The Low FODMAP Diet for Athletes: Destroy Gut Issues with Food

The Low FODMAP Diet for Athletes: Destroy Gut Issues with Food

It’s time for a gut-check.  I want you to think about the following questions: Does your gut feel like a constant gassy, painful, distended mess despite the removal of numerous offensive foods? Do you always feel bloated after a meal and it worsens as the day progresses? Are you ever constipated for days until the cycle ends with an episode of explosive diarrhea? When you enter a new gym or competition site, do you often find yourself frantically trying to memorize the location of each and every bathroom?

Have you been diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)? Maybe you tested positive for SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth).

If any of this sounds familiar, it might be time for you to take a stab at the low FODMAP diet.

Never heard of the low FODMAP approach? That’s ok! Many healthcare practitioners advise their patients to begin this plan without providing the slightest explanation as to what it entails. And let’s be honest, Google can only take you so far in your health journey.

In today’s article, I will review the basics of the Low FODMAP diet for athletes and how to implement this approach in the safest and effective way possible.

What On Earth is FODMAP?

 FODMAP, not to be mistaken with “FOODMAP” is the acronym for Fermentable Oligo-Di-Monosaccharides and Polyols, otherwise known as the type of carbohydrates that most easily ferment in the gut.   Let’s break this down a little further. The specific carbohydrates described include:

  • Oligosaccharides: Fructans and galactans
  • Di-saccharide: Lactose
  • Mono-saccharide: Fructose (fructose found in excess of glucose- this is why certain fruits are on the Low FODMAP list while others are not!)
  • Polyols: Sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, maltitol. This family is also known as the sugar alcohol family.

  For a detailed list of high FODMAP foods to avoid under each of these categories, check out this awesome checklist by the dietitian and FODMAP guru Kate Scarlata or check out our infograph below.  

High FODMAP Specific Carbohydrates

FODMAP foods:

  • Are very osmotic, meaning they increase intestinal fluid volume
  • Tend to digest poorly in the small intestine
  • Are prone to gut bacterial fermentation because of their tendency to digest so poorly, thus producing excess carbon dioxide, hydrogen, and methane gases

  The bad news? Consumption of these foods can lead to more gas, cramping, bloating, diarrhea, constipation and often times, pain!   The good news? The low FODMAP approach as a way to alleviate gastrointestinal symptoms is heavily supported by research.   In fact, according to research completed by Monash University, 3 in 4 individuals suffering from IBS experience some form of gastrointestinal relief after following a low FODMAP diet.A 2011 study by Staudacher suggests reducing the FODMAP load improved IBS symptoms dramatically. In fact, 87% of participants experienced less gas, 86% experienced a reduction in overall symptoms, 85% reported a reduction in pain, and 82% reported less bloating.

How Do I Follow the Low FODMAP plan?

 In an ideal situation. you would start by contacting a Registered Dietitian in your area who is familiar with implementing a FODMAP friendly nutrition plan. Extra bonus if he or she is a sports dietitian!

The dietitian or healthcare provider will then walk you through the removal of these foods. The time frame can range from 3 weeks to 3 months. However, most experienced clinicians recommend a 6-8 week removal. I have found in my own practice that 6-8 weeks is approximately how long it takes for most individual’s bowels and immune system to rest and heal.

During this time period, your provider will help you create an eating plan that focuses on removing the high FODMAP foods and eating only low FODMAP foods.

After a stringent removal of these foods, you will then be instructed on which foods should be reintroduced, when they should be reintroduced, exactly how they should be reintroduced and in what quantities. The reintroduction process will vary dramatically between individuals, hence why I highly recommend being supervised by a licensed professional. Unfortunately, reintroduction is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Therefore, I am not able to explain a step by step process in this post.

Pro Tip #1: Every individual’s response and “safe food” list will be vastly different. Therefore, it is critical that you tune in as intently as possible to your symptoms.

