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Kick G.I. Issues to the Curb!

Apr 15, 2013

Gastrointestinal issues can be a major problem for as many as fifty percent of athletes, affecting women at ten times the rate of men due to fluctuations in hormones. These exercise-related stomach problems can vary from nausea, cramps, gas, to reflux, heartburn and bloating. The reason why these stomach issues usually arise during exercise is due to the physiological changes that are occurring in your body as you train. Stephen Simmons, director of Sports Medicine and a physician at Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center, explains that "during exercise, blood gets diverted away from your digestive system to your working muscles, as well as your skin to help you sweat." This means that without adequate blood flow to your gut organs, the digestive system has to work much harder to process food.

So, what can you do to improve your gut health so that you can exercise with comfort?

  • Don't start working out too hard too soon into your training. The digestive system must learn to adapt to less blood flow during exercise, therefore it is important to gradually increase the intensity of your workout. Begin slowly and allow the body more time to adapt before increasing the intensity and frequency of your training sessions. Weightlifters are more likely to experience upper G.I. issues such as heartburn and acid reflux. Lying down on a bench to lift weights already puts one at risk for reflux because the reclined position allows gastric contents to move up the esophagus. One way to prevent this is to gradually exhale on the lifting phase of the exercise, as this reduces reflux.
  • Gulp water to keep stomach troubles away. Blood is made up of almost 50% water, therefore, less water means less blood. However, when taking in the water it is important to fill both cheeks, according to sports dietician Bob Seebohar, RD. He states that "when you take little sips, the water is not emptied from the stomach as quickly, and you swallow air each time which can cause bubbles that result in gas, cramps, bloating and pain."
  • Add variety to your routine. Research has shown that about 71% of runners have reported experiencing low G.I. problems when compared to cyclists. Running is a consistent up-and-down motion that can push and jostle the contents of your stomach around and irritate the digestive system. Incorporate low-impact activities into your routine such as the elliptical, rowing, or lifting to exercise more comfortably.
  • Change the way you think. There is a strong mind-to-gut connection when you are stressed. This is due to the body's ability to direct blood flow away from the digestive system to the muscles to fuel the fight-or-flight response when we are stressed. This means that there is less blood flow to the gut organs resulting in pain and other G.I. issues when we are overwhelmed. Taking steps to reduce stress will help reduce the flood of neurochemicals whech lead to gut problems. The best and quickest way to do this is by taking deep breaths to distract the mind from what's stressing you. These breaths send a signal to the brain to pump the brakes on the stress cycle.

Don't let G.I. issues get in the way of your workout any longer. Now you can begin by making these simple changes so that you can sweat worry free and improve your gut health and comfort!


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