3 Ways to Prevent Stomach Pain After Working Out

Did you know that stomach pain after working out isn’t a death sentence? In fact, there are a number of things you can do to stop it for good!

When I was younger, I trained solely for aesthetics.  To put it simply, I worked out to put on muscle mass and to look good naked.

Now, I don’t want to blow my own horn here, but I honestly think it worked out reasonably well.  I mean, I got a girlfriend and we eventually got married, and that can’t have been entirely because of my personality, right?

I kid, I kid.

But in all seriousness, during this time, while I certainly looked good on the outside, I wasn’t feeling too flash on the inside.

My diet was built around a whole lot of meat, a few frozen veggies, and an absurd amount of protein shakes.  Not what I would now consider to be a particularly healthy diet…

As a result, I was battling some serious stomachaches.

Seriously, as I neared the end of any training session, it would begin.  My stomach would start to ache like crazy. It would come on pretty quickly and either leave me buckled over in pain or literally sprinting to the toilet.

It was not pleasant.

I should note that it took me quite a while (read: way too long) to realize that what I put in my body was causing this.  So, I made some changes and I have never looked back.

And if you suffer from stomach pain after working out, you can do exactly the same!

What Can Cause Stomach Pain During A Workout?

I am sure you have all been there.  Entering the midpoint of a particularly hard training session and BAM!  A sharp, stabbing pain suddenly hits you right in the stomach.

Call it a side stitch, call it exercise-related transient abdominal pain, heck, call it whatever you want — it still sucks!

But what actually causes it?  Well, it appears to come down to one (or more) of three distinct things:

  • the type of exercise you’re doing
  • digestive issues
  • an inadequate warm-up

Exercise Type and Stomach Pain During A Workout

First and foremost, I should state that you can get stomach pain during a workout with any type of exercise.  But, it is more common in exercises that involve repetitive torso movement with torso rotation. It is also made worse when the torso is in an extended posture.

Activities that fit this description include:

  • rowing
  • swimming
  • kayaking
  • horseback riding
  • running (the biggest culprit)

Additionally, you might want to be careful if you are doing a gym session that involves lots of abdominal work.

Digestion and Stomach Pain During A Workout

It may sound a little bit obvious, but those people who consume a large amount of food 1-2 hours before exercise are going to be more likely to experience stomach pain during exercise.  

And it doesn’t really seem to matter what type of food you eat prior to exercise (though high-carbohydrate drinks may make it worse).  To put it simply, having a large mass of food in your stomach is not a great thing if you want to avoid stomach pain.

Interestingly, though, stomach pain from working out on a full stomach doesn’t seem to occur for everyone.  This may indicate that differences in digestion may play a role in developing side stitches.  People with better digestive health can better digest the food that they consume before exercise, emptying their stomachs faster and, perhaps, reducing the risk of stomach pain.

Warming Up and Stomach Pain During A Workout

Runner stretching to prevent stomach pain

Finally, an inadequate warm up has been suggested to cause stomach pain during exercise. And it makes sense if you think about it.

If you do not warm up properly, then you will not see proper increases in your muscle or core body temperature.  As a result, your body will not be optimally prepared to exercise, which can cause abdominal cramping and stomach pain.

What Can Cause Stomach Pain After Working Out?

Stomach pain during exercise is pretty understandable.  I mean, you are using the muscles around the stomach to physically perform exercise, so it makes sense as to why you might get stomach pain.

But what about after exercise?

It’s not uncommon for people to finish up a bout of exercise, start cooling down, and then get wracked with stomach pain.  Sometimes this even comes with abdominal cramping, digestive issues, and bloating.

So, what gives?  Well, it may, again, come down to three key things:

  • a stomach muscle sprain
  • changes in your digestive system
  • fluid loss

Muscle Sprains and Stomach Pain After Working Out

When you exercise, you work your abdominal muscles pretty much constantly.  They are constantly working hard to stabilize your spine and help you produce movement — no matter what exercise you are doing.

In short, they are doing a heck of a lot.

Now, while not extremely common, it is very possible to strain an abdominal muscle during exercise.  If this happens, you may experience stomach pain in a very specific spot after exercise.  It may also be tender to touch.

