Nutrition / Food

FODMAPs 101: Everything Athletes Should Know

Learn what the acronym actually stands for and how it can affect your workouts.

It’s no secret in the running community that logging a few miles gets the body going in more ways than one. Yes, it gets your heart rate revved and your legs moving, but it also gets that gut moving, too. Many runners suffer from the intestinal distress of long distance running, aka “runner’s trots.” It sounds gross, but it’s super common and definitely normal. And FODMAPs might be to blame.

There are a few things runners can do to help ease their intestinal woes while training, but the first should be a diet change. A recent study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise suggests that a diet low in FODMAPs might be the key in easing GI distress in athletes who are prone to such problems below the training belt. But what exactly does this mean? We break it all down below.

What are FODMAPs?

You might have heard the buzzy acronym before as it’s making its way through the health and wellness community, but understanding what the heck it means, well that’s another story. The term FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols, technically. But what this really has to do with are the poorly absorbed short-chained carbohydrates and sugar alcohols that are known to cause GI distress in some individuals, explains registered dietitian Yasi Ansari, MS, CSSD.

So think of FODMAPs as the building blocks of some of our favorite foods (more on this later!) that disrupt the digestion process in some and cause gas, bloating, or worse along the way.

Why do they matter?

If you’re someone who is prone to GI trouble or IBS, FODMAPs can matter a lot. “These short-chain carbohydrates are poorly absorbed and are osmotically active in the intestinal lumen where they are rapidly fermented,” says Niket Sonpal MD, Assistant Clinical Professor at Touro College of Medicine. “This can result in symptoms of abdominal bloating and pain”

Translation? It means that FODMAPs bring a ton of fluid into the gut that should not be there—and well, cause the runs.

And hate to break it to you, but that upset stomach you’ve been complaining of might be more than just last night’s questionable takeout. IBS is more common than you might think. Ansari explains that according to The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, 10 to 15 percent of US adults are affected by IBS.

Where can I find FODMAPs?

Unfortunately, FODMAPs are in a lot of tasty foods. This includes dairy products, fatty foods, alcohol, fruits, and, most notably, gluten products, such as wheat, barley, and rye. But it’s important to note that as with all diet plans, total elimination isn’t always the answer. Because FODMAPs are present in a number of foods, simply knowing which foods are high FODMAP-containing foods (and thus which ones to avoid) is key.

Dr. Sonpal shared some common HIGH FODMAP foods:

Fruits: apples, mangoes, pears, apricots, cherries, nectarines, peaches, plums, watermelon
Dairy products: milk, custard, ice cream, and yogurt
Sugary foods: honey, high-fructose corn syrup, artificially sweetened chewing gum and confectionery
Other: Mushrooms, cauliflower, asparagus, sugar snap peas

What does this mean for my training nutrition?

If you’re attempting a low FODMAP diet, Ansari suggests choosing foods, chews, gels, or snacks with real sugar for your pre-workout nourishment. Avoid products with fructose and honey. As for post-workout, she suggests Greek yogurt (as tolerated) or lactose-free yogurt or lactose-free chocolate milk for recovery.

But remember: certain high FODMAP foods might cause a sensitivity to one person and yet may not be someone else’s trigger, explains Dr. Sonpal. So be sure to keep careful track of your own personal triggers before making any permanent dietary changes.

Should I try a low FODMAP diet?

The quick answer is maybe. A recent study put runners on a low-FODMAP diet focused on participants who already had notable GI problems. So if you’re an occasional sufferer, a low FODMAP diet might not necessarily be the solution for you.

However, if you’re prone to IBS, you might just consider making the switch. “Research suggests following a low FODMAP diet has helped improve symptoms in at least 74 percent of patients with IBS,” explains Ansari. And 86 percent of patients saw an improvement in symptoms of gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, abdominal distention, and pain, she adds.

But adopting a low FODMAP diet might do more than ease GI discomfort, says Ansari. Following a low FODMAP diet can help people gain a better grasp as to foods they can and cannot tolerate. “It allows people to track foods and see what gives them symptoms and then to slowly add these foods back into their diet and identify how much and what they can or cannot tolerate,” she says. Simply being aware of your own personal triggers and truly listening to your gut (pun intended!) might make all the difference on your next run.

Of course, as with any diet plan, you should consult your doctor or nutritionist first to see what’s right for you.

Food Nutrition


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