How to Maximize Exercise Performance While Managing IBS

Do you struggle to bust a move without your gut wanting to burst? Fueling as an athlete or exercise enthusiast while managing IBS is far from ideal, but it’s possible! However, the extent and frequency of consumption are dependent on exercise duration, type, or intensity. Let’s be real; not every workout needs a nightly carb load or recovery smoothie. Instead, use this must-have guide to fuel for success without gastrointestinal distress.

Pre-workout with IBS

Carbohydrates are the primary source of fuel for the body and brain. They help power every jump, kick, step, and reflex required by your favorite activity. Before an hour-long workout, fuel with 30 grams of carbohydrates to help improve exercise performance.2 If you had a meal more than a few hours ago, simply top off your glycogen stores with a small snack. Otherwise, head right to it!

When selecting a pre-workout meal, it’s equally important to consider different types of carbohydrates. While fiber may help you stay full between meals, it can wreak havoc on your digestive tract during exercise. So, choose gut-friendly, low-fiber carbohydrate choices such as corn tortillas, sourdough, and gluten-free bread, pasta, or cereal.

Pre-workout tips

Keep these pre-workout fueling tips in mind to further maximize your exercise performance:

Wait it out

To minimize symptom risk, aim to consume your fuel 1 to 2 hours before exercise. For some, that may mean skipping the beloved snooze button to save time for a morning meal. While for others, it may require an on-the-go snack before an evening workout.

Train your gut

If eating right before exercise causes cramps, nausea, or diarrhea, it may be because your gut isn’t used to multitasking. While simultaneously digesting and powering your muscles may feel like mayhem, it’s a skill that can get learned. After all, practice makes perfect! So, rather than running on empty, experiment with consuming soft-textured foods that are easy to digest, such as smoothies, overnight oats, or plant-based yogurt. With time, your body will be able to handle greater quantities of fuel to better power your exercise performance without aggravating symptoms of IBS.

Avoid fatty foods

Although they may seem appealing, fatty foods can delay gastric emptying and take longer to digest. The last thing you want is for THAT moment to hit while mid-trail, run, or game. So, save your fatty (yet healthy) favorites till after your workout.

During workouts

Not every workout requires additional fueling. But any sweat-sesh over an hour may benefit from an in-between carbohydrate boost. Use the list below to assess how much carbohydrates you should consume throughout your workout.1

  • <45 minute-workout: 0
  • 45-75 minute-workout: Small amounts
  • 1-2.5 hour-workout: 30-60 grams per hour
  • >2.5-3-hour-workout: Up to 90 grams per hour

Because of their convenience and digestibility, many athletes turn to gels or sports drinks to sustain their exercise performance. They generally contain multiple forms of sugar to help absorption, improve carbohydrate delivery while minimizing the risk of gastrointestinal distress. However, keep in mind that the body requires water to absorb carbohydrates. Sports drinks or gels with a carbohydrate concentration greater than 10 percent can trigger unwanted gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, diarrhea, and stomach cramps.2

When selecting a sports drink, gel, or chew, it’s also essential to be mindful of its ingredients. Many options contain high fructose corn syrup, honey, and other high FODMAP ingredients, making them inappropriate carbohydrate sources for athletes dealing with IBS. Instead, keep your performance powered by opting for options made from maple syrup, gut-friendly fruit concentrates, or glucose.

Post-workout with IBS

You did it! After a butt-busting workout, it’s now time to refuel. After strenuous exercise, replenish glycogen stores by consuming approximately 1 gram of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight. To get your kilogram of body weight, divide pounds by 2. You can now reintroduce fiber-filled, IBS-friendly options like cornmeal, sorghum, buckwheat, and quinoa without fear of distress. But, if your stomach can’t handle an influx of food, opt for liquid carbohydrates, or break up your meal over several hours.2

Also, be sure to include at least 20 grams of protein to enable muscle repair and enhance recovery. For protein sources that won’t trigger unwanted symptoms of IBS, use options such as whey protein isolate, brown rice protein, eggs, cottage cheese, lean meat, and lactose-free Greek yogurt.

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