Athlete’s Guide to Avoiding Bloating, Cramping and Gastric Distress

Lori Russell, MS RD CSSD
by Lori Russell, MS RD CSSD
Share it:
Athlete’s Guide to Avoiding Bloating, Cramping and Gastric Distress

Everyone faces the occasional gastrointestinal (GI) discomfort including bloating, gas, pain, cramping and/or frequent trips to the restroom. These issues aren’t fun for anyone, but mostly, they pass quickly and are not a serious concern. However, for athletes, these stomach woes can cause missed training sessions, mid-workout dashes into the bushes, frequent port-a-loo stops in races and may contribute to overall poor performance. Studies suggest that up to 50% of athletes, especially endurance athletes, suffer from gastric distress.

Here are some top reasons you may be experiencing such issues and how to avoid them:


Issue: While essential for overall health, fiber is difficult to digest. Eating high-fiber foods before a workout can lead to gas, bloating or even diarrhea.

Solution: Consume low-fiber foods prior to workouts and increase water consumption when you do have fiber.


Issue: Sport drinks with a 6–8% concentration of carbohydrates have an optimal gastric emptying rate. Stronger concentrations attract more fluids to enter the stomach which typically results in a bloated, sluggish and uncomfortable stomach.

Solution: Check the concentration of your sport drink by dividing the grams of carbs by the milliliters of fluid (8 ounces = 240 ml) and multiply by 100. Dilute drinks that are above the 8% guideline.


Issue: This naturally occurring sugar (found in fruit and agave) as well as added to many sport and processed foods as high-fructose corn syrup, is slow to absorb and, in large amounts, can cause gastric distress.

Solution: Check your sport food labels and opt for varieties that either do not include fructose or at least contain sugars from multiple sources.


Issue: This substance has been proven to increase performance, but it can also overstimulate the gut, causing you to dash to the restroom.

Solution: Experiment with the amount and timing of your caffeine intake to make this ‘gut clearing’ effect work for, not against, you!


Issue: Pop a piece pre workout? Think again. This simple act can have you taking in excessive air, especially when your lungs are already taxed. That air gets trapped in your GI passages and creates bloating and gas.

Solution: This one is easy: just skip it.



Issue: Heavy training may leave you ravenous, but eating too much (especially too quickly) can leave your stomach sluggish to digest it all.

Solution: Eat smaller, more frequent meals on days you’re training.


Issue: Eating too close to workouts can leave your body struggling to get blood to both your stomach and working muscles.

Solution: Eat large meals 3–4 hours before a workout, snacks roughly 90 minutes before and quick energy (sport drinks/gels) 30 minutes prior.

About the Author

Lori Russell, MS RD CSSD
Lori Russell, MS RD CSSD

Lori, MS RD CSSD is an accomplished sports dietitian; she holds a Master’s Degree in Human Nutrition and Certification as a Specialist in Sports Nutrition. As a current professional road cyclist and previous elite marathoner and ultra-runner, Lori knows firsthand that food can enhance or diminish performance gains. She understands the importance of balancing a quality whole food based diet with science-backed performance nutrition and strives to share this message with others. Learn more about her @HungryForResults.


Never Miss a Post!

Turn on MyFitnessPal desktop notifications and stay up to date on the latest health and fitness advice.


Click the 'Allow' Button Above


You're all set.