I exercise best on an empty stomach. How can I work out in the evenings?
March 13, 2019 10:31 PM   Subscribe

When I work out before I've eaten breakfast, I feel great. But if I eat before a workout -- even a couple hours beforehand -- the food sloshes around in my stomach during my workout, making me feel clumsy and bloated. My schedule has changed and I need to start working out later in the day. If you are a slow digester/frequently get bloated after meals, how do you eat during the day before your evening workout?

While I haven't been diagnosed with IBS, I'm definitely prone to bloating after meals -- my stomach tends to slowly expand during the day, shrinking back to its normal size overnight. Recently my schedule has changed and I need to do my workouts after work, but the evenings are when I feel least like exercising. Even 6-7 hours after my lunch, I'm still typically feeling sloshy if I am jumping/running/doing other cardio. If you deal with bloating/slow digestion, how do you eat during the day to prepare for evening workouts? Is it about the specific foods you eat, or the timing?
posted by rogerroger to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I feel the same way. I fast 5 days a week, no food (I usually have one or two coffees and water but no food, no snacking) from midnight until about 6pm. I originally started this because of wanting to work out in the afternoon on an empty stomach and then it just gradually got longer and longer. If you can do the same then just don't eat until you work out.

On the other hand, when I do weekend long runs I usually have something to eat as early as I can manage before I start (usually coffee and toast), and it only takes a couple of hours before it stops being really bad for me.

On the other other hand when I do ultra marathons I find I can eat (chips, watermelon, orange slices) and run pretty much just fine. But that might just be a matter of there being so many sources of discomfort that a little bit of gut sloshing disappears into the background.

So if you can't fast, just eat as far away from your workout as you can manage, try different foods to see if anything works better for you, and then accept that it's not going to feel perfect in your guts. I'm sorry for my answer being so reductive.
posted by The Monkey at 11:41 PM on March 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

Sounds to me like the better answer is figure out how to eat without getting bloated. Try an elimination diet and keep a symptom diary. You may find quality of life improvements other than just being able to exercise without sloshing. (A key trigger for my own bloating is milk/ice cream, but not cheese.)
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:46 AM on March 14, 2019 [4 favorites]

I typically eat and then lay around to properly digest an hour or two before working out in the evening. It's probably not the best, but at least the food has settled by then. My dinners are usually high in protein and fiber though. Not sure if that makes a difference.
posted by Young Kullervo at 5:22 AM on March 14, 2019

Eating a substantial meal around breakfast time, then a very light lunch, work out, then another decent meal post-workout should be able to work for you. As someone who used to have to take medications on as empty a stomach as I could a few times a day, that sort of schedule worked out best for me.
posted by xingcat at 5:40 AM on March 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

I agree with trying an elimination diet. I don't think that kind of bloating after every meal is normal without food sensitivities.

Until i cut out dairy and gluten, i was usually bloated and nauseous after meals. Now, i don't have a problem (including when i work out)
posted by bearette at 5:40 AM on March 14, 2019

Another vote for trying an elimination diet to see what foods do/don't work for you - 6/7 hours after eating and you're still sloshy seems like something wrong, instead of just being on the slow side of normal disgestion.

Failing that, you might need to re arrange your meals - make breakfast more substantial and either skip lunch, or have a minimal lunch to mimic the time your system normally gets to pass foods during sleep.

Since you ask about specific foods/timing, I'll note that during the days that I run-commute to work (17k each way), like you I run there on an empty stomach in the morning. I'll aim to have any substantial food eaten 4+ hours before heading home, and have a snack of oatmeal+whey protein powder about 2 hours before heading home. But I think I'm on the fast side of digesting, and have no apparent digestion problems.
posted by nobeagle at 7:08 AM on March 14, 2019

I also have trouble with post-work exercise, and it's when I usually have time. On days I'm going for a more substantial workout, I stick to things like salad/veggie-based lunch, eat on the earlier side of lunch, don't have any afternoon snacks, and try to stick to water. If I have carbs or a large lunch, I'm definitely going to get acid reflux while exercising.
posted by DoubleLune at 8:36 AM on March 14, 2019

The dietary recommendation for reflux and maybe bloating is to take dry or dryer meals. One one hand I have been told water retention and absorption is better if it is taken with meals. But I would only take water with meals, no more than 1/2 cup, organize your meals to daytime between awakening and 8 hours later. Take small, frequent meals. I would do a fast 10 minute calisthenics routine after eliminating in the morning. Then have a breakfast that is high in fiber and protein rich foods, plus whole fruit. If you don't take meds where grapefruit is counter indicated, then take grapefruit, it helps the liver do the work of digesting fats. At about 10:00 have water, as much as you are comfortable with, up to 16 ounces. At midday take a meal rich in vegetables and proteins, have a lower sugar fruit like blueberries 30 cals per half cup. Later at about 2:00 PM have another glass of water. Whenever it is you decide to take your small, early evening meal take it dry, unless it is soupy or saucy, and save a piece of whole grain, low sugar baked good to settle on top of that meal to sop up the liquid. Don't drink fruit juice, eat whole fruit, don't drink anything but water with your meals. Have plain high protein greek yogurt with live cultures twice a week, as a part of your meal, with whole fruit as the sweetener.

A lot of times people drink alcohol with the last two meals of the day, in some cases it messes with gut bacteria and hurts their efficiency, then the liver gets busy dealing with breaking down ethanol, instead of fats. This is the same with artificial sweeteners, they are also viewed as foreign and the liver works on them instead of digesting other things. If you have signs of imbalance, bloating etc, then make your diet more simple and hydrate for the very most part, with water rather than all that other stuff out there, protein shakes, smoothies, juices, coffee, sweet coffees, sodas, diet sodas , even sugar free seltzers. If you feel bloated, then no bubbles. At first you may feel deprived, but soon your body will be a lot happier, it is complaining to you right now. It is possible to reach balance where you have a life, and you also feel well for the very most part of it. Food as celebration is a part of our being and then moderating our daily routines keeps us in tune.
posted by Oyéah at 9:34 AM on March 14, 2019

Thanks all... it's a good reality check to hear that this isn't a typical stomach situation. Will start experimenting with meals. Here's to less sloshing!
posted by rogerroger at 9:08 PM on March 14, 2019

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