A few years ago a great functional medicine doctor introduced me to the idea of fixing my digestion to FEEL better (and potentially lose a few lbs). I’d never heard of this concept and since my stomach has always been fairly flat never considered being bloated after running was in fact an issue.
I always assumed being bloated meant looking like you’d swallowed a basketball.
But it’s so much more than that, often it’s just this feeling of being uncomfortably full. Particularly when we know it’s not appropriate (like we haven’t eaten that much).
My friend and Registered Dietitian Katie Proctor has jumped in to give some additional ideas around stopping that bloated after running feeling.
What is bloating?
Abdominal bloating is when the gastrointestinal (GI) tract is filled with air or gas. You might hear it described as feeling full, distended or swollen in your belly. The abdomen may or may not look expanded.
Other signs of bloating are:
- excessive gas
- frequent burping
- stomach noises (gurgles)
What causes feeling bloated after running?
First, let’s start with this is not something you should deal with a lot or simply write off as one of those things that happens when you run. It’s preventable.
You need to figure out the root cause of this fluid build up and then start implementing some of the tips below to put it behind you!
A few of the most common causes:
One of the mysteries of our body is that when you become dehydrated, the body actually starts to hold on to water. Thus you end up with water retention that can make you feel overly full.
This can also happen when you start to guzzle sports drinks. They are designed to help the body increase water retention so your muscles will have plenty as you continue to sweat. Plus the artificial sweeteners, cause additional stomach distress.
However, if you are guzzling them this can lead to overhydration.
So yest both dehydration and hyponatremia (all that sports drink) are equal offenders.
Pre-Race Carbo Loading
A quick specific mention that leading up to a marathon when you’re consuming a high amount of carbohydrates, you will in fact retain more water.
Consumption of nearly 75% of your calories from carbs is going to increase that water weight. And this is a good thing at that time because we need glycogen stores to be topped off and you to be fully hydrated when you hit the start line.
Remember that this feeling should go away as you start the race and you should not still feel bloated from your carbs after finishing. If you still have post-workout bloat at that time, it’s a good sign you took in too many fluids.
Usually we think about how long to wait after eating to exercise in terms of preventing a side stitch or potential bathroom issues. But the same principle holds true for everything happening in your digestive tract.
As the blood is moved away from your stomach and small intestine to your legs, the food now sits undigested in the stomach.
Basically this gives those fatty and high fiber foods time to ferment and voila you’ve got some extra wind in your sails on the run.
The other way this can happen is through simply having too much air in your stomach. You’ll see below this could be from the way you’re eating or perhaps your breathing rate is too high and you are swallowing a lot of air. The second one is far less likely.
Related to the above issue is eating something that just doesn’t site quite right with your digestive system. While this could certainly mean eating a rancid food, we’re mostly talking about something that causes a reaction like gas or a stomach ache.
For me that’s dairy and eggs, for you it might be just high fiber foods like oatmeal and broccoli.
Because it’s not a true food allergy, I didn’t make the connection right away.
It could require some sleuthing just like with runner’s trots, to figure what is causing your digestive issue. Start adding notes to your running log for days where you have bloating and then look at what you ate in the hours before.
Unfortunately it’s extremely common to have gut imbalances and not know it. It’s something that most Dr’s don’t address and we aren’t taught.
A gut imbalance is when your body has more of the bad bacteria than good, which creates an environment that has a lot of negative health impacts. It can cause skin issues, low mood, decrease the immune system and of course impact how you feel when you eat!
It might also limit your absorption of nutrients, which is then going to cause other issues with your running.
If you go through the list and nothing seems to fit then it’s never a bad idea to rule out medical issues. There are a few common ones that can cause bloating and might mean you need to look at your training differently to manage them.
- Celiac disease
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Some medications
- SIBO or other bacterial growth
All right now that we’ve looked at some common things that might make you feel bloated after running, let’s look at what we can do to help.
6 Secrets Eliminate Bloating After Running
Understanding which of these may be contributing to your discomfort is important to help you figure out which steps to take to get to feeling like your best self.
Here are 5 tips for how to stop feeling bloating after a workout.
1. Reduce Workout Intensity
If you’re bloated after a workout, then increased cortisol from the stress of intensity, might be your issue.
When your body is in a stressed state, even from something healthy like working out, it releases the stress hormone cortisol which causes your body to retain more water than normal.
