In athletes, digestive discomfort can be very limiting. One of the solutions that is gaining in popularity is the low FODMAP diet, a very specific (and temporary) way of eating to alleviate and even avoid discomfort during a race or a triathlon, such as bloating, diarrhea, constipation, and cramps.
What exactly are FODMAPs?
FODMAP is an acronym that stands for “Fermentable, Oligo-, Di-, Monosaccharides, and Polyols”. These are sugars found in certain foods that are poorly digested and absorbed. They will naturally produce gas and other byproducts when broken down by the bacteria in our intestines. They are classified into 5 main categories: fructose, lactose, fructans (inulin), galactans and polyols.
It is a transitional diet that is widely used in people with irritable bowel syndrome. The diet consists in eliminating during 2 to 4 weeks all the categories of fermentable sugars, to then reintroduce them gradually, one by one.
The goal? Find the category (or categories) of FODMAPs that cause(s) the discomfort. Often, not all categories are problematic. There may also be a threshold for how much food a person can tolerate at one time for certain categories. For example, a person might tolerate 1/8 of an avocado, but not 1/2 of an avocado. This is why this diet is done in 3 steps:
- Elimination phase: (2 to 4 weeks or until symptoms disappear) in order to create a “clear canvas”. Indeed, it is easier to identify our symptoms in the reintroduction phase if we do not constantly have symptoms.
- Reintroduction phase : this consists of testing certain foods contained in each of the categories of FODMAPs one at a time to see our tolerance. The idea is to identify which foods are causing symptoms.
- Personnalisation phase
Warning! Following this long-term diet could result in many deficiencies, which is why you must be well guided by a dietitian who can accompany you in the temporary withdrawal and then the reintroduction of different foods.
Foods to avoid
The question that burns your lips: what are these famous foods to avoid?
Normally, you have to go on the FODMAP diet to find out.
However, if you don’t experience discomfort on a daily basis, but rather during your workouts, you may already be able to identify certain foods that make you react. In sports nutrition, athletes are advised to limit certain foods around training to reduce these symptoms, without limiting them in the daily diet. The summary table below lists some of the foods most consumed by athletes in each category. Choose foods from the last column and limit the others before training.
How to apply the FODMAP diet?
Before jumping head-to-head into the pre-workout low FODMAP diet, try adjusting your workout behaviors first. Consult a dietitian to validate that your habits are optimized before eliminating unnecessary foods from your diet.
Make sure you:
- Hydrate well before, during and after a workout
- Avoid consuming too much fiber before a workout (it slows your digestion!)
- Avoid eating too much protein, fats and irritating foods or spices before and during a workout
- Try out you nutrition plan way ahead of competition to make sure you are comfortable with it
- Train your digestive system to tolerate foods during a workout (yes, its possible increase your tolerance!)
Despite these changes, do digestive symptoms persist with exertion? This may be a sign that you should try the low FODMAP diet. In order to better understand the hazards of this approach, do not delay in consulting a dietitian to support you in these changes. After all, we move for fun, so the sooner digestive troubles are far behind, the sooner you can have fun!