What is the connection between overtraining and stomach issues, like gas, constipation, and bloating?
Stomach problems are very common in the BURNOUT phase on the Burnout Recovery the Spectrum, and sometimes even in the HEALING phase. Click here to learn about overtraining and other negative side effects of it.
I’d like to start this post with a story from one of my clients whose body was really stressed out from too much exercise and under eating. As a result, she used to have very serious constipation and gas and she would sometimes go weeks without bowel movements at all.
She went from doctor to doctor but no one was able to help her. They even had her to go through many uncomfortable tests, including the Balloon Expulsion test in which a balloon filled with water is being inserted into your rectum and your job is to push out.
As you can imagine, it’s not comfortable and fun. This was only one of the tests she had to go through, when the doctors tried to figure out what was wrong with her. But she left the office every time with a prescription for stronger medication, which only helped for a short while, and then things would go back to bad again.
What actually solved her issue was reducing exercise and increasing the amount of right foods in her diet. It was overtraining that caused her stomach problems.
In today’s post, I’m sharing with you the connection between overtraining and stomach problems, and why you may consider reducing your exercise if you have any of these symptoms.
Why Overtraining Causes Stomach Issues
The main idea is that when we’re overtrained, our bodies Sympathetic Nervous system dominates. Sympathetic Nervous system is a system that is activated in a fight or flight situation. The opposite of that system is the Parasympathetic Nervous system, the Rest & Digest mode. When we’re working out a lot and do tons of cardio, or intense training, the Sympathetic NS side of our autonomic NS dominates. In this situation, our adrenals are bumping out more and more cortisol on a regular basis. Chronically elevated cortisol can do a number on your digestion.
Here’s how overtraining causes stomach problems:
Chronically Elevated Cortisol Can Cause Leaky Gut
Cortisol can mess with with your gut. Too much cortisol in the body starts to negatively impact your gut lining, ultimately causing leaky gut.
Leaky gut is a condition in which bacteria and toxins leak through the intestine walls and make their way into your bloodstream. As a result, you end up with inflammation in the body. This can be the reason why you’re constipated and gassy.
Chronically Elevated Cortisol Can Cause Poor Gut Motility
Overtraining, too much and too intense training, can impact your body’s ability to move food through your digestive system. This is called poor gut motility and cortisol has a huge impact on that as well. When your gut motility is poor, you may feel like the food you ate is literally stuck in your stomach.
Digesting Is Harder When We're Overtrained
Coming back to Fight or Flight and Rest & Digest systems, it’s important to know that when we’re stressed out — which we are when we’re overtrained — digesting food is harder. We absorb the nutrients and digest the food the best when we’re actually relaxed. It’s also important to chew food properly. When our stress levels are constantly up and we’re eating rushed, our digestive system is not relaxed. In addition, eating to fast can cause gas, bloating and burping too.
Long Distance Running and Diarrhea
Diarrhea often happens as a result of overtraining as well. It tends to be more common after long distance cardio and very intense exercise. It can be caused by changes in digestive hormones and reduced blood flow into your digestive organs.
If it happens occasionally after a log run, don’t worry about it too much, but if diarrhoea is an ongoing issue for you, and especially if it’s accompanied by abdominal pain and nausea, the reason might be overtraining.
Your Body Has Its Priorities
Your body prioritizes. When your body is busy dealing with stress, it doesn’t have the resources to put towards digestion. Its main priority is to get you out of the dangerous situation — that’s how your body perceives it if you’re constantly overtrained.
What Can You Do About Overtraining and Stomach Problems?
The simplest thing to do is to reduce your workout stress. You will very likely see decrease in your symptoms. Here are a few options how to go about it:
1) Take an extra day off. Yes, it may feel hard, almost impossible, but if you know that it might help you to go to bathroom more regularly, isn't it worth it?
2) Cut out 1-2 high intensity workouts that you do every week. Depending on how many you do, your number maybe different, but the idea is that you don't do too much intense exercise when your digestion is compromised.
3) Shorten the miles you run. If you're a runner, cut your distances a bit shorter and take a few more days off. That might help.
4) Incorporate restorative workouts into your plan. Like mentioned earlier, parasympathetic nervous system — the rest and digest system — is the one that allows us to really calm, rest, and digest. Restorative exercise like gentle yoga or walking will do that.
5) Eat a diet that supports a healthy gut function. This is a very detailed topic but in general, eat mostly whole foods, have some room for treats, and definitely make sure that you’re getting enough calories! Many women who have stomach problems because of overtraining, don’t eat enough, making their problems even worse.
Your body likes balance. It likes movement but it also likes rest. Be careful with pushing yourself too hard — in addition to many other functions in the body, it can also negatively impact your digestion.
Let me help you!
If you need help with overcoming overtraining or food fears, or need help with starting exercise again after a long break because of overtraining or amenorrhea recovery, get it touch HERE. I've helped hundreds of women find normal exercise routine and recover from food obsessions, and I'd love to help you do the same.