Whether or not you're a triathlete or serious endurance competitor, I'll bet you probably wonder why you sometimes get horrible gas, bloating, constipation, or diarrhea (despite your attempts to eat healthy food)….
…and if you're an active person, you may also wonder why these periods of gastric distress seem to be highly associated with consumption of gels, energy bars or sports drinks.
So today, you're going to find out everything you need to know about why you get this “gut rot” and what you can do about it.
OK, here we go…
This weekend, I won the Leadman 125 Triathlon.
While you can read the full race report by clicking here, I want to focus now on the new nutrition protocol I used for this race (which I hinted at in this sports nutrition interview with Endurance Planet), why I chose to use this nutrition protocol, and what it means for you and your gut…
Let's start with FODMAPs, and why a large consumption of FODMAPs containing foods can wreak some serious havoc in your gut.
Many of the foods that we commonly eat, even in a healthy diet, are what are called “high-residue” foods. This means that these particular foods, when being digested, leave a lot behind for bacteria to feed on, and when bacteria feed and proliferate, they ferment.
And when bacteria is fermenting in your gut, the result can be bloating, cramping and gas.
So what kind of foods have a tendency to ferment more or ferment faster than others? These foods are called FODMAPs.
FODMAP stands for “Fermentable, Oligo- Di- Mono-accharides And Polyols”, and basically these are sugars that you can't actually digest – so they end up feeding bacteria, creating fungal overgrowth in your digestive tract, and throwing off the entire balance of the ecosystem in your gut.
Sometimes, in addition to bloating, cramping, gas, constipation or diarrhea, FODMaps can also create symptoms outside of your gut, such as depression, fatigue, headache or brain fog (which makes sense, since you body creates a significant amount of your neurotransmitters in your gut).
A List Of FODMAPs
So what kind of foods fall into the FODMAPs category? I'm going to list them below, and while I'm certainly not advocating that you completely cut these foods out of your diet, you may find that high amounts of the following foods, especially eaten in one meal or one day, can cause some significant gut issues…
1. Fruit, agave, and honey
Fructose is fruit sugar and a monosaccharide (the M in FODMAPs). Fruits that are higher in fructose also fall into this category (like melons and citrus fruits such as mango). Fruits high in polyls (sugar alcohols) such as apples, peaches and pears would also be included. Many sweeteners also contain fructose, such as high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), honey, and agave. And of course, fructose is a major ingredient in most gels and sports drinks.
2. Beans and lentils
Oligosaccharides are short strands of simple sugars and all beans and lentils fall into this category. Maltodextrin, which is found in many, many sports gels, is also an oligosaccharide.
3. Wheat, onions, and cabbage
Wheat is also an oligosaccharide, and in addition, contains sugar called fructan. Wheat is found in many sports bars and energy “chews”, and fructans are also found in cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage and cauliflower, onions, scallions and garlic.
Lactose, the sugar found in dairy (especially unfermented forms of dairy such milk, as opposed to yogurt or kefir) is a disaccharide. You'll also find large amounts of lactose in many post-workout recovery beverages.
5. Sugar Alcohols
Examples of sugar alcohols, which are found as an ingredient in many packaged or processed foods, are xylitol, maltitol, and sorbitol. You'll commonly find these in sugar-free or “health” foods, and also in items such as diabetic candy, toothpaste, and chewing gum.
As you may already know from personal experience and pure common sense, sitting down and eating an entire plate of sautéed onions is probably going to give you gas (due to the fructan content that you just learned about).
You also probably wouldn't mow down a few bowls of beans and lentils, or eat a smoothie made of 4 or 5 apples, and expect to not have something funky going on in your gut.
But in the same way, you can also create a nuclear bomb in your gut by consuming 50-100 grams of fructose and maltodextrin per hour from sports gels during a triathlon or marathon, downing a wheat-filled bar each hour during a cycling event, or sucking down lactose-laden recovery shakes after a workout or race.
Why I Changed My Race Day Nutrition
While I rarely have gut issues during an actual triathlon, I have had concerns in the past about my habit of consuming 3-4 fructose-maltodextrin gels per hour during an event. For example, during an Ironman triathlon, after 10 hours of competing, I'll have consumed nearly 40 gels – and that's a boatload of FODMAPs!
As a result, although my performance is just fine and I rarely have stomach problems during a race, my gut is consistently in a post-race tizzy – with gas, bloating and constipation for 24 hours up to several days after finishing such an event.
In addition, with my focus on controlling my blood sugar, lowering inflammation, and turning my body into a fat-burning machine, it seemed counter-productive to be shifting into complete carbohydrate utilization during a race, without taking advantage of the fact that I've become more efficient at burning fatty acids with my high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet.
A Healthy Race Day Nutrition Protocol
As a result, through my own research and through conversations with physicians and nutritionists, I developed the following healthy race day nutrition protocol, designed to utilize fatty acids, stabilize blood sugars, and reduce post-race gas and bloating. This is the exact protocol I practiced with for the past couple weeks, and then used in the Leadman triathlon.
1) High Molecular Weight Carbohydrate.
Glucose, sucrose, fructose, and maltodextrin are all sugars that cause a sudden flood of insulin to the body by way of the pancreas. While this is less of an issue when you're in an insulin sensitive state (such as when you're exercising or racing), when you consume these forms of sugar you still experience a constant spiking and dropping of blood sugar, in addition to to the fermentation issues that you just learned about.
As a result, you get frequent spikes and drops in energy during a race, and also post-race bloating and stomach issues.
