Farting. Flatulence. Gas. Passing wind. Call it what you like, it’s still not socially acceptable to let one rip when you’re at the gym. But it happens... here’s how to prevent it.
It’s considered normal for the average person to pass gas anywhere between 14 and 24 times a day. This adds up to roughly 1.5 litres of gas a day. However, what you eat has a direct effect on how much gas you pass, when you pass it (in relation to when you last ate) and how ‘fragrant’ it is.
We spoke to Emsie Malan, Registered dietician with Virgin Life Care and Leigh Van Heerden, Registered biokineticist at Virgin Life Care about what to eat, what to avoid and what exercises you shouldn’t be doing if you feel a rumbling...
1. What are the most gas-producing foods?
Emsie: Foods which are the most common culprits of that gassy feeling are legumes (e.g. chickpeas, baked beans, butter beans, cannellini beans, kidney beans, split peas, lentils), cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, onions, garlic, carbonated drinks, chewing gum, and bread.
A tip to reduce the gas forming properties of legumes: soak them in water before cooking, drain this water, and fill with fresh water again. Boil in fresh water. Alternatively, when using the canned variety, drain and rinse very well before eating. Most of the fibre strains causing flatulence will dissolve in the water.
2. What foods to avoid before a workout?
Emsie: Any fatty foods (e.g. chips, take-aways, pastries, chocolate, fried foods), carbonated drinks, and huge meals may cause discomfort before exercise. When exercising, blood supply is shifted from the digestive tract and other organs towards the muscles and respiratory tract., meaning that blood supply to the digestive tract is limited while working out.
Therefore stick to small, healthy, low fat snacks which aid digestion and won’t cause discomfort.
3. How is gas produced in the gut?
Emsie: The production of gas in the colon is a completely normal process. Within one to four hours after a meal, most of the sugars and the starches eaten have been digested by the small intestine.
Only a small fraction of these starches, known as resistant starch and fibre, will move into the colon. On entering the colon, they attract water to soften stools and aid in the passage of the stool. Bacteria in the GI tract ferment these fibres and resistant starches, which causes the production of gas and fatty acids. These fatty acids produced are an essential fuel for the cells of the colon and therefore this process is a vital process.
Abnormal production of gas can occur when rapidly increasing your intake of fibre (it is best to gradually increase your fibre intake to allow for the bacteria to adjust slowly to the increased volume). There may also be situations where excessive intake of lactose (found in milk), fructose (found in fruit) and alcohol sugars (sorbitol, mannitol or xylitol) can cause bloating and loose stools. This generally happens when a person has an intolerance to these foods.
4. Who are the biggst culprits – cardio-junkies or body-builders?
Emsie: Both can be the culprits. Diets that are high in carbs tend to be high in fibre, which can cause excess gas. On the other hand diets that are high in protein and saturated fat, with very limited vegetables, fruit and carbohydrates (therefore are very low in fibre) cause constipation and bloating so can also be to blame.
5. What if you’ve already eaten a snack that’s making you feel a little gassy?
Emsie: Unfortunately there’s not much to do if you’ve already eaten. Motion stimulates bowel movements, so try to delay the workout in such a case. Another option is to visit the toilet to make sure that your colon is unstressed before starting. Otherwise keep tablets close by for cramps, should they occur.
6. How long before you plan a workout should you eat?
Emsie: It is ideal to stop eating two to three hours before a workout. If you do eat before that, stick to non-greasy options in small amounts. These include fresh fruit, low fat yoghurt, provitas, low fat health bars (e.g. Simply Cereal, or Jungle Oats lite).
7. Which exercises to avoid if you’re feeling a little gassy?
Leigh: There is no perfect answer to this question, but perhaps avoid exercises that will draw undue attention even without the noisy sound effects – so don’t venture into unchartered territory and try new exercises when you’re feeling gassy.
Try stick to smaller, more controlled movements where your body is supported and not jostling about too much.
8. Which exercises produce the most wind?
Leigh: Exercise is known to maintain regular bowel habits and movements. However, if your bowels are feeling uncomfortable, perhaps avoid exercises where your body propels itself (such as walking or running) and stick to supported exercises at a lower intensity (such as the bike or stepper).
But once again, each to their own as individuals will all probably react differently to different stimuli.
9. Which yoga positions are the most ‘dangerous’ones?
Leigh: Although I am not well-versed with regard to Yoga, some research I came across actually promoted Yoga in assisting prevention of flatulence, mostly by controlling breathing and ensuring proper routine, sleep patterns and positive consideration to the digestive system.
However, in both yoga and Pilates the activation of the pelvic floor (deep abdominal muscles) is required, and the novice may not be able to maintain this activation so ‘slips’ during relaxation could occur.
10. Oops! What is the general gym etiquette if one slips?
Leigh: I would say ‘Excuse me!’ in a voice approximately as loud as the sound had been and then try to forget about it.
It does happen to everyone sometimes. Some people would probably prefer to avoid acknowledging the noise (as it is considered unacceptable in terms of etiquette), but do what is most comfortable to you and those around you (in a one-on-one situation with your trainer, perhaps don’t try and hide it!
If you’re having one of those days where it is probably going to be unavoidable to ‘let off some steam’, perhaps choose a treadmill or bike next to someone else with headphones on, they’ll be too busy listening to their motivating track turned on loud to hear you.
True story of a brave gym-goer who let one slip:
This is a true story of one Health24 reader who was brave enough to share their story of what happened when they let one slip:
“I started eating a mix of nuts, pumpkin seeds, pine nuts and raisins at work for a snack instead of chocolates and chips. It is really lovely to eat but ohhh boy does it make me fart and not ones that can go unnoticed, they smell to high heaven.
So here I am in the gym working out in the stretch area. I was lying down, doing crunches when I felt one coming on.
I knew I had had my snack mix during the day so I knew it was going to be a ‘baddy’. A quick look around showed that there was nobody around and I let one slip out - luckily without a sound.
However the smell hanging around me and then the unthinkable happened. The most stuck up old guy in the gym who is always there, and who is always doing everything completely wrong but with a holier-than-thou and I-exercise-harder-than-you attitude decided to come and do a few crunches close to me.
As he lowered himself to the ground I could see his nostrils twitch and he turned his nose around just to smell again to make sure he was smelling correctly.
A quick nod of his head confirmed what he suspected, he gave me a look that is still giving me nightmares and he jumped up and moved on.
I just stood my ground, kept my innocent face on and kept doing my crunches!
Even now almost six months after the event he still avoids me and will not come close to me when I'm doing crunches. He even takes a wide berth around me when he sees me in Pick 'n Pay!”
References: Emsie Malan, Registered dietician,Virgin Life Care and Leigh Van Heerden, Registered biokineticist, Virgin Life Care.
(Amy Froneman, Health24, November 2010)