- Common causes of bloating
- Is running on a bloated stomach bad?
- How to hydrate to prevent bloating
- The best food that can combat bloating
- Fiber-rich food to moderate to avoid bloating
- Sodium-rich food to eliminate to prevent bloating
How to Prevent and Minimize Bloating During a Long Run
It’s a no-brainer that you should refuel and rehydrate in a long run to maintain or improve performance, avoid dehydration, and prevent other negative health impacts of participating in high-intensity physical activity. However, too much refueling and rehydrating can lead to bloating—an uncomfortable feeling while running and another problem that athletes should avoid and be aware of.
Every athlete should master the art of moderation during training and competition. In this blog, we’ll help you find the best ways to prevent a bloated stomach in a long run and identify the best refueling and rehydrating strategies for best performance.
What Are the Common Causes of Bloating?
Identifying the causes of bloating can help you easily avoid it during long run or any long competition. Technically, bloating happens when gas or air builds up in your digestive tract, but here are the different and exact causes that lead to this:
Swallowing Too Much Air
This seems like a funny way to explain the causes of bloating, but swallowing too much air indeed causes bloating. Holding your breath, swallowing food and beverages through straws or small openings, or breathing fast without utilizing the diaphragm muscle can increase your air intake and lead to bloating.
Having constipation means that you have irregular bowel movements. When you’re constipated, your intestines are slow-moving and won’t process food easily. This can build up gas in your digestive tract.
Food intolerances mean that there are certain types of food that your stomach finds hard to digest, so you feel an unpleasant physical reaction to them. Some of these adverse physical effects include bloating and stomach pains. It is worth noting, however, that food intolerance is different from food allergy.
Bloating caused by hormonal fluctuations is common in female athletes. When women reach their peri-menopause stage, usually during their mid-forties, estrogen begins to fluctuate. This process can cause various side effects, and one of them is frequent bloating. “Peri- and postmenopausal women have a high prevalence of altered bowel function and IBS-like gastrointestinal complaints that should be carefully assessed,” concluded a study and experiment published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Improper Eating Habits
One of the most prevalent causes of bloating among athletes and regular individuals is improper eating habits. These habits cover the time, speed, and frequency of consuming food. Eating too quickly or too late can cause bloating since you’re not giving the body enough time to digest food. And overeating, of course, can always cause bloating.
Although unlikely in a racing environment where you’re constantly moving, there are some external factors that can cause or worsen bloating. Sensitive individuals can experience bloating when exposed to allergens like pollen, dust, perfumes, and other chemicals.
Is Running on a Bloated Stomach Bad?
On the surface, running while bloated is uncomfortable. You can’t run properly with digestive problems, so it will definitely affect your performance. When it comes to negative health repercussions, there are little to no consequences. In fact, 30 minutes of mild to moderate body movements can minimize or eliminate bloating.
A study and a controlled trial published in the U.S National Library of Medicine confirmed that “mild physical activity enhances intestinal gas clearance and reduces symptoms in patients complaining of abdominal bloating.” This means that mild to moderate running can clear gas and minimize bloating during a long run.
Ways to Prevent a Bloated Stomach During a Long Run
You should be as comfortable as possible when participating in a long run or any other long competition. Your goal is to win and finish the run, so you should be at your best to achieve your goals. Part of this preparation is knowing how to prevent a bloated stomach, one of the recurring problems athletes experience during races.
Follow these tips before and during your long run to avoid and minimize bloating:
Lessen Your Air Intake
Force yourself to be mindful of your air intake before and during a long run. Breathing oxygen is a given, but you should avoid drinking water and sports drinks through a straw, eating chewing gum, drinking too many carbonated beverages, and sucking too long on hard candy.
Aside from changing the mediums you use when consuming food and drinks, you should also control your stress and anxiety. Some athletes swallow more air when they’re nervous—this is called Anxiety Aerophagia, a condition where anxious people develop stomach problems as part of their fight or flight stress responses. When athletes are anxious, their respiration, hydrochloric acid, and saliva production increase, causing various stomach problems like bloating.
To combat Anxiety Aerophagia and prevent bloating, athletes should practice stress and anxiety reliever techniques, such as breathing exercises, mindfulness activities, and progressive muscle relaxation.
Practice an Effective Hydration Strategy
Part of your hydration strategy is controlling your water and air intake. Remember that hydrating often during a long run doesn’t mean hydrating too much. The best time to fully hydrate to maintain your energy while preventing bloating is an hour before you run. Aim to go beyond 16 ounces of beverage intake before the race begins; this already includes water, coffee, or sports drinks. Stop taking too much fluids 30 minutes before the race begins, then take small sips when needed during the actual race.
When you feel like you’re bloated from excessive water intake, try to identify if it’s bloating caused by various factors involving food and the environment or bloating caused by water retention. Contrary to popular belief, the two are not the same. Regular bloating is caused by too much intake of solids, liquids, and gases, while water retention is an unpleasant feeling in the stomach caused by too much sodium intake.
Regular bloating may require you to take a rest and monitor the intake of solids, liquids, and gases in your stomach, including water. Bloating caused by water retention may require you to drink more water to remove the excess sodium in your body. Hydration is important to minimize bloating and maintain regular bowel movements, especially if you consumed too much sodium before the race. Just avoid fizzy or seltzer water since they can add more gas to your digestive tract.
