5 ways to eat your way to your best race

8 April 2022

One of the most common reasons so many of us either fail to finish a race, or finish well under our initial expectation, is due to nutrition.

Under fuelling and dehydration are certainly factors, but the top issue, and one that an estimated 90% of runners will face at some point, is that of gastrointestinal distress – cramps, stomach upsets, bloating, nausea and diarrhoea – will all either prevent you from running to your ability or from getting to the finish. So what can you do to try and prevent your gut from derailing your goals?

Here’s 5 common problems and solutions to try:


Just like physically training your muscles and lungs to get through a race, you also need to train your digestive system to cope with foods and fluids before and during exercise. It is not a natural thing to be eating or drinking while on the run, but your stomach, like other muscles is very adaptive and the more you practice the easier it becomes.

Try this: Think about what you are likely to consume on race day both before as well as during the race and pick out some key workouts to put this strategy into action. Not only will your gut start to get used to the concept of having to deal with intake whilst in a compromised state (blood is diverted from your gut when exercising making digestion more difficult), but you will also start to get a better idea of what suits you in terms of taste, texture and volume.


Often, especially when the distance or effort ahead seems daunting, we tend to overdo things of the fuel front. Whether its nerves in the days before the race (eating out of anxiety or boredom), or simply being anxious about the distance. While adequate fuel is vital, too much intake places a strain on the digestive system, forcing increased blood flow to the gut instead of to the muscles where you really want the action to be taking place. You are left feeling heavy, lethargic and bloated. More does not equal better. Similarly overly rich foods, too much fat or fiber or even very spicy foods can contribute to gut issues.

Try this: Plan on having a small and familiar pre race breakfast – test this out in training.


Dehydration compromises performance, including GI function, making gut issues more likely. The answer though is not guzzling down the fluids – this is just as likely to be problematic.

Try this: drink to thirst during a race and ensure you go into the event well hydrated (look for pale urine colour).


Good gut health is imperative to being able to withstand the physical and mental stress of race day. A healthy gut is the result of your day to day intake – and is as much about what you do eat (lots of fibre, fruits and veg and unprocessed foods, as well as probiotic containing foods) as what you don’t (high sugar, highly refined carbohydrates).

Try this: Improve gut (and overall) health by eating lots of anti-inflammatory foods and fuelling with whole real foods throughout training. Pay attention to good recovery habits which will also support immune health by including protein rich snacks/meals post training as well as throughout the day. Probiotics might also help.


Some nerves are good but being overly anxious can be crippling for performance. There is a strong connection between the brain and the gut and being overly anxious increases risk of GI distress.

Try this: Practice relaxation techniques and focus on process not outcome.