Q+A: How hard should speedwork be?

Q I feel nauseous every time I do speedwork. I have even been sick a couple of times. Am I pushing my body too hard or is this just an aspect of speedwork I need to become used to?

A Nausea during high intensity training is a common problem for runners. Some people are more susceptible than others, vomiting after almost every race, while others never experience nausea despite pushing themselves just as hard.

When you run, blood is shunted away from your gastro-intestinal tract and towards the working muscles, making it very difficult to digest anything at this time. The more intensive the exercise, the more blood will be shunted away.

It’s important that food clears your stomach before you run. Any undigested food may irritate the gut lining, which is not protected by digestive secretions, causing some people to feel nauseous. Experiment with the timing, quantity and type of food you eat before training.

Here are some rough stomach clearance rates: fruit, 15-30 minutes; vegetables, 30 minutes; simple carbohydrates (such as white bread or refined pasta), 30 minutes; complex carbs (such as wholegrain bread or brown rice) and light protein (such as yoghurt or eggs) 60 minutes; and heavy protein (such as meat or fish), up to two hours. If you’re stressed, the stomach will constrict and food may take much longer to digest.

A food allergy or intolerance may also affect your digestion and could contribute to nausea during a tough session. If you feel bloated or uncomfortable after eating certain foods, try eliminating them from your diet for a couple of weeks to see if the symptoms go away.

Most people can tolerate sugary sports drinks when training – try a few to find one that is easy on your digestive system. Eat small, regular meals during the day to keep your blood sugar levels steady – this will have the added benefit of preventing your digestion being overloaded. Some herbs, such as ginger, peppermint and fennel, are also good for digestion. Buy some tea bags or make up your own from the raw ingredients.

Ian Craig, strength and conditioning expert