Lower Your Fiber Intake
While fiber is a necessary component in an athlete’s diet, too much fiber can cause bloating and other stomach problems. Protein bars and other fiber-rich food supplements contain elements like Carrageenan and Sodium Sulfite; these are additives used to thicken and preserve processed food, so too much intake of them can lead to digestive problems.
To lower fiber intake, carefully choose your snacks during training and long runs. You shouldn’t remove fiber altogether, but you should balance your nutrition. As such, read labels and nutrition facts as you prepare your nutrition pack or your homemade snacks for the race. Here are some fiber-rich food that you should eat in moderation during race day:
- Wholegrain cereals, pasta, or bread
- Peas and beans
- Potatoes with skin
- Chia seeds
- Sweet corn
You don’t have to completely remove the aforementioned food from your nutrition pack since they are also rich in other nutrients, and therefore healthy. Just eat them in moderation during race day.
Watch Your Sodium Intake
Too much sodium can’t just cause bloating. Overall, it’s also bad for your health. Sodium is one of the main culprits of many digestive problems. The American Journal of Gastroenterology even pointed out that sodium is worse than fiber in causing bloating: “higher dietary sodium increased bloating, as did the high-fiber DASH diet. Although healthful high-fiber diets may increase bloating, these effects may be partially mitigated by decreasing dietary sodium intake. Future research is needed to explore mechanisms by which sodium intake and diet can influence bloating.”
Like fiber intake, you should also watch your sodium intake during race day. Here are some sodium-rich food and drinks that you should avoid during training and on race day:
- Salted nuts
- Processed cheese
- Instant pancakes and waffles
- Pickled vegetables
- Instant noodles
- Regular canned and dehydrated soup
- Seasoning, such as soy sauce
Pack Food and Drinks That Can Combat Bloating
Since you’re advised to avoid too much fiber intake, load your nutrition pack with food and drinks that can combat bloating. Generally, you’ll want food and drinks that are rich in water and potassium. Potassium is both a mineral and electrolyte. So, like water, it can also help the body flush out excess sodium and reduce inflammation.
Here are the best food and beverages that can combat bloating:
- Ginger, peppermint, mint-based drinks
- Coconut water
The aforementioned food and beverages are mostly bases. You can buy commercially available snacks that are rich in water and potassium. Again, just take a careful look at the nutrition facts of each processed food you’ll buy.
Follow Healthy Eating Habits
Now that we’ve established the best things to eat and avoid to prevent bloating while running, let’s get to the process of consuming food and beverages. Your entire diet and eating pattern as a runner plays a huge role in causing or preventing digestive distress, such as bloating. As such, you must follow healthy habits during training and on race day. Here are some of them:
Eat Sufficient Meals at the Right Time
Eat the right amount of food at the right time. On race day, eat your regular and right-sized meals at least two hours before the race begins. This range will give your body enough time to digest your meals. On the night before, avoid eating high-fat meals.
Don’t Eat Too Fast
Don’t eat too fast, even if you’re on training or on the actual race. The race can pressure you into doing everything fast and efficiently, but eating quickly without swallowing your food properly can increase air intake.
Stop for Mid-Run Meals or Snacks
Don’t eat your main meals or snacks while moving. Moving while eating can increase your air or gas intake. Further, this habit can also cause various digestive problems worse than bloating. Stop for mid-run meals, drinks, or snacks, then continue your journey.
Practice Nose Breathing
Nose breathing can decrease your air and gas intake, improve the speed of your body in burning fat, and help the lungs work more efficiently. Further, it can also fill out allergens like dust and pollen. Mastering nose breathing can be helpful in competitive outdoor environments, like races. Here are some practices to master this breathing technique:
Inhale, Exhale, Then Pinch
Just breathe normally and inhale and exhale through your nose. Then, pinch your nose and hold your breath. Repeat the process over and over again. This repetition will help you rely more on your nose instead of both your nose and mouth while breathing.
Walk While Nose Breathing
During your training, incorporate the technique gradually, especially when you’re warming up and cooling down. Walk while you’re breathing through your nose, then try to do it while running in your subsequent sessions.
Try Digestive Enzyme Supplements
Digestive enzyme supplements are optional and should be taken as a last resort. Think of them as a backup plan in case the natural remedies didn’t work. These supplements are, however, completely safe. In fact, these supplements can be purchased over-the-counter. Just make sure that the supplements you’ll purchase are approved by the food and drug administration in your country and have several studies to back up the claims.
Some of the most effective and popular enzyme supplements contain lactase, an enzyme that breaks down lactose, and alpha-galactosidase, an enzyme that helps break down fermentable carbohydrates (usually from sweets) into sugars. Take a look at the ingredients of the formula or medication before you purchase and consume them.
Nailing your refueling and hydrating strategy is the most effective way to prevent bloating. External factors like swallowing air and gases are unavoidable at times, so pay more attention to your food and water intake.
Bloating is one of every runner’s common problems, but remember that it is not the only unexpected health problem you should anticipate and prepare for in a long run. Make sure that your body is in perfect condition before you participate in any demanding physical activity.