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A woman bikes on a stationary bike. Around her are foods to eat before and after a workout.

Fueling for Fitness with IBS

Did you know poor nutrition is associated with decreased sports performance and increased risk of injury? There’s no doubt that nutrition is key for active lifestyles. However, it can feel especially tricky to navigate the world of sports nutrition with the added stress of irritable bowel syndrome.

Today I want to talk about how we can fuel our bodies for fitness and activity, while also consuming foods that work for IBS. In particular, we’ll review which types of foods to eat before and after fitness for the best performance, recovery, and growth. All examples given below are also FODMAP-friendly for anyone following the low FODMAP diet for IBS.

Food before a fitness routine

Timing of meals & snacks

Let’s start by talking about how to fuel your body before heading off to the gym, court, or arena. Whatever your fitness preference, it is important to have something to eat that will give you the energy needed to perform at your best.

Some people find eating right before fitness bothers their stomach, leaving them queasy, bloated, or uncomfortable! This can be especially true when you have pre-existing digestive symptoms as a result of your IBS. Make your pre-workout meal or snack AT LEAST 1 hour before you plan on getting active. This allows some time for the food to move through your stomach and start digesting.

That being said, you also shouldn’t have more than 4 hours between eating and working out. If you wait too long after eating, you won’t have much left in the tank. Ultimately, you’ll likely feel lethargic and won’t perform as well.

Types of meals & snacks

While timing is important, we also want to choose the best types of food as a pre-workout meal or snack. In particular, carbohydrates are great before you get active. Carbohydrates are a source of fuel that our bodies can use immediately when we start our workout. The simpler the carbohydrate (meaning less fiber), the easier it is for our bodies to use. Some great examples of carbohydrate-rich foods include:

  • Banana
  • Strawberries
  • Grapes
  • Pineapple
  • Low FODMAP toast (our favourite is traditional sourdough)
  • Rice crackers and rice cakes

At the end of the day, the most important things to remember about pre-workout nutrition is to eat something! Keep it fairly light if you’re working out soon, but remember – a small ‘quick-burning’ snack is better than no snack at all!

Food after your fitness routine

After you finish up at the gym, the emphasis shifts to protein. Although carbohydrates are still important to replenish our energy stores, we want to have something with lots of protein after getting active.

Protein

Protein is so important for recovery because protein is actually the building block of muscle. Essentially, our muscles “tear-down” when we exercise, meaning we need to rebuild with protein for proper healing and growth. Getting enough protein means stronger muscles and less muscle soreness – definitely a win!

Timing

Timing is also important after your workout. Aim to eat something high protein, paired with carbohydrate within 60 minutes to ensure your muscles can repair and rebuild effectively. Depending on your workout schedule, this may be a meal with meat, chicken, fish or firm tofu. Or perhaps it could be a snack with hard-boiled eggs, low FODMAP protein powder, hard cheese, peanut butter, a can of tuna or lactose-free yogurt. Pair these foods with your favorite carbohydrate foods for a speedy recovery – who doesn’t love rice cakes with peanut butter? So easy!

How much protein?

I often get asked how much protein you should eat after your workout. Unfortunately, that answer isn’t always an easy one! The amount will depend on the type and duration of activity you do, as well as other meals and snacks you have eaten that day. A dietitian can help you with personalized recommendations that fit with your favorite fitness routine as well as foods that will work for your specific IBS symptoms.

Getting started

If you do your workout before or after work, pack something specifically for your workout in your bag. Try keeping a can of tuna or some peanuts in your bag. The reality is sometimes you can’t make it home or back to the office in time to prepare a high protein meal after your workout. Being prepared is the first step!

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The IrritableBowelSyndrome.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • tmholland moderator
    1 week ago

    Hi @joonie76,

    I’m glad you found the article interesting. You couldn’t be more right about the diets for each of the types of IBS. All the self-care and management of each tends to be a bit different, too. You are not alone with your frustration regarding the sacrifices we need to make in order to get ourselves just a little bit of peace and comfort. I researched past articles, and while I found a couple that talked about radiation in passing with regards to CT scans and such, I didn’t find anything addressing your specific query. I would ask your doctor about this subject, if you haven’t already. Thank you for your comments and I hope you are well today. -Todd, IrritableBowelSyndrome.net Team

  • Joonie76
    1 week ago

    Hi. Good article. There is quite a difference isn’t there between diets for IBS-D, IBS-C and IBS-M? My days for exercising/gym are over but I do feel undernourished with IBS-D (and now sadly fecal incontinence). I find I even have to think of what I am going to eat the day “before” any appointment. Apart from obvious pain, mess, and embarrassment of IBS-D, no longer making nutritious meals, eating out and family bringing over extra (I had to refuse just baked broccoli quiche yesterday) – people no longer ask. I feel for those younger than I and wanting to go to gym etc, so I am sure will appreciate your advice. Thank you
    (um, has there been an article on long term radiation damage to pelvis in this site in past? – cause of IBS-D symtoms too) June

  • Andrea Hardy RD moderator author
    1 week ago

    Hi June! I’m so glad you liked the article. Post radiation diarrhea can be a lot different to manage than IBS-D exclusively (though the two can overlap) I would suggest you touch base with a dietitian or your family doctor as there’s definitely a lot of great strategies to help with fecal leakage and incontinence post radiation! Radiation can absolutely effect your bowels – not just immediately post radiation – but even years down the road. There are some really great non-pharmacological, pharmacological, and medical devices to help reduce fecal leakage. I hope that helps! – Andrea Hardy, RD

  • Joonie76
    3 days ago

    Thank you.. seems I was also a member before under DorisE.. I found it hard to navigate the site, because of my own issues not the site! So trying again! 76 memory is starting to act up. I no longer have a family doctor as during the year I was in or on bed a lot with other issues and spilled some coffee on my open pill box, melting some medications.. and needed one (Clonazepam) about a week before renewal of prescription: my GP refused to bring forward the prescription!! As I had been put on a taper for this because they are trying to get older people off them (after my being on them 15 years)..going with none for a week or so would have been horrible so my pharmacist fast forwarded and my Dr. was mad; one thing led to another and he dismissed me from his practice saying I was mis managing my medications! I know this is not IBS interest although I did also melt some Imodium, but I find a huge difference in any help for IBS, depression etc. from family doctors for the elderly: one issue per visit, ten minutes per appointment, appoinments 3 months apart… They dont have time to talk about long term bowel issues especially with Seniors. Dealing with bowel issues when older, frail, and other physical and mental issues piling up is not the same as when I first started the IBS-D journey when younger, and frankly it gets one down. I would encourage younger sufferers to get as much self help as they can through sites like this, even DrGoogle and other sufferers because it not being curable have to be pro active to the max. Best wishes to all… Thanks, June

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