How to Eliminate Gastrointestinal Issues During Exercise

Nobody enjoys feeling nauseated and bloated, but for professional athletes, this problem can seriously impact their ability to perform at their best. Despite how healthy their diet is or how fit and strong they might be, many athletes still experience gastrointestinal issues when training or during competition. This begs the question; how can we avoid these digestive problems in order to achieve peak performance?

While every athlete is different and should consult a dietitian to receive a personalised approach, there are a few things you can try in order to reduce your changes of experiencing gastrointestinal upset during training sessions. Here are our top tips…

Reduce your fibre intake

Fibre is an essential part of a healthy diet. It stimulates your digestive system, feeds the good bacteria in your gut and helps you feel fuller for longer. But it can also give you gas, which can result in even greater discomfort and nausea when combined with exercise. High fibre foods also slow down the rate of digestion and will sit in your stomach for longer.  Certainly not what you want if you are going to be running or jumping during training sessions! For this reason, it is often a good idea to experiment with lower fibre foods immediately before training sessions.  This might mean swapping out wholegrain bread for a white bread sandwich or avoiding meals/snacks with too much brown rice or legumes in the 2 hours prior to training sessions. If you choose to go down this route, you should speak to your dietitian about any potential changes to your diet to ensure you are still getting the right amount of energy and nutrients you need to perform at your best.

Be careful with fats

It’s no secret that getting enough energy in is absolutely essential to succeeding as an athlete. After all, our bodies simply can’t perform their best without the right amount of fuel. However, whilst delicious, high fat foods, like high fibre foods, also take longer to digest and won’t sit well when consumed too close to training sessions. This type of food combined with high-intensity or a high volume of exercise can leave you feeling extremely bloated, nauseas and lethargic.

Instead, you should aim to eat a meal or snack high in easily digestible carbohydrates, lower in fibre and fats before your training session or competition. This could include foods such as low fibre cereal with low fat milk and honey or a vegemite sandwich on white bread.  These types of foods will give you enough carbohydrates to energise your body whilst preventing gut issues.

Trial a lower FODMAP diet

No matter how careful some athletes are with reducing the fibre and fat content of their pre-training meal or snack, they still experience gastrointestinal discomfort during training or competition.  Whilst a low FODMAP diet won’t be the first approach to take, it can be trialled under the careful guidance of an Accredited Sports Dietitian if all other dietary modifications still leave you with gut issues.

FODMAPs is an acronym for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols.  Essentially a low FODMAP diet reduces your intake of carbohydrates that are fermented in your large intestine as part of the normal digestive process.  Eliminating high FOMDAP foods can reduce the severity of bloating, cramping, and diarrhoea in many individuals.

Research has recently found that athletes who eat a relatively low FOMDAP diet in the days leading up to training or an event experience a decrease in gastrointestinal upset. Even more importantly, over two thirds of participants in this study reported that they were able to exercise more frequently and to a greater intensity. While you shouldn’t eat a low FODMAP diet long-term unless instructed to by your dietitian, consuming less of these foods before a competition or in the lead up to an intense training session could do wonders for your performance!

An Accredited Sports Dietitian can help to determine the best approach to diet and exercise for your athletic goals. Get in touch with the team at Sunshine Coast Dietetics today to book an appointment with one of our professionals!