Never try a new food or drink on race day unless you’re in an emergency situation – always practice using your nutrition choices while training. You can also use non-“A” races for practicing while under race pressure
  • Professionally endorsed or “recommended” sports food/drink still causes stomach problems
Certain brands of sports foods/drinks simply don’t agree with everyone no matter who says otherwise
Personal preference and practice while training is the golden rule – what works for your mate or a pro may not necessarily work for you. Choose yummy foods, why torture yourself?


As a general rule, I recommend to my clients and customers to use a combination of sports drinks, gels as well as “real food” for events longer than 3-4 hours. If the event is less than 3-4 hours then using only drinks and gels is usually fine. However, keep in mind that even for shorter events, some people may still prefer to include real food, while others may cope very well using only drinks and gels for a whole iron-distance triathlon. As long as carbohydrate, fluid and sodium targets are met, it doesn’t really matter how you get it in, as long as you can consume it easily and comfortably without issues. My recommendations are guidelines that take into consideration the balance of event duration, intensity, satiation and digestibility. For those who have problems, I suggest taking your nutrition plan back to the drawing board and you may be surprised at the positive results with some simple tweaks. And always remember to relax and have fun!

Happy training! ~EM

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Share This