Is Workout Bloat a Real Thing? Here Are 3 Possible Causes

Here's why your tummy might get puffy after exercise.

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We've all been there—bloating can happen at any time or place and be caused by different things. Uh, we thought exercise was supposed to make our stomachs slimmer, no? Learn more about bloating, including three reasons you may feel bloated after exercising.

Cynthia Sass, RD, MPHHealth's contributing nutrition editor, said that although you might feel bloated after working out, it isn't directly caused by physical activity. 

What Is Bloating?

Bloating is a feeling of fullness in your abdomen. Your abdomen may feel swollen or tight and appear to stick out or distended. An accumulation of gas or food in the stomach may cause bloating. 

Additionally, some health conditions can cause bloating, including:

  • Celiac disease
  • Problems with the ovaries or uterus 
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)
  • Constipation

But remember: Just because you are experiencing bloating doesn't necessarily mean you have an underlying health condition.

Causes of Work Out Bloat

Bloating can have many different causes. And you may be experiencing some of them during or after exercising.

Air in Your Belly

Sass said you're probably huffing and puffing and accidentally gulping down air while trying to catch your breath as you exercise. 

If you swallow air, it can become trapped in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and cause a puffy tummy. It's similar to what happens when you eat too fast and swallow gas-producing air.

Eating Before Working Out

Another thing that can cause bloat after working out is eating too close to your gym session. And that's mainly if your meal contains fiber, protein, and fat, all of which take longer to digest, said Sass. 

"When you start your barre class or run, blood flows away from the digestive system toward your muscles, which slows digestion further and may lead to bloating," explained Sass. So, hold off on downing that protein bar or shake until after your workout.

Additionally, dairy foods (like milk, cheese, and ice cream) can cause bloating in people who are lactose intolerant. Those people lack the enzyme needed to digest dairy foods.

Artificial Sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners can also cause bloating because they're difficult for your system to digest and hang around in your stomach for a while. 

Before reaching for a sports drink, check the label to make sure it doesn't contain bloat-inducing artificial sweeteners. It might be refreshing during your workout, but it could leave you with some severe distension afterward.

When to Talk to Your Healthcare Provider

Most bloating will go away on its own. But if you experience bloating with other symptoms, you may want to contact your healthcare provider. This includes:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Blood in stool
  • Diarrhea
  • Heartburn (that continues to get worse)
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss

A Quick Review

Bloating might not be comfortable, but unfortunately, you can't always prevent it from happening (like swallowing air during your workout). 

To avoid that post-workout bloat, monitor your intake of artificial sweeteners and high-fiber foods. But otherwise, accept that it happens to everyone instead of being angry with your abdomen for ballooning on you. And keep in mind: It's only temporary.

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