Many endurance athletes endure gastrointestinal issues like diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and gas during or in the hours after a race. Some common causes are the types of food most athletes eat during the preparation for the race, supplements, energy drinks, gels, or high-carb meals the night before the race.
Typically, these alterations produce one or two episodes of diarrhea and are limited. Still, they create great anxiety because of the potential to sabotage the hard-prepared race, and the risk of significant health concerns is not usually significant.
Another cause that can sabotage the race and produce a DNS situation and produce a health risk is infectious diarrhea, known as "traveler's diarrhea."
This type of gastrointestinal disease appears in individuals that travel to other places for different reasons. When you travel, you often lose the ability to cook for yourself and control the way foods are prepared. You might also eat food and drink prepared in large quantities that can be contaminated more easily or not be made correctly.
Microorganisms like viruses, bacteria, or parasites can contaminate the food or those microorganisms aren't completely eliminated in the cooking process. It's particularly difficult to prevent contamination when preparing large quantities of food.
These microorganisms can be detrimental, especially for immunocompromised people.
Last week at a convention where 3,500+ people gathered for 3 days, 30% of the travelers suffered from watery and mucous diarrhea, abdominal pain, and gas. I treated 10 patients that traveled to this convention.
The epidemiological investigation showed that all of them used different hotels and ingested food from different restaurants. Their common denominator was the water with ice served in 3 convention rooms.
The prevention of this "travelers' diarrhea" must include drinking only bottled water, avoiding ice, and not eating raw foods like fruit, veggies, or salads. You should also choose well-cooked meat to ensure all bacteria are killed in the preparation process. It's also best practice to buy fruits and veggies from the store and wash them thoroughly.
Another preventative action is to check the reports of the state or city's health authority where you will travel and look for the surge of infectious diseases associated with food and water.
If you, unfortunately, are affected by diarrhea while traveling for a race, you must look for immediate medical assistance. Stay hydrated, and avoid over-the-counter medications unless recommended by a doctor. Of course, you must be cleared by a doctor to race because dehydration due to racing can be complicated by dehydration from infectious diarrhea.
Manuel Delgado Gaona is a USAT Level II and Youth & Junior Coach, FMTri Level II Certified Coach, an ACSM Exercise Physiologist, and a Physician specializing in Anatomic Pathology. His coaching philosophy is based on exercise efficiency. Coach Manuel can be reached at email@example.com.