Top 5 Considerations for IBD Athletes 

IBD Athlete

Something that’s kind of unique about our team is that 3 out of 4 of us were former athletes! Christa played golf and basketball, Rebecca played water polo and also tried out running and triathlons for a bit. Ashley was a runner in college and after college during her diagnosis of UC.

We have also had the honor of helping many IBD athletes get their symptoms under control so that they can get back to the sport they love. Christa is an expert at the intersection of GI and Sport- so check out her article below and if you’d like to see some photos of our team as athletes- check it out in the “Bonus Pictures” section!

 

Warmly,

The Crohn’s & Colitis Dietitians

 

Hi there! My name is Christa and I am an IBD specialized sports dietitian. All that means is that I specialize in both IBD and human performance to help people eat in a way that supports their movement….no matter what that is!  

So, if you consider yourself to be an active individual with IBD then I am here to help! IBD impacts all areas of life, including movement, activity, and sport. It can be a scary, frustrating, and hopeless feeling when IBD seems to take away even the things that keep you healthy.

As a sports dietitian, athlete, IBD dietitian AND an IBD patient myself I deeply empathize with you if this is you. I know the barriers and frustrations first hand. And this is exactly why you need a specialized sports and IBD dietitian in your corner. 

I can help strategize with you to create a fueling and training routine that supports your goals AND your gut. This is critical in helping you stay in remission and succeed in your sport. So, what are the top considerations for IBD athletes? 

I’m so glad you asked! Let’s dive in. 

1. Support Disease Remission in the Long Term

This may seem a little too simple, but it can’t be ignored. We need to get you into remission before we can truly embark on a successful training routine. You can’t train at your best when symptoms are keeping you fatigued, in pain, or running to the bathroom! 

Nutrition plays a major role in IBD. A targeted nutrition plan can help you reduce symptoms, improve energy and reduce your risk of flare long term. An IBD specialized dietitian is able to coach you through the conflicting information that you may find online and help you find what actually works. 

To reduce the overwhelm- outsource this part to us! 

2. Reduce Symptoms to See Better Results

Many of us with IBD also struggle with IBS type symptoms like bloating and reflux.  Even in remission. A large part of my role is helping you manage these symptoms as you train.  As exercise intensity and duration increases there is less blood flow to the gut. The sympathetic nervous system shunts blood flow away from the gut and toward the working muscle. 

Because of this, we don’t want to have too much food sitting in our stomach as we initiate exercise. If we do, symptoms will likely be much worse! In general, it’s best to have a small carbohydrate-rich snack in the hour before exercise. The specific type and timing will depend on personal tolerance and type of exercise, but the closer to training you are the lower in fat, fiber, and protein the snack should be. 

Some examples include: 

  • Banana with nut butter
  • Performance Oatmeal
  • DIY sports drink (maybe we could put this recipe on your site and backlink?)

3. Work on Maintaining a Healthy Gut Barrier 

Another important consideration for the IBD athlete is maintaining the gut barrier. The gut lining has a high turnover rate. This process requires a lot of energy and nutrients. 

If you are consistently under fueling and training at high intensities, you are at significant risk of disrupting the integrity of the gut lining and inducing more symptoms. A core pillar of The Crohn’s & Colitis Remission Blueprint is to bring in strategies that help improve our gut microbiome and gut lining which is important to get you into remission and help you stay there longer. 

As we established previously, exercise creates a reduction of blood flow to the gut. Fun fact, up to an 80% reduction can happen! If blood flow is decreased by 50% or more, we can cause: 

  • Mucosal damage
  • Increased GI permeability (“leaky” gut barrier)
  • Nutrient malabsorption
  • Impaired gut-barrier function
  • GI bleeding 

This is especially likely when doing  higher intensity exercise or longer duration, while in high temperatures, and with exercising dehydrated. As you move, there is already some jostling happening in the gut causing varying degrees of aggravation.

In addition, dehydration can further increase permeability of the gut lining and cause more bleeding. Heat stress can injure the intestinal lining and reduce clearance of toxins.

Bottom line: It doesn’t have to be this way. I can help create a custom fueling and hydration protocol tailored to your specific needs. 

4. Your Quality of “Rest Days” is also Key to Performance

IBD is a chronic inflammatory disease that puts your body under a constant low level of stress. This is an important factor to consider when programming your exercise regimen and nutrition protocol. You need the skills to be able to assess your level of stress and be able to adapt accordingly. 

This might look like:

  • Adding in an extra rest day or low intensity day. 
  • Taking advantage of days that feel good by supporting your level of activity through proper nutrition and 
  • Bringing in practical strategies for better hydration

Most importantly, appropriate sports nutrition principles can help you recover faster and more efficiently. Ultimately this allows you to train at a higher level more often. If you have a goal of competing or racing, this part of the puzzle must be locked in! 

5. Planning ahead is Important for IBD Athletes

Finally, proper planning helps to relieve stress and build confidence. If you’ve got IBD as an athlete you might need to plan for: 

  • Bathroom locations
  • Rest stops
  • Pre workout snacks
  • Post workout snacks
  • Hydration solutions
  • Necessary gear or products 

All of these keep you performing at your best without embarrassment! (Tie in IBD athletes have unique needs we need to consider the disease process and needs of the athlete; interplay between those two). I can help by strategizing with you and developing a plan that will work for you. It’s important to feel empowered and supported by your healthcare team. 

All of us here at the Crohn’s & Colitis Dietitians aim to be that guide for you. Book a call with us today if you need some support! 

Bonus pictures are below!

References: 

PMID: 22229513

PMID: 34131799

PMID: 29234915

 

Bonus Team Pictures!

Photo 1 (from the left)- Christa with the ball about to win the state title!

Photo 2 – Christa playing golf

Photo 3- Rebecca post triathlon

Photo 4- Rebecca during college water polo competition

Photo 5- Ashley running

Photo 6- Rebecca running

Photo 7- Ashley running next to her younger sister Lauren

Photo 8- Ashley running

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