Bloated Belly Slowing Your Running Down?

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There’s not much worse than waking up for a training run or race day with bloating and gastrointestinal discomfort. The jostling of running can make a distended belly feel a lot worse, and in severe cases, runners will actually change their gait pattern if they are experiencing abdominal discomfort, which can increase their risk of injury.  If gas, bloating, or frequent burping are interrupting your runs, it’s best to do something about it now before it evolves into an even bigger problem – the worst thing you can do is ignore it!

What exactly is the cause of abdominal bloating?

There are a number of things that can cause air or inflammation to build up in the intestines, from trivial to more serious medical conditions. Below are some of the more common causes:

  • Swallowing air. Yup, believe it or not, this can be the culprit for bloating, especially in athletes. Breath-holding, gulping beverages or drinking from straws, or breathing shallowly without using the diaphragm muscle can contribute to this phenomenon.
  • Constipation. When things get backed up and the transit time through the intestines is slow, food can sit and “ferment” in the small intestine, which can create more gas build-up.
  • Irregular gut bacterial balance. This is probably one of the biggest culprits! People who have taken a lot of antibiotics or who are chronically ill tend to have a poor balance between the “healthy” bacteria and the “bad” bacteria.
  • Other intestinal medical conditions. There’s a condition called Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), where the bacteria are present in a part of the intestines where it should not be located. This is a common cause of “Irritable Bowel Syndrome.” The more widespread “leaky gut” syndrome is also a common cause of bloating. More serious intestinal conditions include Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis. Or, there’s the chance that the gut may have a yeast overgrowth or parasite problem.

  • Hormonal fluctuations. The effects of the hormones can be especially prominent when it comes to PMS and menopause for women.
  • Eating too quickly, or too late at night. When we eat fast, we don’t chew and break down food as well, which can cause problems. We also rely on certain enzymes to break down the food, and they are better produced and utilized when we eat slowly. Having a later dinner has also been associated with more gas. Giving your body longer stretches of the night without food intake helps promote movement of your migrating motor complex, which can help prevent constipation and bloating.
  • Food intolerances. This is another common culprit in the chronically bloated population. The most common food intolerances (whether they be food sensitivities or true allergies) include: wheat/gluten, milk/dairy, eggs, fish, soy, corn and nuts. Some people are highly sensitive to all types of grains (not just gluten) and benefit from an approach that also eliminates rice, oats, etc. Sensitivities may also lie in foods that are processed or contain artificial ingredients designed to increase shelf life time, sugar, or sugar alternatives.
  • Environmental factors. Allergens including things like pollens and dust mites, mold, pets, perfumes, and chemicals can trigger bloating in individuals who are sensitive to their environments. Mast Cell Activation Syndrome is a disease that can involve inflammation and distention of the gut (in addition to other areas) when triggered by external environmental factors.
  • Stress and lack of sleep. Both of these factors can definitely influence how you feel when you wake up for your morning run. Many bodily processes occur while we sleep, and it’s important to get enough rest and recovery to keep all of our organs functioning properly. (Rest days are not just for muscle recovery!)
  • High FODmap foods. The “FODmaps” often get blamed when people experience bloating after eating. These include foods high in fructose, lactose, fructans, and polyols. Examples of high FODmap foods include cauliflower, artichokes, asparagus, apples, ice cream, artificial sweeteners, and much more. See a more comprehensive list here.

What are some remedies for abdominal bloating?

The best starting place is to keep a symptom log to try and determine what your trigger(s) are. Once you’ve determined patterns, you can start by eliminating the triggers. If you want to fast-forward this process, you can start with an elimination diet, and slowly add back one food in at a time to be sure of which foods may be problematic for you. Most people find that eliminating dairy, grains, processed foods, and sugar are very helpful. Taking an over the counter anti-gas medication is generally ineffective and does not address the root cause of the issue. Some people find short-term relief with performing some gentle yoga movements, particularly twists, when they experience bloating.

What can I do to prevent abdominal bloating?

Start with the basics – a full night’s sleep, and be sure to drink plenty of water. People often assume they are over-hydrated when bloated, but you can also be dehydrated with abdominal bloating. Seriously consider a commitment to paleo-type dietary changes, and make sure you trial them for several months to see the full effects. Incorporating regular yoga practice can definitely help, especially with maneuvers that involve trunk rotation and twisting. It’s important to practice diaphragmatic or “belly” breathing, where you take a deep breath and initiate the inhale in your belly, as opposed to a shallower chest breathing pattern. I recommend spending several minutes a day intentionally practicing this type of breathing – for example, every time you get in the car, moments you may feel stressed, and in the minutes leading up to your workout. If you’re concerned about something bigger being at the root of the issue, consider seeing a functional medicine doctor or naturopath who can guide you in the proper tests to investigate the root cause of the issue. Depending on your individual needs, they may recommend certain supplements and/or probiotics to help keep things moving and optimize your bacterial microbiome balance. And lastly, make time to come up with stress management strategies to optimize your belly health (and beyond!)

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