Should You Avoid FODMAPs?
The health and fitness world has a rich and never-ending supply of misleading buzzwords, confusing acronyms and frustrating fads. To make matters worse, a new dietary hero or villain shows up every few years and completely changes the way that people view a “healthy diet.” For athletes, this can be an incredibly challenging situation to wade through. After all, you want to perform your best and need to be sure that everything you give your body is exactly what you need.
So, when new nutritional evils appear, it’s only natural for runners and other athletes to show some cautious interest. Over the past several years – as rage against gluten has started to wane – many people have turned their attention toward something called FODMAPs. But what, exactly, is a FODMAP? Should you cut them out of your diet? How can FODMAPs impact your performance?
First, what does that impressive – if slightly unwieldy – acronym stand for? “Fermentable, Oligo-saccharides, Di-saccharides, Mono-saccharides, and Polyols.” So, essentially, FODMAPs are carbohydrates that your body struggles to digest or absorb. And lots of foods are packed with these particular carbs, including:
- sugar snap peas
- savoy cabbage
- sweet corn
As a result, FODMAPs pass through your stomach and small intestines relatively unharmed, only to settle comfortably in the large intestine. And, as their name suggests, these particular carbs are highly fermentable. Which means that the bacteria colonizing your large intestines now have a feast on their hands.
As the bugs descend on those carbs and indulge their insatiable appetites, various gases – including methane and hydrogen – are produced. This build-up happens in everyone who eats FODMAP-rich foods and, for the most part, is handled without a problem.
When It Becomes A Problem
As mentioned, the vast majority of people who throw down FODMAP saturated foods experience no ill-effects. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.
Some individuals, particularly those who have or are predisposed to Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) can experience extreme digestive pain and dysfunction when they ingest FODMAP. Multiple studies have backed up this theory, showing that a Low-FODMAP diet is extremely effective in treating IBS. In fact, these studies also compared a Low-FODMAP diet to a gluten-free diet when it comes to IBS and found the removal of FODMAPs to be a vastly superior treatment strategy.
Which brings up an interesting issue….
Over the past several years, many people have started to shun the plant protein known as gluten, citing a somewhat controversial condition now called Non-celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS). As the name suggests, this condition describes an insensitivity to gluten that is not caused by the autoimmune condition, celiac disease. Often, NCGS is self-diagnosed.
And, according to a 2014 study, three-quarters of these diagnoses are likely incorrect. In the survey of about 147 individuals, it was revealed that they vast majority of individuals who were undergoing treatment for NCGS not only did not have the symptoms of the condition but they did not go through the appropriate diagnostic procedures.
In reality, the two symptoms of these two conditions are extremely different. As mentioned, FODMAP-intolerance causes gas, bloating and other digestive problems. Like all other food intolerances, this is caused when your body either lacks the enzyme to correctly breakdown a particular substance or simply can’t deal with the quantity. Food sensitivities like NCGS, though, are immune reactions that impact a wide range of biological systems.
It’s worth pointing out, however, that there is a lot of overlap between FODMAPs and gluten. In fact, wheat and rye contain both of these problematic substances. So, when you go gluten-free, you are also unintentionally cutting back of FODMAPs. Since most people who embark on a gluten-free diet are actually FODMAP-intolerant, then, any benefits that they feel probably has nothing to do with gluten.
Although proponents of a low-FODMAP diet have made a host of claims regarding the benefits of cutting out these particular carbohydrates, actual scientific evidence is sparse. As of right now, there is no proof that reducing your FODMAP intake will impact any other area of your health besides your digestive system.
But, for athletes, that’s a pretty big deal. Runners often devote a fair amount of time and attention to avoiding digestive issues – especially on race day. Since the activity itself can contribute to these problems, it makes sense to do what you can in an effort to limit an potential symptoms.
Unfortunately, lots of food contain FODMAPs. Making the necessary changes, therefore, can be pretty challenging. But, if after keeping a food journal for a week, you notice that certain high-FODMAP foods are causing you issues, it’s best to avoid these when possible.
To help in the process, here are some low-FODMAP foods that can be used to fill the dietary gap:
- bean sprouts
- green beans
- bok choy
- bell pepper
- lactose-free dairy
Fortunately, there are many apps and other tools available to help you avoid FODMAPs if you deem it necessary.
- Characterization of Adults With a Self-Diagnosis of Nonceliac Gluten Sensitivity, Online Publication, Apr 16, 2014 ,