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Battling the Bloat.

Updated: Mar 29

Hi there,


This article is dedicated to women who occasionally experience the discomfort of bloating. We address this topic specifically to women because not only do we tend to feel its effects more acutely, but scientific research also supports this assertion. Studies have revealed that women are more prone to bloating than men due to factors such as hormonal fluctuations, menstrual cycles, microbiota composition, stress, pregnancy, and menopause, among others.


In the following paragraphs, we'll delve into each of these factors. But before we do, let's explore the connection between gut health and exercise. How often have you gone for a run only to feel incredibly uncomfortable because of bloating? It's not just about feeling physically uncomfortable; there's also the aesthetic aspect to consider. Many women, including those I coach, have encountered this issue. The question is, why does it happen? While I've touched upon some key factors above, I'll simplify it further.


1. Feeling bloated may result from an accumulation of gas in your stomach. This intestinal gas consists primarily of air within your digestive system. For instance, indulging in sparkling drinks or chewing gum can prompt gas buildup, and excessive fiber intake can also contribute. Ultimately, assessing how discomforting the gas feels is up to you, but if bloating ensues, gas accumulation could be a contributing factor.


2. Eating too late, too much, or too quickly can disrupt our gut's circadian rhythm, which necessitates at least 12 hours of recuperation from digestion. Imagine your gut as a bustling theater after a performance. While the audience has left and the curtains are drawn, a backstage cleanup crew, akin to the migrating motor complex (MMC), springs into action. This crew can only efficiently do their job when the stage is empty, just like how the MMC activates during periods of digestive rest. Their task is to sweep away the remnants of the show—undigested food, bacteria, and other debris—ensuring that the stage is fresh and ready for the next act. So, when your digestive system takes a break, think of the MMC as the backstage crew working tirelessly behind the scenes to maintain the health and harmony of your gut. Our stomach is only about the size of our fist. It can stretch, but that can make you feel bloated, especially if you eat lots of salty food and carbs.


3. Hormonal imbalances during various life stages such as PMS, pregnancy, and menopause can lead to bloating. Estrogen, known for causing water retention, interacts with your digestive system, while hormones like estrogen and progesterone can individually induce intestinal gas by either slowing down or speeding up your gastrointestinal movement. Numerous processes governed by hormones can contribute to the sensation of bloating.


4. Consuming foods that challenge your gut's digestive capabilities can prolong the presence of food in your stomach, exacerbating bloating. Surprisingly, raw vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower can induce bloating as they pose a challenge for your gut's digestion. While these snacks are undoubtedly healthy, their raw nature extends digestion time, particularly when paired with other foods, especially dense calorie meals.


5. Food intolerance, including lactose and gluten intolerance, can significantly contribute to bloating. Alongside these, fructose, commonly found in fruits, and additives like preservatives, food dyes, and MSG, also play a role in digestive discomfort.


6. Excessive sugar consumption, particularly in the form of high fructose corn syrup, can challenge your body's digestive capacity, leading to gas, bloating, and discomfort.


7. Constipation, a common occurrence for many individuals, can contribute to feelings of bloating. Factors such as certain foods, inadequate water intake, sudden dietary changes, or stress can exacerbate constipation, further aggravating bloating symptoms.

 

We learn why this happens, but what can we do about it?


A few suggestions will be:


  1. Limit Gas-Inducing Substances. Avoid consuming soda, sparkling beverages, or chewing gum before you run. (I suggest eliminating each one individually for at least a week to gauge any observable difference).

  2. Mindful Eating. Ensure a fasting period of at least 12h between dinner and breakfast. Avoid going to sleep right after dinner. Allow 2 to 3h of digestion before going to bed.

  3. Morning Movement. Dedicate at least 30 minutes each morning to gentle walking or invigorating exercise, all while soaking in the early sunlight (you are likely aware of the vital role vitamin D plays in our health). This proactive approach not only energizes our body but also stimulates the digestive system, fostering a healthier gut microbiome.

  4. Sugar Awareness. Avoid high content sugar drinks or desserts, particularly those containing sorbitol[1],an artificial sweetener notorious for its indigestible nature. Additionally, watch out for fructose[2], a naturally occurring sugar added to numerous processed foods, which has increasingly posed digestion challenges for many individuals in recent decades.

  5. Identify Intolerances: Consider investigating potential food intolerances. An effective method is to conduct an elimination diet. Dedicate at least a week to eliminating specific foods from your diet and observe any changes in your gut's well-being. For instance, to assess lactose intolerance, exclude all dairy products, including cheese and yogurt, for a week. Then, reintroduce them and monitor your gut's response. Similarly, you can test for gluten intolerance or other sensitivities. Consulting a dietitian can offer invaluable assistance in navigating an elimination diet, aiding in the identification of food sensitivities, and facilitating the healing process for your digestive system.

  6. Avoid Problematic Foods. Avoid eating foods before your runs that commonly cause gas or bloating, such as beans, carbonated drinks, broccoli, onions, brussel sprouts and wheat.

 

In conclusion, dear readers, while bloating may sometimes disrupt your run, mood, or your daily routines, armed with knowledge and a few clever strategies, we can confidently part ways with it. From understanding our hormonal fluctuations, dietary choices, and lifestyle habits, to implementing practical steps like mindful eating, morning movement, and sugar moderation, we've uncovered the keys to regaining control over our gut health.

So, the next time bloating threatens to throw a wrench into your plans, remember that you have the power to deflate it. Listen attentively to your body's cues, experiment with personalized solutions, and don't hesitate to seek guidance from healthcare professionals if needed.


[1] Hyams JS. Sorbitol intolerance: an unappreciated cause of functional gastrointestinal complaints. Gastroenterology. 1983 Jan;84(1):30-3. PMID: 6847853.

[2] Fedewa A, Rao SS. Dietary fructose intolerance, fructan intolerance and FODMAPs. Curr Gastroenterol Rep. 2014 Jan;16(1):370. doi: 10.1007/s11894-013-0370-0. PMID: 24357350; PMCID: PMC3934501.

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