Good news! Your post-race pavement pizzas don’t have anything to do with your lactate threshold. “You’re going to be running your lactate up when you’re doing things more intense, but the two are not directly related,” says Dr. Stephen Simons, Director of Sports Medicine at the Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center in South Bend, Indiana. Below, he outlines possible reasons for end-game upchucks, and what to do about them.
Problem: Poor meal timing
“If you have not allowed enough time for your last meal, last snack—whatever you ingested—before the race to transit past the stomach,” Simons says, you may be primed to spew.
Fix it: The type of food you eat and your own genetic makeup will determine when you should eat. The goal is to time your pre-race meal so it’ll transit past your stomach before you cross the start line. “Liquids will pass pretty quickly. Easy to digest foods like simple carbs will pass on from the stomach into the duodenum within a few minutes,” Simons says. “Thirty minutes would probably be safe.”
Want a bigger pre-race meal with more variety? Eat it three to four hours before go time. “Meats and particularly fatty foods are going to take longer to move through the stomach,” Simons says. If you’re anxious, your food’s transit time will slow even more. So if you get the pre-race jitters, consider eating closer to the four-hour end of that spectrum.
“We tend to vomit in the shorter events compared to marathoning because of the more intense blood shifting away from the gut,” Simons says. “There will be a relative shutting down of GI function at higher intensities of exercise.”
Fix it: See above on meal timing. “If you’ve taken liquids or carbohydrates too close to that event and it took too long to transit, it’d be subject to coming back up,” Simons says.
Problem: Loose esophageal sphincter/hiatal hernia
“The bottom of the esophagus is a muscular area that should stay closed, like a purse string,” Simons says. “If that purse string is loose, or you have a hiatal hernia, which is when a portion of the stomach is up into the chest, it’s easy for the contents of the stomach to regurgitate back into the esophagus.”
Fix it: Unfortunately, these issues are largely genetic. “Some people don’t have as strong a purse string closure at the bottom of the esophagus, which would be the top of the stomach,” Simons says. “That’s what you’re given and have to deal with.”
Bottom line: Pre-race food timing and selection are the most important factors in preventing finish-line facial diarrhea. “If it’s an early morning race, you want to go with very simple things that pass through pretty quickly,” Simons says. His recommendation: a banana and/or jelly and unbuttered toast. If that still doesn’t work, stick with liquid, like watered-down or full-force Gatorade, depending on what you can handle.