Do you have exercise-induced digestive issues? 7 tips for coping

YesYou hit that last rep around the track, doing everything for one last sprint when it hits: the nausea starts deep in your gut, rising to your forehead until you’re sure you’re going to lose your lunch before to cross that finish line.

Although intense exercise can trigger the release of these “feel-good” hormones, called endorphins, if you have a sensitive stomach or a gastrointestinal disease like IBS or Crohn’s disease, your gut won’t always be agree with your training plan. It’s not uncommon to experience exercise-induced digestive issues like nausea, gas, cramps, stomach pain, and even vomiting or diarrhea in the middle of a workout or after a workout. particularly long or intense session.

The good news? These symptoms are usually temporary. But that doesn’t mean they won’t put a, well, cramp in your workouts. “While they don’t have any long-term adverse health effects, they are uncomfortable and can definitely hinder performance,” says Kelly Jones, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN, Certified Sports Dietitian.

Why Intense Exercise Can Lead to Digestive Problems

While hard workouts can be great for your overall health, they’re not always good for your digestive tract. Since blood flow is directed to the muscles when they are working very hard, there is less blood supply available to aid digestion, according to dietician Trista Best, MPH, RD, LD. As a result, your pre-workout meal or snack gets stuck in your belly and then ends up jostling with aggressive movements.

How “intense” does the exercise have to be to cause a problem? “You can perform high reps with maximum effort and with an elevated heart rate that’s between 70 and 85 percent of your max rate,” says Best. And you’re probably moving fast – running or biking to the point where you’re out of breath and dripping with sweat. “This can apply to people who are taking part in distance cycling or HIIT training, or who are preparing for sports competitions or heavy lifting, for example,” says Jones.

Luckily, even if you’re prone to digestive upset, you can alleviate problems by being vigilant about what you eat, when you eat it, and how much.

Top tips for fueling intense exercise

1. Time and choose your fuel wisely

In general, eating too close to training increases the risk of gastrointestinal pain and gas. “It’s basically because your body has to multi-task between digesting your food and feeding your muscles, so both become inefficient and the good gut bacteria start releasing gas as a side effect,” explains Best.

Give yourself a few hours after a big meal to digest before pushing your body too hard. Then, “snack 30 to 60 minutes before activity to make sure your blood sugar doesn’t rise and fall before you start moving,” says Jones. If you plan to train for more than an hour, consider snacking 5-15 minutes before you start, or snacking mid-workout to replenish electrolyte stores and prevent cramping.

Be aware that protein and fat take longer to digest, so you’ll want to keep both to a minimum pre-workout, says Best. Instead, Jones recommends focusing primarily on simple carbs because they’re absorbed into the bloodstream faster and are ready to be used for immediate energy. However, adding a small amount of fat and protein will increase satiety, fuel muscle, and provide electrolytes without weighing you down. So what does it all look like? Clever examples include oat bars, hummus on a slice of white toast, a banana with a little peanut butter, and trail mix.

2. Avoid sugar alcohols

“Restrictive diets can make food reactions more frequent,” Jones says. This is especially true with foods containing sugar alcohols like xylitol. These sugar substitutes have been shown to trigger gastrointestinal reactions in people with sensitive stomachs and IBS. They’re especially common in low-carb, low-calorie, and sugar-free packaged foods, such as protein bars and diet sodas or teas. Check labels for sweeteners that don’t cause gastrointestinal pain: Good options include monk fruit and stevia, which don’t raise blood sugar and shouldn’t cause problems for your gut.

3. Refuel with gels or sports drinks

“Sports nutrition products may be smarter to use than real food for people with gastrointestinal disorders because sports drinks and gels are sources of mixed carbohydrates, so the intestines can absorb them better. “, says Jones.

Consider replacing the food with a sports gel, drink, or even honey if you want something more natural. Jones suggests SuperStarch, a mixed-carb source that’s great for long workouts and less likely to cause gastrointestinal upset.

4. Avoid dairy products if you are sensitive to them

While not everyone finds dairy to be a trigger, many do, so avoid it pre-workout if you know you fall into that camp. And note the less obvious sources, like protein shakes. “These protein shakes are typically dairy-based and can cause gastrointestinal upset in sensitive individuals when consumed too close to an intense workout,” Best says. Even though the shake is vegan, you don’t want excess pre-workout protein either.

5. Sprinkle with a little salt

Salt is actually useful before intense exercise because sodium is an electrolyte that your body loses through sweating, and more so with harder workouts. Having more stores to start with can help avoid intestinal distress. “Low fluid intake leads to gastrointestinal issues and cramping, and sodium helps maintain fluid balance and improve carbohydrate absorption,” Jones says.

Mix some salt on your pre-workout oatmeal or grab a handful of saltine crackers. “Saltines are bland and easy to digest for quick fuel in the form of glycogen for a workout,” says Best.

6. Save greens for your recovery meal

“While vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower are nutrient-dense and incredibly healthy, they can be difficult to digest and lead to nausea and gas during an intense workout,” Best says. The same goes for legumes like black beans, chickpeas, and lentils.

Instead, eat your fiber-rich foods after exercise and pair them with protein for muscle repair. “Post-workout is a good time to take in the protein you used to avoid,” Best says. “A protein shake, nut butter, or vegetables with hummus will quickly replenish your body’s amino acids to build muscle and increase your glycogen stores.”

7. Slowly introduce new foods

Don’t be too aggressive when adding fuel before or mid-workout to your routine. “People are deeply trained and then decide to add a gel, sports drink or even bananas during exercise, but have horrible gastrointestinal distress, so think they shouldn’t refuel,” explains Jones.

You certainly should fill up, but sometimes you have to get used to it. Start small by fueling up for shorter workouts and be sure to balance your food intake with enough fluids and enough electrolytes and sodium. Think of it as “training your instincts,” Jones says.

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