Just because its “clean” when you eat it doesn’t mean it’s going to be clean coming out the other end. That’s what I should have named this article. But seriously, it’s not uncommon when suddenly moving from the typical American diet to the average bikini contest prep diet to experience some gas/bloating. I think some of the more cookie cutter diets out there take a shotgun approach to help prevent this from happening, but unfortunately that’s not a good long term solution, unless you want to eat asparagus as your only vegetable for the rest of your life.
For those of you looking for a more sustainable approach, I’ve put together a list of things you may want to consider in avoiding/eliminating gas and bloating. These are just things to CONSIDER…I’m not telling you not to ever drink soda again or avoid broccoli. The point of this article is to teach you how to troubleshoot these things so you don’t have to give up anything unnecessarily like so many misinformed competitors do.
Do you chew your food thoroughly: The golden rule of troubleshooting is to always consider the most obvious mistakes first. Do you eat on the go? Are you ravenous by the time you get to eat your next meal? If so, it’s likely you’re not taking the time to thoroughly chew your food. This is actually a very common cause of gas/bloating, so don’t overlook this as a possible culprit.
Do you cook your vegetables?: I know it’s not en-vogue to cook your food nowadays, but I’m going to recommend you do so anyway…seeing as how we started using fire to cook food 1.8 million years ago and started evolving as a species soon after. Bodybuilders/competitors define “tried and true” as “what we’ve been doing since the 60′s”, so I’ll go out on a limb and say what we’ve been doing for 1.8 million years falls into that category as well. A few exceptions aside, we just don’t digest raw veggies very well. When your body fails to digest a food, not only do you bloat, you also don’t absorb the nutrients from that food.
Definitely cook your cruciferous veggies such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, collards and brussel sprouts. These are NOT good to eat raw, and there is actually some evidence that doing so can suppress the thyroid gland since the goitrogens remain intact without cooking. Some veggies that most people can handle raw are celery, cucumber, carrots, red/yellow/orange bell pepper and summer squash.
Another option is to process your veggies in a blender/food processor, which breaks down the cellulose and makes them easier to digest…but you still need to cook cruciferous veggies to kill the goitrogens. As a side note, I don’t like juicing (occasionally is fine) since it removes most of the fiber. Get a good blender like a Vitamix or an absolute BEAST blender like the Waring Xtreme…unless you want to chew your fruit/veggie smoothie.
Do you take supplements with “carbonate” on the label?: A lot of calcium and potassium supplements are sold in the carbonate form. These can tend to cause gas/bloat as well. Try switching to the superior “citrate” versions of these supplements. They won’t cause any bloat and you’ll gain the benefit of being able to take them with or without food, since they are water soluble (carbonate is not). And I don’t want to make a separate category for carbonated beverages, but they can be a potential issue as well.
Do you consume a lot of veggies that are high in the sugar “raffinose”? Raffinose is a sugar that humans lack the enzymes to digest in the digestive tract. Therefore, it passes through the digestive tract whole and is fermented in the lower intestine. This causes gas and bloating. Ever been told not to eat broccoli on a competition prep diet? This is why. Most cruciferous vegetables are high in raffinose. I don’t make the typical generic recommendation to avoid these types of veggies, since they are very nutritious, but I do recommend adding them to the diet gradually if you haven’t been consuming them routinely (I sometimes cut them towards the end of a prep). I find that ½ cup at a time of high raffinose veggies works well for most girls.
Another option is to eat them with Beano, which contains the enzyme alpha-galactosidase that breaks down raffinose before it can cause gas/bloat. I should point out that this enzyme is not found in most digestive enzyme supplements (it’s in some but not many), so you either need to find one that has it or take Beano on top of your current enzyme. If you’re prone to gas/bloating and are nearing a competition, I recommend doing this even at meals where you don’t eat veggies, since raffinose is found in a few other typical contest prep foods (yams and sweet potatoes have a good amount).
Do you drink enough water, but not too much at meals? Water is crucial for digestion, but drinking too much water at your main meals can actually impair digestion. Again…I’m not saying to automatically cut your water intake at meals…this is just another place to look. It’s always best to spread your water intake out pretty evenly across your day (with a good percentage around training) though, so this should be a non-factor if you’re doing things right hydration wise.
Have you drastically increased your fiber intake? Any good diet is going to be high in fiber, but some people will experience bloating if they increase their fiber intake by too much too soon. Take it slow and spread it around throughout the day. If you have a typical schedule where you’re not doing much in the evening, you can opt to put a good amount of fiber in your evening meals, since a little bloat when you’re at home at night won’t be such a big deal. This is really a good time to eat extra fibrous veggies anyway, since most competitors taper their carbs and/or fat at night. The veggies will help fill the void.
Do you take enzyme supplements and pro-biotics? I mentioned this above but thought it deserved its own section. It’s always a good safe bet for competitors to take a natural enzyme supplement and a pro-biotic to help with digestion. You can find supplements that in 1-2 capsules will contain the enzymes responsible for breaking down protein, carbs, fat and fiber. If you do a little searching, you can find some that also contain alpha-galactosidase, the enzyme in Beano that breaks down raffinose.
I recommend taking these any time you make a sudden shift from typical refined/processed foods to eating mainly whole foods. I recommend taking them throughout a contest prep if you tend to have bloating issues, and if you went very low carb during your contest prep, you may want to stay on them for a little while after in case your body’s enzyme production has been temporarily weakened during your prep (this happens). The pro-biotic I recommend taking all the time, or eating plenty of yogurt if you handle dairy well.
These are just a few of many potential culprits. Really any time you make drastic changes in your diet, you could have some short term digestive/bloating issues. Drastically increasing your protein intake can do it. Going from all rice for starches to all potatoes can do it. Doing a high carb day without reducing/cutting veggie intake can definitely do it. I assume you know already if you’re lactose intolerant, so I didn’t get into that here, but that can do it too.
This is yet another reason why it’s best to make gradual, smooth transitions throughout your contest prep cycles rather than completely shifting gears at some arbitrary point in time (eg balls to the wall starting at exactly 12 weeks out…as if that’s some magic number). If you’re suffering from gas/bloating, try implementing some of the less invasive recommendations you’ve seen here and see if they help. Or if you like the gas and want to impress your boyfriend, try adding some high sulfur foods like cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, egg yolks and of course…beans!
Joe Lenihan is the owner and Head Coach of Next Level Personal Training. He has been training and prepping athletes and competitors full time for over 16 years. For more information on how Next Level Personal Training can help you with your upcoming competition, or to schedule a free fitness evaluation, click here. We offer both local and online training and prep.