By Sally McRae
If you’re an endurance athlete, you have likely; at some point in a race, experienced an upset stomach. Unfortunately, an upset stomach can lead to vomiting, low energy, and can ultimately ruin your race.
I’m no stranger to an angry belly. I’ve started races with the flu; stomach parasites; and cramping; and as expected, struggled to get to the Finish line. Over the years, I’ve learned many hard lessons about taking care of my body; fueling, and the constant need to eat if I want to race at my best.
When I began training and strategizing for Badwater 135, I knew one of the most important factors in completing the race, was eating. Because the temperatures are so extreme (this year’s race was the hottest in history at 127F) it’s very common to overheat; feel nauseous, and vomit; so I needed to come up with a solid nutrition plan beforehand. Having Rafal Nazar (Sports Nutrition Scientist and Creator of Spring Energy) as one of my crew members was vital. For the past couple years, Rafal has patiently mentored me in my training and racing nutrition; and I have seen positive changes in not only my overall health and fitness, but I have seen my racing performances improve at every distance.
Before the race, Rafal and I discussed a good eating plan for the race, which relied primarily on Spring Energy. Additionally, we considered other types of whole food that would potentially help fuel me should I need a change in taste and texture. The plan was fairly simple and emulated what I was already doing in training and past races. I was confident in our plan, which looked like this:
Beginning of Race- This is when I would be feeling my best; moving easy, and likely be feeling energized and excited. So we knew this was also a good time to focus on getting in good calories for the long day ahead.
*2-3 Spring Energy Gels
*Roughly half to full bottle of Electroride Electrolyte
Middle of Race- Like many races, and especially this race, we knew my body would begin feeling a bit tired at this point; however we also acknowledged that I might have an angry belly because of the heat, so fueling would be a bit tougher, but still just as crucial.
*1-2 Spring Energy Gels
*Try whole foods: banana and avocado with Sea Salt
*Coconut Water and Spring Electroride
Final Third of Race- When we talked about getting to this part of the race, I acknowledged that even if my belly felt good, I would be tired of eating...ANYTHING. So we made sure to include a variety of food, and some random options, like food bars, fruit, and Ginger Ale. If I wanted to get up Mount Whitney; I needed calories whether I wanted them or not.
*1-2 Spring Energy
*Fruit, Food Bars, Rice Milk
*Spring Electroride, Ginger Ale
So did I stick to the plan? Did I feel fueled and strong to the finish? How many calories did I end up eating?
Being the true science nerd that he is (ha ha!) Rafal recorded everything I ate in a notebook. He collected the empty Spring Energy packets and frequently grabbed my water bottles, checking for how much I was drinking. In the end, I consumed:
* 60+ Spring Gels
* 20 Electroride Electrolyte servings
* 5 Liters of Coconut Water
* 3 Liters of Rice Milk
* 8 Bananas
* 3 Bagels
* 3 Cups of Noodles
* 3 Avocados
* 2 Mandarin Oranges
* A few handfuls of Pretzels
* A few servings of LiquidIV
* 0.5 Liters of Apple Juice
* 0.5 Liters of Ginger Ale.
Total of approx. 12,500-14,000 kcal
But it was VERY difficult to get all of that in my stomach. Within the first 30 miles, I started to exhibit symptoms of full-blown heat exhaustion. My legs seized and cramped mercilessly for the next 105 miles; I dry-heaved hundreds of times; vomited a few times, and struggled with angry intestines. I winced and tensed at every step for the remaining 28 hours and often wanted nothing to do with food. But Rafal, firmly encouraged me to eat; even when I was dry-heaving,
“Drink Sally, every time you want to throw up, you must drink water.”
But I would whine back at him,
“No, Rafal! I can’t! I don’t want anything!”
But he insisted; again, and again.
I reluctantly and sometimes annoyingly obeyed; and to my surprise, would feel surges of energy rejuvenate my body. I never felt good, but I was able to keep moving, and even run up the Mount Whitney Portal Road to the Finish line.
I had never experienced this type of fueling before; in past races, when my belly was upset, I would slow down and just hope it would work itself out so I could maybe digest a cracker or water. But Rafal taught me how to eat even when I wanted to vomit. Spring was truly my main source of fuel and the easiest thing to digest; and thankfully, because it’s real food, it didn’t leave me feeling even more nauseous, like many traditional gels and powder mixes do.
I learned so many lessons at Badwater; it was very humbling, but it was also so rewarding. I learned that even in my lowest of lows, I can keep going. The opportunity to have an expert nutrition scientist with me every step of the way was such a gift. I learned so much from Rafal, and have gained a newfound confidence in my racing nutrition.