Pro Tip #2: When you do discover the food(s) that provoke your most intense symptoms, DO NOT PANIC. This is NOT an allergy but instead a food intolerance (interested in learning about the differences between a food allergy, sensitivity, and intolerance?  Check out our post explains everything you need to know). When you discover foods that are provocative, there is a chance this will resolve itself once the immune system has had the chance to relax and repair.  So, give things time.

Pro Tip #3: Focus on what you CAN have. Do not complain and cry about the foods that you cannot consume. Focusing on the “avoid” list will make this a miserable experience. Worst of all? It takes your focus off the true purpose of why you are implementing this approach.

Pro Tip #4: You’ve already previewed the list of high FODMAP foods to avoid. Now, once again check out Kate Scarlata’s list of lower FODMAP foods that are safer for consumption. I recommend printing this and keeping it on your fridge! If you are not working with a healthcare professional, use this list to create a meal plan for yourself.

Why is the Low FODMAP Approach So Beneficial for Athletes with gut issues?

The Low FODMAP diet for athletes with IBS and other gut-related symptoms can be incredibly useful.

Why? When you dive deeper into the approach, you will find that the foods most heavily marketed towards athletes are the highest FODMAP foods on the planet!!

Prime Examples:

  • High Fructose Corn Syrup (free fructose) can be found in an abundance of sports drinks, packaged snacks, and energy chews/gels.
  • More of a naturalist? Unfortunately, naturally occurring fructose is also found abundantly in honey and agave. (100% natural maple syrup would be your best option.)
  • Milk/Yogurt/Soft or Fresh Cheese (lactose) How many times in your life have you been told to drink chocolate milk for recovery or eat 3 servings of dairy a day for strong bones? Enough said.
  • Wheat/Barley/Rye (fructans) Just about every book or article ever written emphasizes the importance of whole wheat bread, pasta etc. to boost an athlete’s energy. After coaching and observing thousands of athletes over the years, I tend to disagree with this thought process. However, regardless, it is still a recommendation made by many authorities in the field. One of the challenging things to understand and explain to many people is that these recommendations often do not discuss quality.  There is a HUGE difference between the type of wheat you ingest when from an organic, pure, and whole wheat derivative vs the blanched and refined wheat ingested from the cheap pizza from around the corner from your home.  One example of something that is often found in lower quality grains which isn’t as common in higher quality forms is called glyphosate.  You can read about this dandy of a man-made chemical often laced in our foods here.
  • Xylitol/Mannitol/Maltitol/Sorbitol (polyols) The next time you grocery shop, take a closer look at the “low sugar” flavored drinks, salad dressings, gum, mints or protein bars geared towards athletes or those hoping to lose weight. These items are often jam-packed with sugar alcohols.

Strategies for Success

The load (or portion) and form of the food truly matters. For example, as an athlete, you may be accustomed to living off fruit…until you realize most of your favorite fruits are high FODMAP items to avoid.   When it comes to fruit…

  1. The load of fructose in fruit matters. For example, a banana can be a high FODMAP food. However, you may find that eating 1/4 or 1/2 of a banana leaves you asymptomatic vs. eating an entire large banana makes you sick.
  2. Avoid fruit that is under ripe (high starch) or over ripe ( promotes greater fermentation in the gut). Sometimes buying frozen fruit can really help.
  3. Avoid dried fruit and juice because of the highly concentrated carbohydrate found in these items (again = more fermentation in the gut).
  4. Keep reminding yourself that your favorite foods will eventually be reintroduced.

When it comes to dairy…

  1. When it comes to dairy, you may find that hard cheeses are better tolerated than soft as they contain less lactose AND contained naturally occurring bacteria that can help your body digest the cheese.
  2. Avoid all liquid dairy. Contrary to popular belief, goat, sheep as well as cow’s milk all contain lactose.

