Tips for the digestive health of athletes



Many athletes suffer from gastrointestinal complaints such as gas, bloating, pain and / or diarrhea in their sports practice . These discomforts lead them to make strict diets in which they frequently eliminate, almost entirely, vegetables and fruits. So they end up basing their diet only on carbohydrates such as refined pasta, bread or rice and protein foods, something not recommended. Solution? If you are an athlete and suffer this type of discomfort, the solution will be to read this article in which I will explain how to improve your digestive health and, therefore, improve your performance.


If proteins and carbohydrates are the true protagonists of your diet, this can lead to a deficit in vitamin C, fiber and substances of plant origin with high antioxidant power (phytochemicals). In addition, it is also possible that constipation and an impoverishment of the intestinal microbiota or flora that can affect the immune system and your body, in general. All this can also harm your sports performance .


Vegetables and fruits help maintain a healthy gut flora or microbiota and overall good body function. Keeping this general aspect in mind is important, but it is also essential to learn when we should promote a type of fruit or vegetable. This will depend on the health or performance objective that we are seeking and also according to the characteristics of the athlete.


Nutritional recommendations for athletes with digestive complaints

Symptoms such as gas, bloating, pain and / or diarrhea affect a good part of athletes and can even cause them to fail to complete a training or an important test. Therefore, before these symptoms it will always be advisable to go to the consultation of a graduate and experienced dietitian-nutritionist so that he can diagnose the causes of the symptoms and treat them with an adequate diet.



Relationship between carbohydrate consumption and gastrointestinal complaints

If you are an athlete, you probably already know that before an important test , the previous day you should avoid dairy because they are rich in lactose , as well as legumes because they are rich in galactans and also whole foods because they are rich in fructans . All of them are short-chain carbohydrates that can be fermented in the large intestine by bacteria and increase gastrointestinal symptoms such as gas, bloating, pain, and even osmotic diarrhea.

Currently, it is known that there are also two other types of short-chain carbohydrates that can cause the same effects: fructose, present in juices, honey, sports gels , etc. and polyols such as mannitol and sorbitol present in light foods, pears, plums, etc.

Detecting these reactions to the consumption of carbohydrates was the previous step to the development of the diet that we now know as the FODMAP diet .


Digestive discomfort and the FODMAP diet


With all this knowledge, in 2004 Monash University designed the low FODMAP diet (an acronym for all the carbohydrates mentioned: fructoligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosoccharides and polyalcohols ). The objective of this diet was to reduce these unpleasant symptoms that condition the quality of anyone with intestinal problems , also if they are athletes with greater intestinal sensitivity to this type of carbohydrates.

What does the FODMAP diet consist of ?


For 2-6 weeks, foods rich in FODMAP are eliminated and then a progressive reintroduction of these foods begins. During this reintroduction, the nutritionist determines what is the level of tolerance of this type of carbohydrates.

These dietary recommendations apply to patients with digestive problems and in the case of athletes with similar symptoms during competition, this diet is applied to them but for a shorter time: for example, the day before a competition, although they will always be the nutritionist the one who supervises the application and duration of this low FODMAP diet .


What foods are low in FODMAP?


Ok, now we know a little more about what is the application of the FODMAP diet in athletes, but what foods are low in FODMAP and could be consumed during these periods? If we talk specifically about fruits and vegetables , the following list shows the recommended foods in these cases since they are low in fodmaps :


Kiwi, blueberries (*), coconut (*), strawberries, pomegranate (*), clementine, lemon, lime, tangerine, cantaloupe (*), banana, grapefruit (*), papaya, passion fruit (*), pineapple, orange , grapes.

Vegetables (garnish)

Olives (*), chard, chicory (*), avocado (*), bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, whole broccoli (*), aubergine (*), zucchini (*), kale (*), Brussels sprouts (*), Japanese pumpkin, endive, endive, spinach, green beans, kale, lettuce, corn (*), turnip (**), cucumber, pepper, ginger, radish, arugula, tomato, carrots, hearts of palm.

(*) (*) Quantities less than 50 g 

As you can see, there are foods in which the content of FODMAP is very low so they can be consumed more frequently. For example, the Zespri kiwi, which is also rich in fiber, vitamin C and other nutrients, can be very useful in cases of constipation, reducing bloating and gas.

On the other hand, when you perform continuous and intense physical activity you can cause an increase in intestinal permeability . This gut permeability is related to local inflammation and can affect your defenses and overall immune status. In these cases it is necessary to pay close attention to food and avoid a work overload for the intestine.

Finally, it is important to note that intestinal health should not only be kept in mind before a competition, as is usually done, but also throughout the entire training period. In this way, the athlete's response to all foods can be fully understood , including those foods rich in short-chain carbohydrates that in this article we have seen were so important in controlling these digestive complaints .

These types of hydrates are not only present in regular foods but also in supplementation (isotonic, gels, bars, etc.). In other words, it is very important to know individual tolerance and personalize food.

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