Q & A: Do IBS and Bodybuilding Mix?

Can you combine competition prep with IBS? Today’s Q&A comes from a female wanting to get on stage soon, but battling digestive issues.
 
Here’s her question and my answer is below:
 
Hi Dani!
 
I’m training for my first bikini competition and was elated when I came across your site, such great info! I also noticed some of your articles referenced your struggle with digestion. 
 
I’ve struggled for years with issues and finally sought medical advice, but after speaking to the doctor for about five minutes, I was diagnosed with IBS and handed a prescription. 
 
I tried a number of things on my own: food allergy blood testing (all negative), food journaling, and even Paleo dieting. Nothing has made a difference. I struggle daily and have lots of inflammation in my abdomen. I know this is going to make competition prep more challenging. 
 
How did you tweak your contest prep diet? What items did you avoid? And what do you take for relief?
 
Thanks,
Lacey
 
 
Lacey, I'm so sorry to hear about your digestion. This can be incredibly frustrating. Especially since your doctor didn’t give you a more specific diagnosis. I’m not a doctor, but after preparing for a competition while battling with my own digestion, I do have some recommendations and resources for you. Here they are...
 
 
The Gut Comes First
 
Good digestion is such an important part of your health and happiness that I’d encourage you to fix your digestion before you even begin to prep for a competition. I know that sounds like a bummer, but the process is taxing enough without having digestive problems on top of it. And preparing for a competition can exacerbate an already messed up gut. So take care of your health before you take on anything else. You'll have so much more to give mentally and physically when you're absorbing all of your nutrition properly. 
 
I'll give you some resources below, but it’d be wise for you to get to the point where you’re managing your digestion so well that you don't need the prescription medication in order to feel good. 
 
Then once you’re ready to start eating for competition prep, be direct with your coach if you choose to use one. I would recommend telling him or her that you will not be following a rigid meal plan, and if that's one of their requirements, find a different coach. 
 
When it comes to your competition "meal plan" ask for guidelines, macro recommendations, food suggestions, and guidance. IIFYM would be fine because that would give you the leeway you need to select the best foods for your gut. And the last thing you need is to be told exactly what to eat by someone who doesn't know exactly what's happening in your body... for Pete's sake if your doctor couldn't figure it out, a prep coach shouldn't have the audacity to be telling you exactly what to eat as if she knows more than your doctor. 
 
 
IBS Resources
 
IBS is an umbrella term that can mean a number of things could be going on with your gut. Lots of different digestive disorders get filed under the name "IBS" and the best way to eliminate it is to figure out what’s causing it. 
 
There are some really fantastic specialists out there who would be able to help you get to the bottom of your exact issues. So, since your regular doc has done all he can, find a naturopathic doc. Another thing that’ll help you tremendously is just learning as much as you can on the subject. Check out the info Jillian Sarno Teta offers. She wrote this article on IBS, which is the best and most thorough ones I’ve read. 
 
My Gut and Its Irritants
 
Although I'm not an authority on digestive issues, out of necessity, I've become an expert on what causes problems for me. I have food sensitivities. Major ones. They're not allergic reactions and they’re not as serious as celiac, but they are irritants. 
 
A little over ten years ago, I too got the “IBS” diagnosis and had blood tests that turned out negative. The doctors and gastroenterologist I saw didn’t help me either, and if there had been a prescription they could’ve handed over, they would have. So, after years of self-experimentation and eliminating different things, I’ve nailed exactly what causes flare-ups. When my digestion gets bad, I know what has to be removed, and I’ve learned what natural things to take for relief. Then, once my digestion is consistently good for many days -- no pain, gas, constipation, distention, and regular, daily, beautiful poop -- then I can add them back very gradually. And yes, healthy poop is a beautiful thing.
 