When it comes to grains…

  1. Wheat, rye, and barley are high fructan foods that contain gluten, However, gluten is the protein found in these grains NOT the carbohydrate. Therefore, simply following a gluten free approach may not provide you with relief.
Amaranth Bars- Helping Alleviate Gut Issues with Food
Amaranth is one example of a grain that tastes great and can be substituted for high FODMAP grains.

A gluten free approach is not a low FODMAP approach and a low FODMAP approach is not necessarily a gluten free approach. However, as I have mentioned before, most individuals do find a greater level of relief if they avoid gluten as well. Focus on what you CAN eat when it comes to grains. The best low FODMAP, gluten free grains include rice, quinoa, oats, amaranth, millet, buckwheat, and teff.   When it comes to sugar alcohols…

  1. 100% pure maple syrup, brown rice syrup, and stevia are more gut friendly options for sweeteners.
  2. While table sugar (sucrose) can be very inflammatory, if consumed in very moderate amounts, it can trigger fewer symptoms than sugar alcohol.

General strategies:

  1. Read labels carefully, especially for hidden high FODMAP additives. A great example is chicory root. There are now coffee alternatives and protein/fiber bars on the market loaded with chicory root. While all of the other ingredients in a food item may be FODMAP friendly, steer clear if you see chicory root on the list. Chicory root is full of inulin (a dietary fiber known as fructan) and often leads to major gastrointestinal distress.
  2. Portions matter!! You may be able to consume a small amount of high FODMAP foods without experiencing symptoms but then sit down to a meal with several low FODMAP foods and together, they produce symptoms. The best advice I can give you? Journal, journal, journal! Document exactly which foods you ate, in what quantities and then make note of the reaction(s) that you experienced. Bring this into your next visit with your dietitian!
  3. This is the best app for figuring out which foods in which portions are considered to be low FODMAP friendly: Monash University FODMAP diet App

Should Low FODMAP Athletes be on a Probiotic?

A daily probiotic can be incredibly beneficial when attempting to alleviate gut symptoms and boost your immune system in the peak of your season. Although,  I will tell you to proceed with caution when it comes to purchasing a probiotic! Certain probiotics may actually exacerbate your intestinal issues due to the type of pre-biotics that they contain.

On the other hand, there are certain professional grade probiotics that may actually help to alleviate your symptoms when following a low FODMAP diet. My top 3 recommendations for a FODMAP friendly probiotic include:

  1. UltraFlora IB by Metagenics
  2. Probiotic Supreme or Probiotic Synergy, both made by Designs for Health
  3. LactoPrime Plus made by Klaire Labs

Insider tip: Many of these supplements are expensive so my favorite place to buy and save big time is through a company called Wellevate.  The company only carries supplements from companies who value quality and purity, and their customer service is always excellent if you have any issues with your order.  We receive a small commission with each order you place there which helps keep this blog up and running.  We encourage you to check out their prices and compare.  If you find a better price, buy them, just be sure to stick to high-quality, professional grade brands you can trust.

If you would like to check out Wellevate because you want to buy high-quality supplements for the most competitive prices, click here to create a free account and receive 20% off as well as free shipping on all orders over $49.

What Are the Most Convenient Snack Bars for Low FODMAP Athletes?

  • GoMacro Bars: Protein Purity (Sunflower Butter & Chocolate), Prolonged Power (Banana & Almond Butter), Protein Replenishment (Peanut Butter), Protein Pleasure (Peanut Butter & Chocolate Chip)
  • BoBo’s Peanut Butter Oat Bar
  • Nature’s Path Chewy Granola Bars
  • Nature Valley Peanut Butter Crunch Granola Bar (Not the top option but affordable and easy to find!)
  • Want a larger variety of low FODMAP snacks without the hassle of trying to dig through every product label? Check out The GutProgram.com where they ship you a box full of low FODMAP snacks, bars, recipes and more. You can buy boxes as needed intermittently or join their program to regularly have boxes shipped to you to help you stay on track feeling great. They have been kind enough to offer our readers 10% off every order after entering code GUT10 at checkout.

