Starting a new workout routine can be an exciting yet daunting experience. You may have big fitness goals you want to achieve or simply want to live a healthier lifestyle. However, many people find that when they first start working out, their bodies seem to rebel. You may experience soreness, fatigue, and even temporary weight gain or bloating. This is actually quite common, though frustrating. Let’s take a closer look at why bloating happens when you begin exercising and how to manage it.
What causes bloating when starting a new workout?
There are a few key reasons you may experience bloating when you start a new exercise program:
- Increased fiber intake – If you ramp up your workouts, you likely need to also increase your food intake to power your training. This often means eating more fiber-rich whole grains, fruits, veggies, beans, etc. Fiber is healthy but can cause temporary bloating.
- Muscle inflammation – When you use muscles in new ways, this creates small microtears in the muscle tissue. As your body repairs and rebuilds those muscles to make them stronger, inflammation occurs. This can lead to water retention and bloating.
- Change in sodium intake – Processed foods and restaurant meals tend to be high in sodium. As you eat healthier pre- and post-workout meals, you may reduce sodium intake. This rapid change can cause temporary fluid shifts and bloating.
- Increase in carbohydrate intake – Carbs help fuel tough workouts. Increased carb intake – especially from sources like bread, pasta, potatoes – may cause you to retain more water and feel bloated initially.
In most cases, bloating is just your body’s natural response to new training stresses and diet changes. As you become more accustomed to your new regimen, the bloating should subside.
When is bloating not normal?
In most cases, some mild, temporary bloating is perfectly normal when starting a new workout routine. However, you should see your doctor if you experience:
- Severe abdominal pain along with bloating
- Bloating that persists for more than 1-2 weeks
- Bloating along with symptoms like fatigue, nausea, vomiting, fever or unexpected weight loss
- Visible abdominal swelling that gets worse rather than better over time
These types of symptoms could potentially indicate a medical issue not related to exercise, such as a food intolerance, underlying digestive problem, ovarian cysts in women, etc. It’s always a good idea to touch base with your healthcare provider to rule out any concerning causes of persistent bloating or swelling.
Tips to reduce bloating when starting a workout program
To help minimize temporary bloating when ramping up your fitness routine, try these pro tips:
- Gradually increase fiber. Don’t go from 20 grams daily to 40 grams overnight. Build up high-fiber foods like whole grains, fruits and vegetables gradually over a few weeks.
- Cut back on salt. Avoid adding extra salt to foods and limit processed items high in sodium to help prevent fluid retention.
- Choose low-FODMAP foods. These foods tend to be easier to digest and less likely to cause bloating. Examples include rice, bananas, yogurt, eggs, chicken, leafy greens.
- Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water before, during and after workouts to help flush out your system.
- Add probiotics. These healthy gut bacteria can improve digestion and make you less prone to bloating. Yogurt, kefir and fermented foods are great sources.
Additionally, physical activity and gaining muscle can help reduce bloating over time by improving gastrointestinal function and metabolic rate.
How long does post-workout bloating last?
For most people, the bloating that comes with starting a new fitness program subsides within 1-4 weeks. Here is a general timeline of what to expect:
|Expected Bloating Response
|First 1-7 days
|Bloating may be noticeable and uncomfortable as body adjusts to training
|Bloating starts to improve as gastrointestinal system and muscles adapt
|Bloating significantly diminishes and stabilizes
Keep in mind this timeline is a general guideline – each person responds differently. The key is giving your body time to fully adapt. Stay consistent with your workouts, nutrition and lifestyle habits during the adjustment period.
Other causes of bloating when exercising
While starting a new fitness program is the most common trigger, bloating can occur due to other exercise-related factors as well:
- Menstrual cycles – Hormonal fluctuations pre-menstruation often cause temporary bloating and water retention.
- Overhydration – Drinking far more water than needed during workouts can overwhelm the kidneys’ excretion capacity and lead to bloat.
- GI distress – High-intensity exercise diverts blood flow from the digestive system, which can disrupt normal GI function and cause gas and bloating.
- Food reactions – Eating too soon before or after exercising may cause indigestion and bloating in some people.
- Constipation – Strenuous workouts can slow GI motility leading to backed-up stools and a bloated feeling.
Pay attention to potential dietary, hormonal or lifestyle factors if bloating arises during your regular workout routine. Identifying and addressing the root cause can help.
When to see a doctor for exercise-related bloating
Occasional, mild bloating with a new exercise program is normal and should resolve within a few weeks. But if you regularly experience worrisome bloating or swelling during or after exercise, consult your doctor to rule out potential medical conditions like:
- Food allergies or intolerances
- Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Gastroparesis or slow stomach emptying
- Uterine fibroids
- Ovarian cysts
Keeping a symptom journal tracking when bloating happens, related dietary factors, menstrual cycle timing, etc. can help your physician hone in on potential causes.
Will working out more reduce bloating over time?
For most healthy individuals, exercising regularly does tend to minimize bloating once your body gets accustomed to the workouts. Here’s why:
- Your gastrointestinal system becomes more efficient at moving contents through.
- Your body learns to better absorb and utilize nutrients from your diet.
- Your muscles require less inflammation for repair between workouts.
- You build core and abdominal strength to support the GI tract.
- Your metabolism and fat-burning ratchets up, reducing water retention.
Additionally, paying attention to your nutritional needs, staying hydrated, managing stress, and getting enough sleep can all help reduce exercise-related bloating over time. Patience and consistency are key.
Other tips for dealing with post-workout bloating
Here are some other quick tips for managing temporary bloating after a tough workout:
- Massage your abdomen gently using clockwise motions which can help stimulate digestion.
- Sip on ginger or peppermint tea which may relax GI muscles.
- Try digestive enzymes or probiotic supplements to support gut health.
- Take a warm bath to induce relaxation.
- Reduce high-fiber foods temporarily until bloating improves.
- Wear loose, comfortable clothing that doesn’t squeeze your abdomen.
Keep in mind that consistent healthy eating, proper hydration, sufficient sleep and stress management all go a long way towards minimizing exercise-related bloating as your body adjusts.
Experiencing some abdominal bloating when you begin a new workout program is very common and temporary in most cases. As your body adapts to increased physical exertion and any dietary changes, the bloating should diminish within a few weeks. Stay the course with your new exercise regimen, fuel properly, hydrate, and give your gastrointestinal system time to become more efficient. If bloating persists or you develop other concerning symptoms, consult your doctor. With consistency and patience, your body should adjust and you’ll be on your way to achieving your fitness goals.