Health

The Truth About Sport Foods And Your Tummy Troubles

If your digestive tract isn’t a fan of store-bought drinks, gels, chews and bars, here's what you can do.

The Truth About Sport Foods And Your Tummy Troubles

Do tummy troubles ever get in the way of your run? Pip Taylor knows the feeling. The sports nutritionist and professional triathlete battled GI issues for years—a struggle that prompted her to write The Athlete’s Fix. In her new book, Taylor outlines a three-step program to “identify food intolerances, navigate popular special diets and develop your own  customized clean diet that will support better health and performance.”

A common issue for athletes is fueling during exercise. Sport foods often trigger symptoms of intolerances, because they are consumed when you are most vulnerable—during exercise. You are dehydrated and blood is pulled away from your stomach and intestines, so that it can support working muscles. If these problems sound all too familiar, read this excerpt from Taylor’s book to help you tame your pesky gut.

A Smart Approach To Sport Foods

What are sports foods? I define sports food as electrolyte and energy drinks, whey and other protein powder drinks and shakes, recovery bars, energy bars, gels and chews—anything that is designed and marketed for use before, during or after sport. But they also can include other packaged foods, such as granola bars or protein bars.

Thanks to good marketing and the lithe, fit athletes who serve as the products’ ambassadors, sports foods have a halo of fitness and health around them. In reality, most sports foods are not very different from a candy bar or soda in terms of their impact on the body. Most sports drinks contain 10 teaspoons of sugar, and bars, gels and sports chews or blocks typically pack in over 20 grams of sugar.

Related: DIY Sports Drink Recipe

To be clear, sports foods have a time and place, and the intention of this book is not to necessarily eliminate all sports foods from an athlete’s diet. Clearly they can be of benefit; they are packaged for convenience, and it is difficult in some scenarios to replicate this ease of use. I too turn to regular sports foods at times. However, before the recent advent of sports-specific foods, athletes were able to compete and fuel successfully, and many continue to do so eating just real whole foods.

There have also been scientific studies conducted showing that foods such as raisins and bananas are equally good in terms of performance when compared to sports drinks or gels. Do you need to use sports foods and drinks? Absolutely not. Can sports food products still be a healthy solution for someone with food intolerances? Yes.

If you choose to use sports-specific foods, your approach should be considered, planned and purposeful. Sports foods are very compact and energy dense, meaning they are easy to get down and don’t fill you up. That is an advantage in training and racing but detrimental in just about any other situation. This is why it’s easy to overcompensate if you’re not careful. Don’t double up—if you think you need a post-workout recovery shake, don’t then also head home to a full plate of dinner. Problems enter in when you are eating these foods indiscriminately, when they make up a significant part of your caloric intake and when you use them daily. It can become very easy to rely on sports foods for their convenience and to let them creep into other parts of your life.

If you have identified a food intolerance, don’t think that you can ignore it when it comes to your fueling strategy. Sports drinks and other foods can be rich sources of fructose, gluten, lactose and other food-intolerance culprits. Even if you might be able to eat a sports bar as an afternoon snack with no consequences, that same bar during exercise might push you over your own threshold and cause GI distress.

Related: Best Foods For Sensitive Stomachs