Are There Any Downsides to the Low FODMAP Approach?

Sometimes this approach can lead to a lower intake of dietary fiber as well as a lack of nutrient diversity. However, this is usually more of an issue for the athletes who are extremely picky.   The good news is that when you have finished the entire protocol, you will likely have fewer gut issues. The hope, in the long run, is that fewer gut issues translate to successful food reintroduction. Successful food reintroduction ultimately means you will be able to eat a higher fiber, more diverse diet when all is said and done.   The second downside is that in order to follow this approach in the most effective way possible, it takes a bit of planning. So many athletes think they can just wing the elimination of FODMAP foods when in reality, it is easier said than done. Trust me, this approach can be tricky for anyone to follow, let alone the athlete who is traveling, training, and constantly on the go.   Just remember…   Poor planning = poor compliance. Poor compliance = frustration, poor diet diversity, extra money spent, and minimal relief of symptoms.   Please check out the last section of this article for the best books, app, grocery list, and snack delivery service in order to make your new low FODMAP life as seamless as possible!

Amazing Resources for Success with the Low FODMAP Diet for Athletes

It is my job to make your eating journey easy and enjoyable. In an attempt to make your Low FODMAP experience as smooth as possible, here are a few links for a seamless transition:

General strategies:

  1. Read labels carefully, especially for hidden high FODMAP additives. A great example is chicory root. There are now coffee alternatives and protein/fiber bars on the market loaded with chicory root. While all of the other ingredients in a food item may be FODMAP friendly, steer clear if you see chicory root on the list. Chicory root is full of inulin (a dietary fiber known as fructan) and often leads to major gastrointestinal distress.
  2. Portions matter!! You may be able to consume a small amount of high FODMAP foods without experiencing symptoms but then sit down to a meal with several low FODMAP foods and together, they produce symptoms. The best advice I can give you? Journal, journal, journal! Document exactly which foods you ate, in what quantities and then make note of the reaction(s) that you experienced. Bring this into your next visit with your dietitian!
  3. This is the best app for figuring out which foods in which portions are considered to be low FODMAP friendly: Monash University FODMAP diet App

Should Low FODMAP Athletes be on a Probiotic?

A daily probiotic can be incredibly beneficial when attempting to alleviate gut symptoms and boost your immune system in the peak of your season. Although,  I will tell you to proceed with caution when it comes to purchasing a probiotic! Certain probiotics may actually exacerbate your intestinal issues due to the type of pre-biotics that they contain.

On the other hand, there are certain professional grade probiotics that may actually help to alleviate your symptoms when following a low FODMAP diet. My top 3 recommendations for a FODMAP friendly probiotic include:

  1. UltraFlora IB by Metagenics
  2. Probiotic Supreme or Probiotic Synergy, both made by Designs for Health
  3. LactoPrime Plus made by Klaire Labs

Insider tip: Many of these supplements are expensive so my favorite place to buy and save big time is through a company called Wellevate.  The company only carries supplements from companies who value quality and purity, and their customer service is always excellent if you have any issues with your order.  We receive a small commission with each order you place there which helps keep this blog up and running.  We encourage you to check out their prices and compare.  If you find a better price, buy them, just be sure to stick to high-quality, professional grade brands you can trust.

If you would like to check out Wellevate because you want to buy high-quality supplements for the most competitive prices, click here to create a free account and receive 20% off as well as free shipping on all orders over $49.

What Are the Most Convenient Snack Bars for Low FODMAP Athletes?

  • GoMacro Bars: Protein Purity (Sunflower Butter & Chocolate), Prolonged Power (Banana & Almond Butter), Protein Replenishment (Peanut Butter), Protein Pleasure (Peanut Butter & Chocolate Chip)
  • BoBo’s Peanut Butter Oat Bar
  • Nature’s Path Chewy Granola Bars
  • Nature Valley Peanut Butter Crunch Granola Bar (Not the top option but affordable and easy to find!)
  • Want a larger variety of low FODMAP snacks without the hassle of trying to dig through every product label? Check out The GutProgram.com where they ship you a box full of low FODMAP snacks, bars, recipes and more. You can buy boxes as needed intermittently or join their program to regularly have boxes shipped to you to help you stay on track feeling great. They have been kind enough to offer our readers 10% off every order after entering code GUT10 at checkout.

