Q: No matter what I eat, I have GI issues. Should I try an all-liquid race day diet? – Gut Checked
The short answer: Give it a whirl; it might work for you—just make sure it works long before race day. Take a look at Cody Beals, a professional triathlete with multiple 70.3 wins to his name who turned to a race-day liquid diet for the same reason you’re asking about it: to meet fuel and hydration needs without taxing his gut.
Want to be like Beals? Start slow. Aim for 30 grams of carbs and electrolytes per 20 ounces of fluid, and monitor energy levels and gut tolerance. Dial up the carbohydrate concentration as needed and as the gut allows. (See options below to get started.) For athletes with particularly sensitive guts, it can help to choose liquids free from protein and fat—slower digesting macronutrients that may cause issues.
Besides better tummy comfort, what can you expect from going all-in on liquid? Possible performance gains thanks to the fact that fluid empties out of the gut faster than solids, leading to quicker fuel utilization and possibly better tolerance. A study recently published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism found that intake of solid fuel (bars) during intense cycling was more likely to increase gut discomfort and perceived exertion compared to gels or sports drinks. Researchers even found, in this admittedly small study of 12 well-trained cyclists, that solids reduced peak power versus gels.
Just remember, as with any fueling strategy, there can be drawbacks. On days where thirst is not paramount, for instance, athletes need to remind themselves to drink for their sole source of energy. Additionally, if a bottle or two drops from your cages while riding, you could be running on empty until transition, which can result in significant energy deficits and a consequent bonk. Finally, you must take care to not over-concentrate carbs or over-drink electrolyte-devoid beverages as intolerance or hyponatremia can occur, respectively.
Still, athletes in search of a fueling strategy that meets energy needs without bombarding the gut should consider trying the all-liquid approach.
All-Liquid Diet Starters
Tailwind Endurance Nutrition
A blend of glucose, sucrose, and electrolytes mixes with water to meet energy, hydration, and electrolyte needs. One scoop provides 100 calories with 25 grams of carbs and electrolytes. Mix 2-3 scoops (50-75g of carbs) in 24 ounces of water per hour.
Heed Sports Drink
Each scoop supplies 100 calories and 27 grams of carbs from maltodextrin (carb more complex than sucrose or glucose that is generally well-tolerated), along with balanced electrolytes and ingredients designed to buffer lactic acid and help balance energy levels.
Field Work Nutrition Powder
For pre- and post- workout liquid diet adherents, each scoop (best blended in a smoothie) has 100 calories, 9.5 grams of carbs, and 10 grams of protein alongside a host of fruit and veggie compounds and pro/prebiotics.
Make Your Own
Myoplex Hydrate contains a blend of electrolytes from foods like sea salt and coconut, and a small amount of carbs from dextrose. Supplement it with your favorite carb and protein powders if you wish for more energy. *Note: Beals and the author of this article are Myoplex ambassadors.