So the first tier of my healthy race day nutrition plan was to find a slow-time release source of energy that allowed me to eat less, tap into my body's own fatty acid stores more efficiently, and not cause post-race gut rot.
Enter UCAN SuperStarch, which was originally developed as a slowly metabolized starch that would allow people with a rare condition called “Glycogen Storage Disease” to be able to have access to a very stable source of glucose.
UCAN is a high molecular weight, corn-derived starch that is metabolized differently than simpler sugars such as fructose or maltodextrin. It is a powder that you mix with water, and it's metabolism results in far less insulin production and less blood sugar spiking compared to other gels and sports drinks, and as a result of these lower insulin levels, this approach also allows your body to tap into it's own storage fat as a fuel.
How I used UCAN: I simply consumed 2 servings (220 calories) 2 hours before the race, then 2 servings per hour during the entire 3 hour bike and 1 hour run. I mixed 6 packets (enough for 3 hours) into a water bottle that I kept on the downtube of my bicycle and consumed a mouthful every half hour, and put 2 packets in a flask that I “nursed” on the run.
2) Flavor & Energy Boost
One drawback to UCAN is that most of it is flavored with artificial sweeteners, so I choose the plain, unsweetened version. But the plain version tastes a bit “chalky”. So I wanted to figure out a way to add a bit of flavor, and also get some extra energy-boosting compounds.
Enter TianChi. It's primary components are:
-Rhodiola rosea – a popular plant in traditional medical systems in Russia and Scandinavian countries for centuries, with a reputation for stimulating the nervous system, enhancing work performance and eliminating fatigue. This came in quite handy, as this race occurred at 5000 feet elevation.
-Organic Peruvian maca – a root vegetable, shaped like a radish, that grows high in the harsh climate of the Andes Mountains in South America at elevations up to 15,000 feet. Native Peruvians have used maca as a high-energy food and cortisol stabilizer for more than two millennia. Maca is high in vitamins as well as calcium, magnesium, potassium and other minerals.
-D-ribose – used by all the body’s cells and essential in energy metabolism. Our bodies make ribose innately, but our cells lack the ability to produce it fast enough or in sufficient quantity to effectively offset the loss of energy from our cells.
-Golden Chlorella – a unique nutrient-dense, ultra-pure, mild-tasting microalgae that provides naturally occurring amino acids, vitamins and minerals. It is a complete functional food containing 50 percent omega 3, 6 and 9 oils by weight.
While there are some trace amounts of fructose from these superfood extracts in TianChi, there is still far, far less than what I was getting from the typical gel, chews, bars, or sports drink combo, and I found that the flavor of TianChi gave the UCAN SuperStarch a pleasant, slightly fruity taste.
How I used TianChi: I simply consumed 1 servings for each serving of UCAN . So I put 6 servings in the water bottle that I had the UCAN in, and 2 servings in the flask of UCAN that I carried on the run.
3) Amino Acids
As I've written about extensively in this 2 part series on amino acids, high blood levels of amino acids primarily:
1) reduce your rating of perceived exertion, allowing you to work harder without your brain “shutting down” your body;
2) keep your body from cannibalizing your own lean muscle during exercise, thus limiting post-workout or post-race soreness.
But most proteins (the source of amino acids) need to be digested, which can take a long time and shuttle a lot of extra blood away from your muscles and into your stomach. Enter Master Amino Pattern (MAP).
MAP is a unique blend of 8 essential amino acids that collectively have a Body Protein Synthesis (BPS) of Net Nitrogen Utilization (NNU) that is 99% per 23 minutes. Compared to MAP, something like a whey or soy protein source has a BPS/min of 16-32% NNU/180-360 min. This means that the BPS/min of a protein supplement is 24 to 96 times lower compared to MAP.
In a nutshell, the MAP capsules completely digest in 23 minutes, while other protein sources take anywhere from 2-6 hours. While a low, slow release source of protein might be OK for breakfast or before you go to bed at night, during exercise you want readily available sources of amino acids that don't need to undergo breakdown and digestion.
How I used Master Amino Pattern (MAP): I consumed 10 capsules 30 minutes prior to the race, then simply carried a small ziplock bag of NatureAminos in my shorts and ate 5 per hour during the entire bike ride.
And that's it. That was my healthy race day nutrition protocol.
Despite eating far less than normal during the race, my energy levels were elevated the entire time – without having to force down sickeningly sweet gels. No crashes, no bonks, no burp-ups.
And better yet: I had zero embarrassing post-race gas issues.
A Footnote: The SCD Diet
As I mentioned in a podcast a couple weeks ago, there is a diet called the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD), which goes a step above and beyond what you've just learned about simply limiting your dietary intake of FODMAP's…
…and if your gut is simply ravaged by years of high carbohydrate intake, poor nutrition habits, low intake of probiotics and fermented foods, or any other gut damaging habits, you may indeed need to go a step above and beyond what you have just learned and “reboot your gut” with the SCD Diet. So in this Saturday's podcast interview with SCD Lifestyle's Steven Wright, you're going to learn more about how to do that.
Rather than you having to go the four corners of the planet to get this stuff, I figured out how to just bundle it all for you in 1 convenient Low Carb Fueling package: http://goo.gl/Yryi5 <–UCAN+MAP+TianChi Low Carb Fueling Package
The package above is basically 60 packets of UCAN, a full 120 tablet bottle of NatureAminos & TianChi – everything you need to get your low carb fueling dialed in, and about 1-2 months worth of fueling!
Also published on Medium.