Post-workout, you’ll likely feel accomplished, tired or energized (or both at the same time), and … bloated? It may seem counterintuitive that, after you’ve been sweating for a solid 30-60 minutes during an exercise session, your body actually seems to be retaining water afterward—but it’s not unusual. There are a number of reasons why you may experience bloating after a workout, and also a number of ways to help reduce it.
Meet the Expert
What Are Some Common Causes of Bloating After a Workout?
“Bloating can be common, especially if you are a mouth-breather or tend to exercise after meals or snacks,” says Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDCES, an author and consultant for Swisse Wellness. “Although it isn’t the workout itself causing bloat but a result of breathing technique and/or digestion, the more vigorous a workout, the greater chance of bloat.” Here are some of the common causes:
- When (and What) You're Eating: Eating too close to your workout can result in bloating since “exercise pulls the blood flow away from the GI tract and to the muscles that are moving,” explains Palinski-Wade. Because the blood is diverted, your digestion is slowed down and it can leave you feeling bloated. In addition, if you eat foods high in fiber, fat, or protein close to your workout, these can cause bloating. “These foods take time to digest and you need adequate blood flow in the GI system to promote efficient digestion,” says Nora Minno, a registered dietitian and Daily Burn trainer.
- Drinking Too Much Water: Hydration is an important part of any exercise routine, but there’s such a thing as drinking too much water. “If you’re drinking much more water than your body can excrete in a given period of time, you may experience boating,” says Minno. A combination of sweating and drinking a lot of water can cause the sodium levels in the body to drop, leading your body to hold onto water.
- Heavy Breathing: Naturally, when you’re exercising, your breathing rate will increase—after all, you’re exerting more effort running than sitting on the couch. But intense or rapid breathing during a workout can often “result in you swallowing air, and that air in the GI tract can cause you to look and feel bloated,” says Palinski-Wade.
- Your Body's Stress Response: Intense exercise may trigger your body’s flight or fight response, which can then cause the GI system to slow down and lead to bloating, says Minno. If you’re not used to a new, intense workout, you could also experience an increase in cortisol (the primary stress hormone) levels post-exercise, and chronically increased cortisol levels can lead to increased blood pressure and fluid retention.
How Can You Prevent or Get Rid of Bloating After a Workout?
Fortunately, post-workout bloat isn’t permanent. It tends to go away on its own, but there are ways to reduce it.
Focus on Your Breathing
Even though heavy breathing can lead to bloating, the solution, of course, is not to hold your breath or try to stop breathing altogether during exercise. Instead, “you’ll want to focus on low, steady breaths, and when possible, breathe in through your nose to avoid gasping or swallowing too much air,” advises Minno.
To help your body recover from the loss of sodium via sweating, Minno says to “consider rehydrating with electrolytes (i.e. sodium, potassium, calcium) to help restore the body’s fluid balance.”
Common sense tells you that hitting up a fast food drive through is probably not going to make you feel great during or after a workout, but there are other less obvious foods that may not be ideal pre-workout.
“Slowly digested foods such as those rich in fiber, protein, and fat will increase the chance of bloat if eaten close to a workout,” says Palinski-Wade. Since these foods take longer to digest, adds Minno, they may put increased stress on your GI system during a workout. Save the high fiber and protein for a few hours after your workout to give your GI system time to recover. “Refuel with small portions and work your way up to regular meals,” adds Minno.
Pre-workout, both Palinski-Wade and Minno recommend mostly carbohydrate-based foods, like fruit or starches to provide your body fuel. However, individual bodies respond differently to different foods, and your gut can also be trained over time. “As your fitness and energy expenditure improve, your body’s ability to process and utilize key nutrients such as carbohydrates should improve as well. Be patient with yourself and find a routine that works for you and your fitness regimens,” says Minno.
…and Eat at the Right Time
Not only can what you eat make a difference, but also when you eat. “Plan to give yourself at least an hour window before exercise without eating, if possible, to reduce the risk if this is a trigger for you,” says Palinski-Wade. Adds Minno, “Aim to finish your meals 1.5-3 hours before exercise, depending on intensity.”