Energy gels give me diarrhoea, why is this? Can I stop it? Are there alternatives available?
Consuming energy gels is, for most, an important part of endurance cycling. They can, however, have a horrible effect on some people in the form of inducing diarrhoea. And when you think about it, it’s not very surprising that they can give you gastrointestinal problems.
First of all, you’re already much more likely to have digestive issues when you’re cycling due to the fact that your body is concentrating on getting blood flow to the muscles you’re using to exercise. As we previously discovered in our piece on the gastrointestinal symptoms of cyclists, the body behaving in this normal way unfortunately puts a lot of pressure on the digestive tract. Therefore discomfort is much more likely.
Danielle Clay, a sports dietician and former international road cyclist, explains: “Foods and drinks consumed during training and competition may worsen gastrointestinal symptoms or trigger them.
“Things like gels or glucose polymer drinks that are concentrated sources of sugar can cause rapid shifts in water out of the digestive tract. This aids the absorption of the sugars ingested in the gels and drinks. This may lead to a disruption in normal digestive processes, inflammation and pain.
“The true aetiology of diarrhoea in cyclists is not fully understood. It appears to be more common in runners than cyclists, but again the general consensus is that it is also related to intestinal irritation.”
Danielle suggests that you take some simple steps to try and minimise your chances of having diarrhoea.
“Individuals suffering with diarrhoea may benefit from a decrease in dietary fibre. Experiment by using more refined cereal products [yep – the ones you’ve been trying to avoid] which contain less roughage. Also limit sugar free products as they may contain sorbitol, a known laxative.”
It is also advised to stay hydrated, and avoid sports drinks containing fructose. If all else fails, consult with a sports nutritionist or sports dietician.
Do you have any questions for the experts? Let us know in the comments below or email [email protected]You might enjoy some of our natural energy gel recipes…