(Image source by Drazen/Getty Images)
By Kimberly Zapata / May 28, 2021
Nothing makes us feel better than a good workout. The sweat is dripping. The endorphins are flowing, and even if we’re tired, we feel energized. We are — literally and figuratively — pumped.
But have you ever felt bloated after a workout? Have you ever felt full and puffy instead of svelte and sleek? If so, you’re not alone. Many people experience a phenomenon known as the post-workout bloat.
You may wonder what causes it and whether it’s normal. Here’s everything you need to know about bloating that occurs after working out.
Is it normal to feel bloated after a workout?
The short answer: Yes, it’s normal to feel bloated after a workout.
Why? Well, you may feel bloated after a workout if you’ve been breathing hard or gulping too much water, which may cause you to swallow air. You may experience abdominal dissension if you overhydrate or drink too little, and physical exertion can cause bloating in and of itself.
“There are a variety of reasons that you may feel bloated after a workout,” Patrick Griffith, a physical therapist, tells Healthline. “However, post-workout bloating is normal. In most cases, it’s not cause for concern.”
What causes bloat after working out?
There are numerous reasons why you may experience bloating during or after a workout, including:
While it may seem strange, most bloating is caused by dehydration, or a lack of fluids. Why? When you don’t have enough liquid in your body, your stomach retains water to compensate, leading to visible swelling. The best way to flush out the swelling is to drink more water.
Too much water — is that a thing? Drinking too much water too quickly can cause hyponatremia, a condition in which your body dilutes its sodium content and causes your cells to retain water.
While you want to fuel your body for your workout, particularly if you plan to do a long-distance ride, run, or other high intensity activity, eating too close to your gym session can cause bloating. This is especially true if your meal contains fiber, protein, or excessive amounts of fat.
“If you eat right before exercising, your body will struggle to multitask digesting food and sending blood to your working muscles,” Dr. Stacie J. Stephenson, a board certified physician, tells Healthline. “Digestion can get sluggish and the microbes in your digestive tract may respond by releasing some gas, which can make you feel bloated.”
When it’s very hot outside or you’re working out in a warm, stuffy environment, you may notice abdominal swelling or bloating. That’s because heat causes your blood vessels to expand, which may cause fluid to accumulate in the space between tissues.
To reduce heat-induced bloating, try wearing workout gear that’s breathable and lightweight, and work out in an air-conditioned environment.
Exercise is hard work. After all, there’s a reason it’s called “working out.” But when your body begins to repair itself, you may experience inflammation or bloating. This is a normal process that’s important for recovery.
It’s normal for your breathing rate to increase when you’re working out. Exercise causes your body to use more oxygen and produce more carbon dioxide. Still, breathing too hard during a workout can cause you to suck in a lot of air.
“Instead of the air going straight to your lungs, it can make its way down into your digestive system,” Josh Schlottman, a certified trainer and nutritionist, tells Healthline. “When this happens, you’ll feel bloated and puffy.”
How should I treat bloating after a workout?
While post-workout bloating is uncomfortable, the condition isn’t permanent. Exercise-induced dissension and inflammation tend to go away on their own. However, if you’re looking for ways to relax your stomach and alleviate your symptoms, consider the following treatments:
- Eat well. While certain foods are healthier than others, knowing what to eat before and after you exercise is key. “Stick with simple carbs and proteins that are easier to digest,” Schlottman says. Pasta, eggs, and Greek yogurt are all great choices.
- Hydrate properly. Working out causes your body to sweat, losing sodium and electrolytes in the process. Yet, hydrating before and after a workout will help your body recover and restore your body’s natural fluid balance. Not sure how much you need to drink? “Weigh yourself before and after your workout,” Dr. Matthew Olesiak, the Chief Medical Director of SANESolution, tells Healthline. “In general, you’ll want to drink about 3 cups of water for every pound lost.”
- Avoid sugary foods, cocktails, and carbonation. Knowing what to eat after a workout is important, but knowing what to avoid is imperative to your recovery and digestive health. Avoid soda and cocktails, as both can sustain or increase the intensity of bloating. Fried foods may make you feel uncomfortable, and in general, it’s best to stick to the basics. Stay away from fatty, sugary, and fibrous foods.
How can I prevent post-workout bloating?
While you can treat post-workout bloating, the best way to manage this condition is to prevent it. “Prevention involves making sure your body is prepared for your workout,” Griffith says.
You should eat 2–3 hours prior to your workout, as this will fuel your body and give it time to properly digest the meal.
Schlottman tells Healthline you should drink water 30–60 minutes before you start your workout to avoid feeling bloated. “If you’re going to drink water during your workout, take smaller sips. Gulping too much water in such a short period of time can lead to bloating.”
Furthermore, Stephenson suggests regulating your breathing. “Keep your breathing slow and steady as you exercise. Try not to gasp or take in long pulls of air.”
The Bottom Line
Post-workout bloating is very common. It can also be quite uncomfortable. From a general feeling of fullness and abdominal dissension to swelling and gas, the condition can be quite distressing.
Fortunately, post-workout bloating isn’t permanent. It usually resolves on its own, and with a few preventive measures and post-workout remedies, its symptoms can be alleviated.