It happens to both amateur and professional runners alike, and no, it’s not the beloved runner’s high: It is vomit. Whether you are in the best of shape or just starting out as a runner, one thing for sure, you have experienced feelings of nausea and tossed your cookies a time or two or three. But why do runners experience such high levels of Gastrointestinal (GI) distress, and is there anything you can do to prevent vomiting and get back to enjoying running?
Like a performer before taking the stage, almost all athletes experience pre-game or race anxiety. Often times this leads to vomiting, which is no good when you need to conserve your energy and vital nutrients and hydration for a race. What is the biology behind a case of the nerves and how can you prevent yourself from getting sick before you even start pushing your body?
Biologically speaking, when you become anxious your body begins producing adrenaline because your body “thinks” you are in danger of some kind and may need to go into fight or flight response. Because you can do neither waiting for a race to begin, your adrenaline goes into overdrive and blood is redirected from your stomach causing it to slow down digestion. Anxiety also makes your stomach clench, which can cause, you guessed it- vomiting.
How do you prevent wearing yourself out before you ever get started? Experts suggest coming up with a pre-workout routine and sticking to it exactly on race day. Creating a specific play list and specific warm-up moves that you follow during regular warm-ups, then repeating it before a race can ease your mind and help you focus on controllable movements instead of all the uncontrollable variables of a race. Repetition is the key. Lose yourself in the comfort of familiarity.
Beware highly acidic or fibrous foods, too. Opt for low fiber, easily digested foods or even consider skipping solids all together and consuming only liquid nutrition, which digests more quickly than solid food.
When You’re in the Thick of It –
Runners are no strangers to exertion-induced vomiting, but when you are competing in a race, vomiting can slow you down or in some cases, even keep you from finishing. So what makes you puke right when you are hitting peak performance? Again, blame it on a lack of blood in the digestion system. This time adrenaline’s not the culprit, but greedy muscles needing extra blood to keep moving and your endocrine system’s design to keep you cool.
Muscle movement is your body’s first priority when you are pushing yourself, so blood is redirected to your major muscle groups. Running at a high intensity also causes your body to heat up quickly, and eventually, additional blood is diverted from the major organs to cool your skin. The naturally and inevitable lack of blood to the intestines while running causes GI distress, which can be exasperated by dehydration or improper re-hydration to the point of vomiting.
Vomit prevention is a key part of race performance and can be achieved by carefully regulating sugar intake and hydration. Sports drinks and gels contain high amounts of sugar, which when placed on the stomach during a race can cause sickness. It’s best to hydrate with water if you plan on using a gel while racing, and always do several run-throughs with your hydration plan while practicing for the big day. Don’t introduce any new substances on race day. Run with a refueling plan already in place.
Due to the Cross Fit craze, many people now see vomiting after a workout as a badge of honor. Endurance runners often measure it as a sign of ‘giving their all’, but it is actually quite harmful and unnecessary. Frequent vomiting not only damages your esophagus and tooth enamel, it also puts you at risk for electrolyte imbalance, which can cause serious damage to vital organs and even cause seizures.
To prevent post-race vomiting, you need to avoid stopping cold after major exertion. When your heart, lungs, and even brain are denied a cool down, the body gets confused and often times your stomach will begin to spasm causing vomiting. The more intense your energy expenditure, the longer your cool down needs to be. If you’ve just pushed extra hard to make the finish line, jog briskly for a few minutes, than a slow jog, and finally walk gently before sitting down or bending over.
If you plan accordingly and take proper measures to prevent vomiting, you should see the results quickly. If you continue to vomit before, during or after a race even when taking appropriate precautions, it may be time to visit a GI doctor for more serious health issues or a food allergist.
What is your experience with pre,during, or post-race vomiting? How has it impacted your racing performance and do you have any unique prevention tips to share?