- Pay attention if this is happening frequently
- Take another rest day
- Spend time doing restorative yoga to help your body calm
- Make sure mindfulness or meditation to help your mind calm
- Add adaptogens to your green smoothie (ashwagandha is great for cortisol)
These are signs that your body is giving you to say it’s being worked too hard. You may need a cutback week in training or to adjust how often you’re doing high intensity workouts.
2. Slow Down in Life and Eating
In an era of never-enough-time, it always feels like we’re rushing from one obligation to the next.
It means that meals are often eaten in a hurry or on the go. The problem is that eating quickly usually means swallowing some air along with your food, which can contribute to that uncomfortable feeling in your stomach.
- Put your fork down between bites
- Think about chewing each bite
- Eat smaller meals if you don’t have time to eat more slowly
- Sip, don’t gulp water during your meal (tons of water can slow digestion)
- Plan your meals to be an appropriate amount of time before your workout
If you’re constantly in a rush, try incorporating more frequent “mini meals” so that your body doesn’t have to work as hard digesting so much food at once.
Think about these as small pre-run snacks like bananas, cereal or a sandwich.
When it’s time for you to run there won’t be a large heavy meal sitting your stomach that needs to be digested.
3. Eliminate Fizzy Drinks
I hate to say it La Croix lovers, but your daily habit could be holding you back from looking and feeling your best.
That’s because the bubbles in carbonated beverages contain carbon dioxide, which can be released as gas in your stomach once consumed.
Don’t worry, it’s only temporary, but you might consider sticking to good old H20 if you want to combat this unwelcome side effect. Pair that water with naturally fibrous foods (such as whole grains, legumes, fruits/veggies, nuts/seeds) to keep your system moving.
- Yes, you might need to check to see if your electrolyte tablet is the issue (many are fizzy)
- Remember to space your fiber out from your run, but you MUST EAT FIBER
- Going too low in fiber will slow down your gut
4. Add in a Daily Probiotic
For years now I’ve been preaching the benefits of a probiotic for women , but especially if you’re dealing with bloating after running.
A few of the benefits you’ll enjoy with this one tip:
- Used consistently showed a reduction in runner GI issues (aka trots)
- Reduce the length of respiratory infections
- Deliver “good bacteria” to the intestines to balance out all that stuff listed above
- Mood improvement (extra helpful if we have to miss a run!)
- Improve nutrient absorption
- Help maintain blood glucose levels (less sugar crashes)
- Good gut health is now partially linked to runners being able to more quickly clear lactic acid, which might fight muscle fatigue.
✅Previnex is the ONLY one I’ll recommend and take. You need one that has at least 6 different strains and 30 billion CFU to be doing any good. So no your yogurt isn’t cutting it.
Want to try it for yourself? I love their line so much, they provided a discount!
Use RTTF15 – 15% off a first order!
5. Enjoy Herbal Tea Time
Detox teas seem to be the product endorsement of choice for celebrities these days, but is there any merit?
Many of these teas combine caffeine with potent diuretics, which can trigger the loss of water weight, but not in the most natural or sustainable way.
And as runners we aren’t looking to flush out water that we might need on the run. We just don’t want to hold on to excess.
A better option is to choose naturally debloating teas, such as dandelion or peppermint (which has relaxant and antispasmodic properties) as you’ll get the same benefit without all the gimmicks.
Which means you’ll probably pay less for those results, too! Great options:
Nutritionist tip: Mix in a scoop or two of collagen peptides (this brand dissolves in hot or cold liquids) to your favorite tea because they’re totally flavorless and get all the gut-healing properties of collagen.
6. Be an Investigator
If bloating persists, don’t rule out the possibility of food sensitivity as an athlete. Gut imbalances or other nutrition-related medical conditions are more common than you might assume.
Seek guidance from a professional if you suspect there are other factors at play, as they can help you rule things out and hone in on action steps to get you feeling better.
- For one week document any time you feel symptoms and then look at what you’ve been eating and doing
- Eliminate one thing at a time to see if it makes a difference
- Start taking a daily probiotic
- Get tested for food intolerances (I recommend this Everlywell test)
While the tests are not fool proof, I find they often give us a place to start instead of just shooting in the dark. I’ve used it in the past and again won’t eliminate everything at once, but test things out and see what has the biggest impact for me.
As you can see, feeling bloated after running is not always about taking away things from your routine, but incorporating foods and activities that will improve your mental and physical state.
Above all else, remember to love yourself first, as being self-critical can contribute to that little thing we call stress, which isn’t doing anyone any favors! In fact, it’s a culprit of bloating!
Looking for additional sports nutrition tips:
Have you ever focused on eliminating bloating?
Any other tips you’d add?
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