Let’s discuss something uncomfortable: gas and bloating. While it may not be the most glamorous topic to talk about, it’s certainly one of the most relatable to many athletes. Just about all of us have experienced a bloated belly at one time or another. But for some people, bloating – the sensation of gassiness or distension in the abdomen or stomach – is something that causes near daily doom. And needless to say, a ballooned belly isn’t conducive to great workouts and race results.
To be clear, occasional bloating isn’t a massive deal – it’s typically temporary and doesn’t have any long- or short-term health consequences. But that doesn’t make it any less burdensome, especially when you are gearing up for a workout or your mid-way through a run.
Bloating can be caused by both the foods and drinks we consume and the way we eat and drink them. Luckily, there are certain eating strategies we can employ that can help alleviate that feeling you have a basketball stuck in the gut. While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, here are some ways to beat the bloat.
How to get rid of bloating after meals: Slow down
The pace of life has us all in a hurry, but if that leaves you wolfing down your lunch and pre-workout fuel, be warned: beyond food you are also swallowing more gas-producing air that can balloon your belly. Also, when you inhale your sandwich in mere seconds you won’t be chewing thoroughly, and that leaves bigger chunks of food sitting in your gut that can leave you looking distended. And not to be overlooked, speed eating doesn’t give your brain enough time to properly register satiety signals so you may end up stuffing in more than you needed to which can leave you feeling and looking stuffed.
Instead of eating too quickly, take measures to slow down the pace such as chewing your food more thoroughly between bites and eating without distractions. So like your elbows, keep the smartphone off the table.
How to get rid of bloating after meals: Go easy on plant protein
For many reasons, it’s a good idea to make sure your diet contains plenty of fiber, but going hard on it can leave you feeling all puffed up. High-fiber diets are believed to contribute to bloating by boosting levels of certain species of fiber-digesting gut bacteria, which produce gas as a byproduct. A study in the journal Clinical and Translational Gastroenterology suggests that eating fiber from plant-based proteins like beans and lentils can contribute to more bloating than fiber from lower protein sources such as whole grains. It’s possible that a high-fiber diet that is richer in plant proteins results in a greater population shift towards gas-producing bacteria. Overall, these bacteria can be considered beneficial for human health, but too much of a sift at once may lead to unwanted stomach woes. Based on these results there are a few take-home messages:
- If you’re shifting towards a plant-based diet add in more legumes slowly to allow your digestive tract to adequately adjust.
- When preparing for a big event, carb-load on grains while going easy on plant-based proteins like beans (which also supply carbs) to give your tummy some relief.
- Simmer dried beans and lentils with epazote, a dried herb native to Central America that has traditionally been used to help reduce the gas many people experience when eating legumes. Try adding 2 teaspoons to a large pot of beans.
How to get rid of race-day bloating: Liquefy your gels
Many athletes turn to gels for an instant hit of sugary energy to keep up the pace. But you may have noticed that your stomach cries foul sometimes after sucking them back. One reason why is that their concentrated sugars need to be properly diluted with water to speed up gastric emptying. Tummy troubles including gas, bloating and “code brown” can arise with delayed stomach emptying during exercise. The drawing in of fluid from the blood into the stomach to aid with the dilution of the carbs in a gel can also lead to bloating. Another cause of stomach revolt is that the fructose sugars found in many sugary energy products like gels and chews can end up in the large intestine where they ferment, producing loathed symptoms including bloating, flatulence and the urgency to rush to the nearest port-a-potty.
If the typical gels don’t settle with you well you can try the new breed of liquid gels (such as GU Liquid Energy Gel) where carbs are diluted with extra water that should help improve digestion rates. To fuel with regular gels properly be sure to toss them back with enough water (about 8 ounces per gel) to dilute their higher concentration of sugar adequately. That should cut down on GI issues. Another option is to seek out gels made mostly with maltodextrin – a type of fast-digesting carb that is broken down to glucose which is absorbed in the small intestine instead of the large intestine like fructose. Sugar, sucrose, cane syrup, brown rice syrup and honey that are found in various gels will all be broken down into some fructose that may lead to stomach anarchy in certain athletes.
