When dieting during a contest prep for a physique contest, or dieting in general, you may find yourself in a state of uncomfortable bloat for a couple days or even a few weeks. Trying to trouble shoot can be frustrating if you are not sure where to begin. Here are some common causes I see with my clients during contest prep.
If you are a clean eater, you are most likely getting enough fiber in your diet and possibly even too much. Too much fiber can constipate you as well as make you feel bloated, gassy, uncomfortable and just all around less than awesome (ref 2).
If you are taking in a very high calorie diet as a clean eater, you may want to incorporate some lower fiber foods… enjoy some junk here and there. A pop tart can be pretty tasty from time to time.
Try to keep your fiber consistent throughout your diet. Give yourself a set number of veggie servings and keep them consistent throughout. If you count high fiber veggies, count net carbs.
Track fiber and keep fiber ranges within 25-30g for women and 40-50g for men (ref 1). Of course, everyone is different so adjust accordingly to your individual needs. If you are switching to a high fiber diet, ease into it. Going from a low fiber to a high fiber diet quickly may upset your digestive track until the gut bacteria are able to catch up!
2) Food types
Certain foods can be the culprit of you feeling bloated or experiencing digestive discomfort. During contest prep or while dieting, you may be more in-tuned to foods that make you uncomfortable. Especially if you have cleaned up your diet and incorporated some foods that can cause gas.
Here are a few common culprits. You can also look into eating a low FODMAP diet.
A) Complex Carbs
Complex carbohydrates are a great source of fiber and healthy for you. They are made of of multiple units of sugar called oligosaccharides. Our gut bacteria loves oligosaccharides and as a result, they produce nitrogen gas as a byproduct causing you to be gassy! These complex carbs are also high in fiber which can cause discomfort for reasons stated above.
Examples of complex carbs include legumes such as beans, whole grains such as quinoa and starchy vegetables such as potatoes.
B) Cruciferous veggies
Cruciferous vegetables are super healthy foods to have in your diet but many of them can cause gas due to high sulfur content and/or high raffinose content. Examples include, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, & collard greens.
These foods are also high in fiber and tie in with reason #1 on this list.
Dairy may be a suspect to digestive sensitivities you may be having due to the milk sugar called lactose. When there is an insufficienct amount of the enzyme lactase in your gut, you cannot digest lactose properly and you will experience digestive issues. Eliminate or limit dairy in your diet. Switch out whey protein for an egg white protein like Jay Robb egg white protein (its my fav).
What to do: Try the process of elimination. Avoid one food type and see if symptoms subside. Or stick to very small portions of the foods that may cause gas and bloating when eaten in larger quantities.
3) Sugar substitutes
Sugar substitutes can be a great way to be able to enjoy some foods when you are dieting but too much can cause some serious upset. I cannot find any scientific studies regarding this matter but anecdotally, including my personal experience as well as with clients and friends, consuming sugar substitutes in greater quantities, 10-50+ grams can cause some serious intestinal discomfort, diarrhea and bloating. I have been there several times, awake half the night for serious gas that won’t mobilize but festering in my small intestine making me miserable. It’s best to limit sugar substitutes and use sparingly. They are commonly found in many supplements like protein powders and BCAA’s, diet sodas and other sugar free and low calorie/low sugar foods.
- Sucralose (Splenda): Very common additive in supplements like protein powder, BCAA’s, protein bars etc.
- Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet)
- Acesulfame Potassium, aka acesulfame K (Sunett, Sweet One)
- Saccharin (Sugar Twin, Sweet n’ Low)
Try using more natural sugar substitutes like stevia. Just a pinch! this stuff is potent. The brand Truvia plays up the fact that they have stevia in their product but it also contains a lot of erythritol. Read labels and use sparingly. I keep xylitol and erythritol on hand to sweeten things here and there as well.
4) In need of digestive support
You can also try some digestive aids to help your system work optimally.
Digestive enzymes: These are taken while eating to aid in the breakdown of foods. Find a supplement with protease, lipase and amylase.
5) Water retention
Note: If you’re experiencing regular pain and constipation with no relief using any of the above recommendations or the pain is severe, please see a doctor in order to rule out any digestive disorders.
1. American Dietetic Association. Position of the American Dietetic Association: Health Implications of Dietary Fiber. Journal of The American Dietetic Association. 2008, 108 (10): 1716-1731. doi:10.1016/j.jada.2008.08.007
2. Ho KS et al. Stopping or reducing dietary fiber intake reduces constipation and its associated symptoms. World J Gastroenterol. 2012 Sep 7;18(33):4593-6. doi: 10.3748/wjg.v18.i33.4593.