Training for and participating in an obstacle course race can make you feel unstoppable, but the truth is, plenty of participants face personal challenges that make them feel less like The Rock and more like they’d rather be hiding under a rock. If you’ve ever experienced stomach or digestive issues that seem exacerbated during workouts, training sessions, or at actual Tough Mudder events, it might be time to test out the FODMAP diet.
Nope, it’s not the type of fad diet that promises fat loss, muscle gains, and energy enhancement—it’s the diet doctors recommend to their patients who face IBS-related symptoms in regular, daily life. In a nutshell, FODMAP stands for Fermentable, Oligo-, Di-, and Mono-sacchardies, and Polyols, and the FODMAP diet relates to cutting foods from your diet that contain FODMAPs. The foods you cut can be reintroduced methodically, so you can better understand which foods are causing the stomach issues.
Unlike the gluten-free diet, this diet acknowledges that each individual might have a different reaction to different types of foods. Garlic might be fine for one athlete, while chickpeas might make their stomach do somersaults. Plenty of IBS sufferers who have been following a gluten-free diet unsuccessfully are seeing life-changing results by paying attention to FODMAPs. So, it makes sense that those of us who suffer from exercise-related IBS should pay attention, too. And there are studies to back it up.
We turned to FODMAP expert, Kristen Bentson, DC, owner of You Anew Lifestyle Nutrition, and author of The Cool Girl’s Guide To The FODMAP Diet to get the scoop. “Exercise-related IBS is so common, but rarely talked about. No one has an issue saying, ‘Ugh, my headache is the worst today,’ but very few people feel comfortable saying, ‘My diarrhea is just awful today!’” Bentson continues, “So even if you don’t hear other athletes complaining about it, know you’re not alone. And researchers are listening!”
A new 2019 study confirms that ditching certain foods from the diet can alleviate the gastrointestinal issues people may experience when they exercise. Over two-thirds of participants involved in this new research reported an improvement. This is major because exercise-related GI issues are a common cause of underperformance.
So how does an athlete go about starting the FODMAP diet? Familiarize yourself with a list of foods that are high in FODMAPs and eliminate them from your diet. Bentson advises, “Start by working to reduce the amount of fermentable carbs you eat, especially foods like garlic, ice cream, milk, gluten, watermelon, apples, and beans.” Then, once you give yourself some time, you can reintroduce the foods back into your diet, one by one, to see which foods upset your stomach the most. Benston says, “You’ll want to cut out any foods high on the list for four to six weeks and then slowly challenge each group of FODMAPs systematically.”
Pro Tip: You’ll want to watch out for sugar alcohols, commonly found in most sports drinks, protein bars, and shakes. Ingredients like xylitol, sorbitol, and others are known bloaters and give IBS-prone athletes lots of issues. Bentson also says inulin, found in lots of high fiber supplements and foods, is one to (seriously) avoid: "It’s a recipe for disaster for susceptible individuals.”
If you realize your stomach issues are interfering with your Mudder life, you’ve got nothing to lose (except digestive issues) by conquering the FODMAP diet. Of course, Bentson reminds us, “Ideally, it’s best to work with a practitioner who has experience with diet to make sure you’re getting all of the nutrients you need.” So be mindful of continuing to use food as fuel, eat nutrient-dense foods, and use the FODMAP diet as a way to increase your performance, comfort, and mood on the trails.