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How to get rid of post-workout bloating: Eat fewer salt licks
You most certainly should consume some sodium to help replace what you lose during your sweaty workouts, but going overboard may be a contributor to your temporary Buddha belly. An investigation in the American Journal of Gastroenterology discovered that diets high in salt increased the odds of bloating by 27% in a population of 417 men and women. Although it’s not clear exactly how salt contributes, fluid retention may be the key. Eating more salt can promote water retention and make digestion less efficient, which can lead to gas and bloating. Interestingly, trimming salt intake allowed participants to eat more fiber with less risk of bloating. Limiting highly processed foods, such as fast food, frozen meals, and ultra-processed package food is a good way to cut a chunk of the salt from your diet. Many restaurant dishes are notoriously laden with salt, so more home cooking can help. If you’re prone to bloating you can try adding a bit less salt to homemade dishes like soups and see if that helps. Also, eating more potassium-rich foods like fruits and vegetables can help counteract the effects of sodium in the diet. Sodium sucks water into your cells and potassium pumps it out so it may help de-bloat you.
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How to get rid of bloat after meals: Sip ginger tea
Consider following up a hearty meal with a steamy mug of ginger tea. Ginger appears to have a carminative effect, meaning it helps to improve digestion and reduces the formation of gas that contributes to bloating. As a bonus, ginger has been shown to accelerate digestion, helping to move foods through the digestive tract so they aren’t as likely to sit there and ferment in the intestines and produce gas. It may also aid with any pre-race nausea. Add a few slices of peeled fresh ginger to a mug, pour in hot water and let steep for a few minutes. Or add drops of Gaia Ginger Root (a concentrated liquid form of ginger) to cold or hot water.
How to get rid of bloat after meals: Cook your greens
Ever wonder why a green smoothie may leave you feeling like the Michelin Man? Raw kale and other cruciferous vegetables including broccoli and cabbage contain a lot of hard-to-break-down fiber and raffinose – a type of sugar that remains undigested until methane-producing bacteria in your gut ferment it, which produces gas and, in turn, makes you bloat. But don’t shun these ultra-healthy veggies just yet. Cooking kale and its ilk softens the fiber and shrinks the portion size as some of the water cooks out, so it takes up less space in your GI tract. This should make cruciferous veggies easier to digest. Steaming is a great method as it also preserves more of the nutrients. Also, if you find that eating kale and Brussels sprouts leaves you with an angry tummy you can try taking Beano before eating them. It is made from a plant-derived enzyme that breaks down raffinose before it enters the colon, thus reducing gas production. In addition, you might experiment by eating smaller amounts of cruciferous veggies every day, gradually increasing your intake to see if you can build up a better tolerance to them.
Worth noting is that beans also contain lots of raffinose, but soaking dried beans for 8 to 12 hours before cooking can help to reduce the number of raffinose sugars. The key is to discard the water after soaking, and use fresh water for simmering.
How to get rid of hydration bloating: Cap the fizz
Trendy sparkling and other bubbly waters are a good alternative to soda for staying hydrated before and after workouts, and way more fun than tap water, but their darks side is that they may leave you feeling like an inflatable ball. In a nutshell, sparkling water is water plus carbon dioxide, combined under pressure. So when we swallow seltzer, we also swallow carbon dioxide (a gas). Once gas enters your stomach one of three things can happen: It can be belched out (such as burping), it can head to the small intestine where it will be absorbed into your bloodstream or it can stick around in your stomach and lead to bloating.
So if you drink carbonated fizzy waters regularly and don’t bloat, great! But if you do tend to get distended after drinking the stuff there are a few measures you can take. You could simply try cutting back on your consumption. Say instead of drinking two cans a day you limit yourself to just one. Letting an open can or bottle stand for several minutes allows some of the gas to dissipate. Drinking it at a measured pace helps by limiting how much air you are also swallowing. And steer clear of straws, which cause you to swallow more air. Also watch out for flavored drinks that get their sweetness from sugar alcohols, which your gastrointestinal tract might have a tough time properly breaking down.
How to get rid of post-workout bloating: Drink a new moo juice in your recovery smoothie
Lactose is almost always blamed for why milk gives some people a stomach ache, but recent evidence suggests that another culprit – A1 beta-casein protein – in milk can also bring on bloating, abdominal pain and other undesirable symptoms. You can now find milk in the dairy aisle that is sourced from cow’s that naturally produce a white liquid that is free from this potential tummy troubling protein. The most common brand is A2 Milk. So if lactose-free milk still doesn’t give you relief, it’s worth trying this drink that harbors only A2 beta-casein protein in your cereal and post-ride smoothies. An investigation in the journal Nutrients found that drinking A2 milk after a workout is just as good at improving muscle recovery as is regular milk.
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