Train Your Gut to Find Your Sweet Spot

Now that spring is in the air the timing is right for adding more long runs into your training program to get you prepared for the Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend. For those of you that are running the half or full marathon distance, an important, and often overlooked, aspect of your training is the fitness of your gut (intestine). Your gut needs to be able to handle a regular stream of carbohydrate from foods, supplements, and fluids while on the run. A happy gut is one that is fed and hydrated…and this will play a key role in your ability to meet your personal race goal.Screen Shot 2015-03-27 at 1.51.04 PM

During running, as with cycling and swimming, the longer the training session the more carbohydrate should be ingested. If you’re running for an hour or less then very little carbohydrate is required (up to 30 grams/hour) and these small amounts have been shown to improve exercise performance.

Screen Shot 2015-03-27 at 1.52.13 PMDuring very intense runs and/or long training runs and races (> 2hours) providing extra carbohydrate with foods and beverages can make the difference between a top notch performance and a disappointing one. Current carbohydrate recommendations are from a minimum of 30 grams of carbohydrate (per hour) up to a high of 90 grams of carbohydrate (per hour) where you may be running hard for more than 3-4 hours.

How much carbohydrate is enough?

There is no established relationship between your body mass and how much carbohydrate is enough for your gut to handle and stay “happy”. You will need to use your training sessions to mimic the competitive event to determine your “sweet spot”, that is, the amount, type and mix of carbs that your gut can tolerate while meeting the energy needs of the exercising situation. Multiple sources of carbohydrate-rich foods and fluids are related to better performance, especially when needs are pushing 60 grams or more per hour. BEWARE….some athletes may need 4-6 weeks for their gut to adapt to higher levels of carbohydrate intake.

To get started, take a look at the Nutrition Facts Table on the packages of foods and fluids that you currently use to see how much carbohydrate they supply – then do the math and figure out how much of which foods and fluids you are currently taking in when you train hard or compete. Some food and fluid options are in the table below.


Timing of Use Carbohydrate Needs Food & Fluid Options
30 minute intervals 30 grams/hour ·      500 mL sport drink (6% carbohydrate)·      Water + granola bar or 6 graham crackers
20 minute intervals 60 grams/hour ·      Water + 2 sports gels·      Water + 1 sports gel + 3 boiled potatoes·      Water + 4 dates + 1 granola bar·      500 mL sport drink + 1 sports gel

·      500 mL sports drink + granola bar

10 minute intervals 90 grams/hour ·      Water + 3 sport gels·      Water + 2 sports gels + 3 boiled potatoes·      Water + 4 fig newtons + granola bar·      500 mL sports drink + 4 fig newtons + sport gel


About Beth Mansfield and Peak Performance 

Dr. Elizabeth (Beth) Mansfield, PhD, RD is a Registered Dietitian, Sport Nutrition Specialist, and Certified Exercise Physiologist with Peak Performance in Ottawa. Beth educates Canadian athletes on sport nutrition for health and performance.

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