When you finish a hard workout, there’s a good chance that the muscles worked in your session are fatigued if not even trembling a bit, and you may be sweaty, thirsty, and generally tired overall.
However, there are sometimes other post-workout feelings that we don’t necessarily anticipate yet are surprisingly common.
Bloating after a workout is certainly uncomfortable and while most people don’t experience significant bloating after working out, feeling bloated after exercise can and does happen in certain circumstances.
In this guide, we will discuss common causes of bloating after a workout and tips for how to prevent bloating after working out so that you can get on with your day without feeling like your digestive system is punishing you for exercising.
We’re going to look at:
- Is It Normal to Feel Bloating After Working Out?
- What Causes Bloating After a Workout?
- How to Stop Feeling Bloated After Working Out
Let’s get started!
Is It Normal to Feel Bloating After Working Out?
While it’s not necessarily “normal” to feel bloated after working out, stomach distress, gas, and bloating after a workout is fairly common.
Beginners who are just getting started working out, people with food intolerances or digestive issues like celiac disease or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and those changing their diet and/or timing of their fueling are particularly prone to bloating after a workout.
Additionally, bloating after working out is common if you take pre-workout supplements, or consume sugar-free sports beverages with artificial sweeteners during your workout.
What Causes Bloating After a Workout?
Bloating after a workout is usually caused by distention of the abdomen from an excess of trapped air or water retention.
This distention and/or water retention can be caused by different things. Here are the most common causes of feeling bloated after exercise:
#1: Improper Breathing Technique
One of the main causes of bloating after a workout is not breathing correctly during exercise.In particular, if you are hyperventilating or breathing with an uneven pattern (holding your breath with the Valsalva maneuver and then overcompensating by breathing faster or deeper afterward), you can have bloating after a workout.
This is because either of these faulty breathing patterns will cause you to swallow excess air.
Because belly bloating is often caused by an abundance of air trapped in the stomach, it makes sense that swallowing an excessive amount of air while working out contributes to feeling bloated.
This can occur after squatting, deadlifting, benching, or performing some other heavy resistance training exercises.
If you’re a beginner runner or running a race or hard workout that has you huffing and puffing, you’re likely swallowing big gulps of air without even knowing it. Most trainers say that heavy breathing is indeed the most common culprit of feeling bloated after working out.
#2: Working Out Too Soon After Eating
You should be well-fueled with nutritious foods before you work out, but eating too close to the time you exercise can cause digestive issues during a workout, including bloating.
When you eat, circulation to the stomach and digestive organs increases to help digestion and absorption of nutrients. To compensate, blood flow to skeletal muscles decreases to just meet the basic needs to oxygenate the tissue.
However, this balance is reversed when you exercise.
Blood is diverted away from the digestive tract to meet the increased oxygen demand from the heart, lungs, and working muscles. This significantly slows digestion.
If you have undigested food sitting around in your stomach and digestive tract, the bacteria in your gut ferment the sugars and produce gas, contributing to gas buildup and abdominal bloating.
#3: Drinking Pre-Workout Powders
Many weightlifters take pre-workout drinks before hard strength training workouts.
These pre-workout powders often have artificial sweeteners so that they can be “keto preworkouts” or “sugar-free pre-workout powders.”
Along with other ingredients and fillers, artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols like erythritol can cause gas, burping, flatulence, and bloating.
#4: Exerting Yourself
Just the act of exercising can cause bloating. The body perceives exercise as a stressor, especially if you’re lifting heavy weights or exercising vigorously.
As a result, your adrenal glands increase the production of cortisol, a stress hormone that causes the body to retain more water.
As cortisol levels increase, your body will hold onto more water, most of which is often concentrated in the belly, causing bloating during a workout or bloating after a workout.
If you’re feeling bloated after workouts, particularly if it’s just after hard workouts or because you’re new to strength training or whatever exercise you are doing, it may simply be a product of your body’s natural stress response.
Because you sweat when you work out, you can become dehydrated if you don’t hydrate well.
Although it may seem counterintuitive, dehydration can cause compensatory water retention in the stomach, as your body tries to hold on to a limited resource—water. This can cause belly bloating.
#6: Drinking Too Much Water
Studies have shown that drinking plain water leaves people feeling more bloated compared to drinking electrolyte- or carbohydrate-infused beverages.
#7: You’re Eating Foods That Don’t Agree With You
Bloating is often a sign that you’re eating something that’s not agreeing with you.
For example, if you have lactose intolerance, eating dairy can cause gas and bloating.
If you’re feeling bloated after working out, examine what you are having in your pre-workout meal or snack and try changing what you are eating to more “stomach-friendly” foods (think: less fiber, no FODMAPS, no artificial sweeteners, no dairy).
However, if you are not just getting bloated from working out but also during other points in your day, consider working with a nutritionist or consulting your primary care provider for food allergy testing or seeing a gastroenterologist for a deeper dive into potential digestive disorders or food intolerances.
How to Stop Feeling Bloated After Working Out
The key to preventing getting bloated after workouts is identifying the most likely cause. Once you do so, here are helpful tips:
#1: Examine Your Hydration Strategy
If you’re not drinking enough, start drinking more water before and during your workout. If you think you might be drinking too much water—as evidenced by clear urine—consider a sports drink or electrolyte replacement beverage to reduce bloating.
#2: Wait Longer to Work Out After Eating
Wait at least 2-3 hours after eating a meal to work out, and 1-2 hours after most snacks unless it’s a very small pre-workout snack consisting of only simple carbohydrates.
#3: Fix Your Diet
Sugary foods, carbonated beverages, artificial sweeteners, and alcohol can absolutely cause bloating after working out. High-fiber foods are also likely to cause bloating, particularly foods high in prebiotic fiber.
Avoid foods like onions, leeks, asparagus, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, artichokes, pears, bok choy, and beans as they are examples of foods that may exacerbate bloating.
Chewing gum can also increase bloating because most gum not only has sugar alcohols, but the act of chewing gum itself causes you to swallow excess air. Therefore, especially if you are chewing gum as you exercise, post-workout bloating will be quite likely.
#4: Work On How to Breathe During Exercise
Avoid gasping and gulping huge breaths of air, or holding your breath while working out. Use controlled and even breathing, with steady and balanced inhalations and exhalations.
#5: Consider Gut Supplements
There are also some products that can potentially help with bloating after workouts.
For example, if you think that you have gut dysbiosis contributing to bloating, you might do well with a daily probiotic supplement.
I love Hilma’s Holiday Survival Kits for debloating supplements.
The Gas + Bloat Relief uses a soothing blend of natural herbs like peppermint leaf to calm the digestive tract and reduce bloating, lemon balm and anise to calm GI discomfort, fennel to reduce abdominal cramps, and carraway to relax the muscles of the digestive tract.
This type of natural bloating supplement can be used as either a rescue remedy—in cases where you are having some acute, bad bloating after working out—or as a daily part of your wellness routine as a sort of proactive approach to keeping gassiness and belly bloat down.
The Gentle Bowel Movement Support provides Magnesium Citrate along with warming, carminative, and antispasmodic herbs like ginger, bitter orange, and anise to ease constipation and support bowel regularity.
Plus, all of Hilma’s products are non-GMO and contain no dyes, fillers, artificial preservatives, or sweeteners.
Learn more about foods high in fiber to avoid before working out here.