Athlete’s Guide to Avoiding Bloating, Cramping and Gastric Distress

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Everyone faces the occasional gastrointestinal (GI) discomfort including bloating, gas, pain, cramping and/or frequent trips to the restroom. These issues aren’t fun for anyone, but mostly, they pass quickly and are not a serious concern. However, for athletes, these stomach woes can cause missed training sessions, mid-workout dashes into the bushes, frequent port-a-loo stops in races and may contribute to overall poor performance. Studies suggest that up to 50% of athletes, especially endurance athletes, suffer from gastric distress.

Here are some top reasons you may be experiencing such issues and how to avoid them:

TOO MUCH FIBER

Issue: While essential for overall health, fiber is difficult to digest. Eating high-fiber foods before a workout can lead to gas, bloating or even diarrhea.

Solution: Consume low-fiber foods prior to workouts and increase water consumption when you do have fiber.

MORE CONCENTRATED CARBOHYDRATES

Issue: Sport drinks with a 6–8% concentration of carbohydrates have an optimal gastric emptying rate. Stronger concentrations attract more fluids to enter the stomach which typically results in a bloated, sluggish and uncomfortable stomach.

Solution: Check the concentration of your sport drink by dividing the grams of carbs by the milliliters of fluid (8 ounces = 240 ml) and multiply by 100. Dilute drinks that are above the 8% guideline.

TOO MUCH FRUCTOSE

Issue: This naturally occurring sugar (found in fruit and agave) as well as added to many sport and processed foods as high-fructose corn syrup, is slow to absorb and, in large amounts, can cause gastric distress.

Solution: Check your sport food labels and opt for varieties that either do not include fructose or at least contain sugars from multiple sources.

CAFFEINE

Issue: This substance has been proven to increase performance, but it can also overstimulate the gut, causing you to dash to the restroom.

Solution: Experiment with the amount and timing of your caffeine intake to make this ‘gut clearing’ effect work for, not against, you!

CHEWING GUM

Issue: Pop a piece pre workout? Think again. This simple act can have you taking in excessive air, especially when your lungs are already taxed. That air gets trapped in your GI passages and creates bloating and gas.

Solution: This one is easy: just skip it.


READ MORE > MAPLE SYRUP: THE FUEL OF CHOICE FOR PERFORMANCE


FEELING STUFFED

Issue: Heavy training may leave you ravenous, but eating too much (especially too quickly) can leave your stomach sluggish to digest it all.

Solution: Eat smaller, more frequent meals on days you’re training.

POOR MEAL TIMING

Issue: Eating too close to workouts can leave your body struggling to get blood to both your stomach and working muscles.

Solution: Eat large meals 3–4 hours before a workout, snacks roughly 90 minutes before and quick energy (sport drinks/gels) 30 minutes prior.

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