 
For me, excess fiber causes a lot of problems. So a healthy diet full of vegetables will shut down my digestion (even with enzymes). But today’s most common diets and many competition-prep plans are packed with fibrous veggies. Other classic competition-prep foods, when overdone, will wreck my digestion as well: eggs, oats, and almonds, for instance. And to top it off I have a very low threshold for fruit or anything sweetened with fructose sugar. My stomach balloons up when I have one fruit too many, or consume anything containing honey, agave, coconut sugar, cane juice, and good ol’ table sugar which is half fructose. Hippie snacks hate my stomach.
 
 
What I Do For Relief
 
 
So when I have a flare-up, it usually means I went overboard on any one of those irritants, and I have to eliminate it for a while, let my gut heal, then reintroduce the culprit later when my stomach feels great, and my poop goes back to being beautiful again. When it’s reintroduced, it’s just fine in minimal amounts. I still eat vegetables in a couple meals a day. I just had a waffle made with oats and eggs. And if I wanted a fruit I could have one.
 
When it comes to getting relief during a flare-up, one of my favorite things to use for constipation is a magnesium supplement called Mag0 (pictured above) because it’s so darn effective and I can count on getting relief the very next morning. Natural Calm is a magnesium powder that you stir into a drink and it’ll do about the same thing. I also take a GABA supplement at night.
 
For bloating, enteric coated peppermint oil capsules (pictured above) are a must. I’ve been using peppermint since I was 20. I do take digestive enzymes with added fennel and some other things that help prevent bloating, but if I eat too much fiber, enzymes are no match for the hell that gets trapped in my gut.
 
If I haven’t been consuming enough fat (fish oil, egg yolks, coconut oil, and other good sources) my digestion will get a little wonky then too. So I make sure that I take fish oil because it cuts inflammation down, and then make sure that I’m not going too low in fat with my food choices throughout the day.
 
Check with a doctor and do some research on my suggestions before trying any of them, but my cabinets are always stocked with different brands of the stuff I mentioned above. They’re essentials for my particular IBS issues. 
 
Aside from those supplements, eliminating what makes my stomach hurt is the best way for me to get relief. Between the ages of 20 to 25 I didn’t consume any fruit and avoided sugar because fructose was my biggest gut irritant, and getting it out of my diet ended most of the gas/bloating. Then in my late 20’s I began upping my vegetable intake above and beyond the abundance it already contained, and it took me a long time to learn that excess fiber from Mother Nature was doing about the same thing fructose did to my stomach.
 
 
Nutrition and Protection
 
I plan to compete again in the future, but for my own protection, I will no longer follow someone else's meal plan. 
 
And while I’m not a competition coach, as a nutritional consultant myself, I work with my clients to make sure that they have flexibility within their food choices. Their "meal plans" are not fixed. They're more like tentative guidelines that allow for common sense, mindfulness, pleasure and instinct. 
 
 
No matter how experienced or educated your coach is, if he or she ever requires you to override your common sense or instinct, always go with your gut. I mean this both literally and figuratively. 
 
 
Competition Prep Gone Wrong
 
The meal plan I was following contained excessive irritants. Instinct told me to eat more chicken (not more eggs, oats and almonds) but I was actually admonished for doing so. So, to be a compliant competitor, I went against my better judgment, and as a result my digestive system basically broke. I experienced the worst flare-up I’d had in over a decade. 
 
So to answer your question, I didn't just tweak the competition diet I was given, I went off it completely, eliminated everything that caused problems, and ate only what I could tolerate, which for several days ended up containing mostly protein and fat. My muscles became depleted and flat looking. 
 
I didn't blog all the gritty details, but I was able to get myself somewhat back on track before competition day. And someday I’ll prepare for a competition on my own terms with a healthy gut. 
 
 
You’ve Got This
 
Lacey, there are people who will try to compete and win at any cost. They care more about the show than taking care of their health. If that’s the direction your mind is wandering, slow down and prioritize your digestion first. You’ve got plenty of time to compete.
 
And then when you do, you’ll rock it -- not because you sacrificed your health -- but because you took care of it, and doing so scored you the body of an award winning competitor. 
 
I don't know what your digestive issue is, and I wish I could help you figure it out, but when your tummy feels great on a regular basis you will love your life so much more. I sure do. Competition or no competition.