Flatulence seems an unlikely topic for a CrossFit blog, I suppose, given that fart discussions are generally reserved for middle-schoolers and movies aimed at them. And, for some reason, scientists looking for ways to measure pretty much anything. But it was very disconcerting to find out that gassy outbursts occur frequently during CrossFit workouts. For me, they seem to really get going during situps.

Gary assures me it happens to everyone. I don’t know that I find that comforting.

I know why I have trouble overall with controlling emissions. As pretty much any woman who has borne children will tell you, control becomes more difficult after that first kid pops out and throws all the works out of kilter. Add irritable bowel syndrome to the mix, and, well, you could audition for one of those silly fart movies.

But why during exercise?

LiveStrong suggests that it could be because of swallowing air when drinking (yeah, you’re trying to get hydrated at the same time you’re gasping for air; makes sense) and tells us that gas and diarrhea are common enough among marathon runners to have earned a nickname, the Runner’s Trot. The same problem even plagues walkers, although at least one study indicates that the amount of gastrointestinal symptoms during exercise is less than (and directly related to) those experienced by the same people during nonexercise periods.

According to a study published in Clinical Gastroenterology & Hepatology, “Exercise and gastorintestinal function and disease: an evidence-based review of risks and benefits,”

Light and moderate exercise is well tolerated and can benefit patients with inflammatory bowel disease and liver disease. Physical activity can also improve gastric emptying and lower the relative risk of colon cancer in most populations. Severe, exhaustive exercise, however, inhibits gastric emptying, interferes with gastrointestinal absorption, and causes many gastrointestinal symptoms, most notably gastrointestinal bleeding.

Hmm. Doesn’t say much about mere farting, but does explain the reason why competitive athletes would suffer from Runner’s Trot. For those of us who are just working within the parameters of normal humans, though, it sounds as though exercise is, overall a good thing for that pesky gas.

On a more positive note, EnduranceDoc.com says:

Although some may have concerns about increased flatulence during exercise, this is actually a good sign (although your neighbor or training partner may not agree with that statement).  Passing gas during exercise is a sign of good intestinal function – so feel free to let it out!

Umm, sorry, doc, but I’d really rather not. If you do let it out, though, apparently there is etiquette to be observed. And some exercises apparently do help reduce gas and other gastrointestinal problems.

For me, the most likely culprit for exercise gas is diet related: too many simple carbohydrates or eating foods I’m sensitive to. Both of these will cause bloating, pain, and gas for me. I can tell very quickly if I’ve been eating too many processed, simple carbs because I will be hungrier more frequently. If I reduce the amount of carbohydrates overall and increase the quality of those I do eat (fresh fruits and veggies), then I find that the gas level goes down (and I’m not starving all the time, either).

I also found out a couple of years ago that I have a couple of food sensitivities (not the same as a food allergy): corn and dairy. After avoiding them assiduously for two years, I now can have dairy in limited amounts without too many problems; corn still sends my digestive tract into a tailspin. One doctor helped me figure out what the problems were with a very simple test: stay off one of the following foods at a time for five days, then try it again after the five days are over. If you’re sensitive to the food, you’ll have a nasty episode of GI symptoms when you return to the food:

  1. Dairy (milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream)
  2. Citrus (lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruits — raw, cooked, or juice)
  3. Chocolate
  4. Tomato (and tomato products)
  5. Cola (any kind that is brown)
  6. Grains (wheat, corn, barley, oats, rice)
  7. Eggs
  8. Sugar (refined sugar in any significant amount)

I figured out the corn/cheese problem after going for Mexican food at one of our favorite places and, within 24 hours, was cramping and running to the toilet every few minutes. It takes a while to get through the list, but it’s worth it — although I can tell you know, avoiding corn in processed foods is a trick. Read all the food labels once you figure out what your particular enemy is — if it is a grain, you’ll want to go through each one individually. Tip for prioritizing: If you crave it, it’s probably a problem food for you.

The upside of finding out that I had sensitivity to dairy and corn was that I was pretty much forced to eat healthy so that I could control what was in my food. Until then, I had massive GI problems at least three times a week. Now I only have really serious reactions only when I go out to eat and either decide to ignore the ingredients or don’t know all that’s in something.

Of course, what worked for me may not work for you. Here’s a few links to some articles with suggestions for reducing bloating and its consequence, gas:

We all want to avoid farting because of the social consequences, but the really important thing is to eat healthy to be healthy.

And gas is getting expensive these days, anyway.


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