Are There Any Downsides to the Low FODMAP Approach?

Sometimes this approach can lead to a lower intake of dietary fiber as well as a lack of nutrient diversity. However, this is usually more of an issue for the athletes who are extremely picky.   The good news is that when you have finished the entire protocol, you will likely have fewer gut issues. The hope, in the long run, is that fewer gut issues translate to successful food reintroduction. Successful food reintroduction ultimately means you will be able to eat a higher fiber, more diverse diet when all is said and done.   The second downside is that in order to follow this approach in the most effective way possible, it takes a bit of planning. So many athletes think they can just wing the elimination of FODMAP foods when in reality, it is easier said than done. Trust me, this approach can be tricky for anyone to follow, let alone the athlete who is traveling, training, and constantly on the go.   Just remember…   Poor planning = poor compliance. Poor compliance = frustration, poor diet diversity, extra money spent, and minimal relief of symptoms.   Please check out the last section of this article for the best books, app, grocery list, and snack delivery service in order to make your new low FODMAP life as seamless as possible!

Amazing Resources for Success with the Low FODMAP Diet for Athletes

It is my job to make your eating journey easy and enjoyable. In an attempt to make your Low FODMAP experience as smooth as possible, here are a few links for a seamless transition:

In summary, the low FODMAP diet for athletes can be a great way to lessen the severity of gut issues without spending thousands on testing and medication. When possible, always try to alleviate your gut issues with food before jumping into unnecessary medical interventions.   If you’re disciplined you can and will succeed with the FODMAP diet. 

If you’re looking to learn more, check out our post on the Top 3 Pitfalls to avoid on the Low FODMAP Diet. In the end we want you to remember that when immunity improves, an improvement in performance is often the byproduct. You never know what you might accomplish!  

If you enjoyed this article and would like to improve the health of a friend or family member, don’t forget to share this article with them.  Also, if you’d like to get a closer glimpse of what we’re up to, learn some amazing recipes with 5 ingredients and less, or discover fun facts on how to improve your health, check us out on Instagram under the name FWDfuel.      

Do you have a low FODMAP success story? What is your favorite low FODMAP snack on the go? Do you have a tasty and convenient low FODMAP recovery shake recipe that you can share? Please comment below!

About The Author

Kylene Bogden

Kylene Bogden is one of the most well respected Functional Sports Dietitians in the United States. As a high school and collegiate sprinter, she experienced recurrent injury and fatigue. After years of constant struggle, she eventually learned that an abundance of processed foods and poor fueling strategies were the root of her performance issues. Kylene's personal journey as an athlete fueled her passion for finding a more progressive approach to sports nutrition. Since then, she has helped thousands of individuals dramatically improve overall health and athletic performance by taking a whole food approach. To learn more about Kylene's story and how a functional nutrition approach can help you to achieve your goals, simply click on the contact us link in the upper right-hand corner today!

2 Comments

  1. Amy Jones

    This was really some useful information about the low FODMAP diet! I was just searching for low FODMAP diet for athletes when I came to this site. This is one comprehensive post! Love it!

    I do use the Monash app for some time now since I was diagnosed with IBS and was now on the low FODMAP diet..

    I also found some other great low FODMAP diet apps here https://casadesante.com/blogs/low-fodmap-life/best-fodmap-apps

    It feels so much better to eat with the help of these low FODMAP diet apps knowing you’ll feel fine after! Thanks & great post!

    Reply
    • Kylene Bogden

      Thank you for the kind words! The info you provided is very insightful and the link you shared will definitely benefit our readers!

      Reply

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