Yet sometimes we can't help it, especially when doing an activity that gets the bowels moving (looking at you, deep core work). Unless the pent-up gas can escape, it'll only build further, leading to abdominal pain and muscle cramps.
Even though you may fear the embarrassment of a toot being loud or stinky—and noticeably yours—holding it in will only make it harder for you to work out efficiently and perform at your best. Simply letting it go is going to make your gut happier so you can resume your workout with normal ease and effort—and enjoy it a lot more, too!
Why do we get gassy when exercising, exactly?
You’re not alone if you get extra gassy while you’re working out. And the need to break wind is even greater during high-impact training, like a HIIT, cycling, or sprinting workout, or intense core exercises. “Gas and flatulence are byproducts of normal digestion, and are mostly methane- and carbon-based gasses,” says board-certified gastroenterologist Niket Sonpal, MD, FACP, DABIM. “When we exercise, our abdominal muscles contract, which squeeze the large colon, and as Shrek says, ‘Better out than in.’”
When gas stays in your gut, it can cause your abdomen to expand or “bloat,” with a stomach that may feel harder as you tap on it. “Gas does not build up because of bloating and cramping, but rather gas is the cause of the bloating and cramping,” explains Dr. Sonpal.
And of course, if you have gut sensitivity, a gastrointestinal condition, or food intolerance like lactose intolerance or IBS, your chances of having gas and stomach discomfort during exercise are higher. Sticking with basic, easily digestible snacks, like a banana, a granola bar, or a bit of honey as your pre-workout fuel can help.
Dr. Sonpal also points out that many protein supplements can make gassiness more common. If you think your pre-workout supplement might be messing with your digestive system, ditch it and focus on post-workout protein powders or other forms of recovery fuel instead.
Why is it bad to keep the fart in?
Keeping gas inside for too long will cause the pain to exacerbate and linger. “Like a balloon that is being squeezed from one side, the pressure builds and stretches the pain receptors on the colon,” explains Dr. Sonpal. “People who chronically keep it inside are more likely to experience long-term pain than those who are more comfortable with passing gas.”
So, think of letting it out as being a healthy habit, despite what you’re doing or where you are. It’s not just about the short-term discomfort, but also the long-term consequences associated with gut health.
How to face your fears and fart mid-workout
If you’ve been holding it in at the gym, now is the time to muster up the courage and (gently) release it, which may help reduce the risk of the fart being very loud and noticeable. Unfortunately, the “silent but stinky” aspect can’t really be avoided. But the relief will feel good.
If you’re too nervous to fart in front of other people, then quickly step outside of the room or go to the bathroom. Sure, you’ll lose a little workout time. But it doesn’t take long to fart once you’re comfortable doing so and it’s become habitual and less anxiety-inducing. You can leave your towel and water bottle on your machine to save your spot. (Just be sure to take your phone and any other valuables with you.)
Remember that most other fitness enthusiasts are just as gassy as you are. “Gym culture tends to be very caught up with image, but everyone is gassy, and needs to pass gas. It’s a natural byproduct of eating,” says Dr. Sonpal.
What’s more, releasing it will help you power through and maximize the rest of your workout—pain-free and with a mind at ease.
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