Feeling super sick during races

I have been having problems in several NICA varsity races where I start feeling super sick to my stomach, almost feeling like I am going to throw up. However this sickness does not seem to come from being tired or actually working that hard. One race, my heartrate was Z2 and my legs felt super fresh, yet I actually threw up midway through the race, despite going easier than most of my training rides. This happened at 3 out of 5 races this year, although 2 of the races only had minor problems. I am confused because I keep my race routine almost the exact same throughout all 5 races. I ate the same amount of food about 3 hours before all the races, and had the same nutrition and hydration plans throughout the races. I need help figuring this out before the next season begins!l

Sounds psychological to me, I know three hours is sort of an agreed upon amount of time for food to settle but I need more and have learned it better to fuel for my races almost a day before and only a very small meal in that 3 hour window.

If you’re dealing with this regularly I’d think about changing my race routine. I’ve never thrown up in any ride of any intensity so I can’t relate to that but I’ve had plenty of stomach problems typically dealing with timing and quality of fuel. Most of us deal with some level of anxiety around a race, I regularly have race day start line nightmares where I’m dealing with a flat before the gun goes off or I didn’t bring everything I needed or I have another mechanical and miss the start for some reason. That’s the way it manifests for me. Anxiety is a clue that we care deeply about something so there’s a silver lining to latch onto.

What does your coach have to say about this? You might just need more starts if this is a mental problem? Another day at the office kind of feeling.

John Friel describes the perfect amount of stimulation before a race as enough anxiety present that you know you really care, not dull and listless, but engaged and ready pedal hard. Usually for me any race anxiety is gone within 10-15 minutes.

I’m guessing this to be more of a psychological issue for you based on this only happening during races.

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Yes it definitely could be a psychological problem, however I haven’t felt too anxious before races in the past, but my anxiety is growing due to a fear of this problem happening again. The only time I have ever thrown up during any intensity was during that race. I am planning on racing a bunch this year and hopefully find the root cause of the problem.

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Yeah, the spiraling anxiety thing is hard. I hope you come up with a solution that works for you. Try changing up your race day routine a little bit and try for a super bland pre-race meal like plain brown rice and/or sweet potatoes, little or no oil or seasonings, and try an even longer digestion period if time allows. I’d skip protein and any sort of green food altogether. Save the super nutritious food for your day to day.

I do think the more you race the easier this will become. It’s almost impossible not to experience some level of anxiety before racing you just have to learn to leverage that flight or fight response to your advantage.

I have a starting line mantra that I like, and I think it helps: Trust your training, and remember that this is fun. It helps ground me on the starting line and helps channel the energy to my legs.

Consider a sports specific psychologist if this persists or worsens. And of course if you think this is general health related get a check up. But you mention that this has only happened once so remember that when you start getting nervous about it, chances are it was just a one time thing!

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Been talking to my coach, he suggested that it happens because of what I eat before and during the event. He says that because I have a faster metabolism than most, and that eating 3 hours before the event, may be too much time. By the time the event starts I have an empty stomach. Than by eating high sugar content on an empty stomach, mixed with hard efforts, it can cause major stomach sickness. I am going to try to eat a little bit closer to my event next race and see if this fixes the problem.

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That’s interesting. Your coach knows you way better than I do, so I’d certainly default to their advice. Fueling is such a personal thing. Advice I’m sure we’d agree on is to keep track of your fuel source and timing for race day to hone in on what works for you.

How are you fueling and hydrating during the race? How long are your races typically? It’s almost fully agreed on at this point that even during short course events some amount of carbohydrate is beneficial. Not everyone can handle gels or super sugary drinks though.

Let me know how it goes for you.

How does your eating hours before, immediately before, and during the race differ from a typical hard training/group ride? If you eat the same way before/during hard training rides with no hint of stomach problems then it’s most likely psychological. Not to discount that in anyway though! Anxiety and stress from racing is real, just as real as any problem stemming from a more ‘physical’ issue.

This could go away with more racing and just getting comfortable with the additional stress of competing. If not, then consider talking to a sports psychologist. They would have some better strategies to help to deal with this.

One other thing that may be causing it is if during training you only eat during long rest intervals but while racing you are trying to take down gels or drinks while going hard. During training I try to make an effort to eat and drink in the middle of my intervals to practice reaching for it, consuming, and putting my bottle or trash back while doing my SS, Threshold, or even harder intervals. I imagine this difference could exacerbate some gut distress.

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My initial thought is that it is psychological. I always feel very nervous and anxious before a race. I hate race mornings all the way up until the race starts. But once the race starts all is good, but all the time before I am a nervous wreck and would rather be anywhere else.

You should test your coach’s theory. If it is an empty stomach issue then you should be able to replicate it outside of a race fairly easily. Just set one morning aside and treat it like you would a race day and do your own race effort with the exact same fueling strategy. Would be great to find out for sure if this is the issue.

Good luck.

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Also be aware that your overall race day efforts might be Z2, but NICA race starts can be hard, and I bet you have some pretty hard efforts in a race that you may not see in practice.

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This description sounds very similar to what a friend shared with me recently. He used to throw up before football games. Everyone told him it was psychological, and years later he found out he had celiac disease. He would eat a large portion of pasta before the games, but not before practices. So not only look at the timing, but also at the actual type of food. And don’t put too much value on food allergy tests, they are not very accurate.

I am fueling with one sleeve of gatorade blocks, starting with two blocks right before the race, and the rest throughout, and I drink about a full water bottle (not sure how big, but it is a fairly small race water bottle) + feed zone sips throughout the race. Typically the races are 20-25 miles or about 1:20-1:40 minutes.

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