If you have a single spot of pain that gets worse when you press on it, it is a sure sign that your stomach pain is coming from a strained muscle and that you need to rest!

Now, I should also note that this is a bit different from delayed onset muscle soreness (or DOMS).  DOMS describes the slight muscle pain you feel after working out, when your muscles are a bit fatigued.

This sort of pain is typically pretty low in intensity, widespread, and completely normal. So, if you feel slight muscle pain throughout your all your stomach muscles 24-48 hours after a workout, it’s probably nothing to worry about!

Digestive System Changes and Stomach Pain After Working Out

During exercise, you need more oxygen to support your many muscle contractions.  This means that more blood flow is directed to your muscle tissue and away from your organs — including your digestive system.

This can cause a decrease in your gut’s ability to move food through your digestive tract. To make matters worse, this can also make your gut mucosa susceptible to damage, increase your gut permeability, damage your microbiota, and lead to the production of toxins that can cause diarrhea!

All of which can contribute to stomach pain after a workout!

Learn More About Your Gut Health: 7 Reasons Why Your Gut Health is Important

It is important to note that these effects do appear to be intensity dependent.  This means that the harder you work, the more blood needs to be directed to your muscles, and the more likely that you are going to have digestive issues after your workout.

Fluid Loss and Stomach Pain After Working Out

Two glasses of water on a wooden table

During exercise, you sweat (well, I know that I sweat…).  As a result, you actually lose quite a bit of fluid. If you don’t keep yourself adequately hydrated, this can exacerbate many of the digestive changes mentioned above.

Additionally, this dehydration can also increase your risk of experiencing muscle cramping — which obviously can include cramping of your stomach muscles.

As a result, fluid loss and dehydration can be a major cause of stomach pain after working out.

How Can You Prevent Stomach Pain During or After Working Out?

So, you now have a pretty good idea regarding what causes stomach pain during exercise. And, fortunately, this also gives you quite a bit of insight into what you can do to prevent it!

Choose a Low-Risk Exercise

Cyclist on a wooded highway

You know that the type of exercise you choose can seriously affect your likelihood of getting stomach pain during a workout.  This means that you can easily reduce your odds of having stomach pain by choosing a type of exercise that is low risk.

Arguably, the best exercises for avoiding stomach pain are cycling and intermittent sports that involve repeated short bursts of activity (like basketball).

This also suggests that high-intensity interval training might be a better option than long-duration aerobic activities, as it provides periods of rest throughout the session.

Pay Close Attention to What You Eat

We have established that a large mass of food or a sugary beverage in your stomach at the start of training puts you at risk for stomach pain.  

So, if you want to avoid stomach pain during your workout make sure you eat your last meal around three hours before you exercise.  Additionally, make sure that your pre-exercise drinks are predominantly water.

Simple!

And there may be some merit in trying to clean up the health of your gut to better manage your digestion prior to exercise, too!

Not sure if your gut could use some TLC? Check out this article to learn about all the signs of an unhealthy gut!

Make Sure You Warm Up

Let’s save the most obvious for last, shall we?  Pretty simply, make sure that you warm up before you exercise.

Warming up is crucial for preparing your muscles for the upcoming workout.  It promotes blood flow, increases your core muscle temperature, and lowers your risk of stomach cramping and discomfort.

I short, it is essential.

Here’s one of my favorite (simple!) ways to warm up your stomach muscles.  Gently walk on a treadmill for 2-3 minutes, then perform a plank hold for 30 seconds.  Then perform a light jog for 2-3 minutes and another plank hold for 30 seconds. Lastly, run at a slightly faster pace for 2-3 minutes and then plank for a final 30 seconds.

As simple as this is, it works well!

How Can You Treat Stomach Pain After Working Out?

I have taken the time to outline three causes of stomach pain during a workout.  And that means that you have three very clear steps you can take to help control them if they do crop up!

Treat a Strained Stomach Muscle

If you find that you have a specific sore spot on your stomach after training, then you might have a stomach muscle strain.  A simple way to see if this is the case is if it is also sore to touch and the pain is made worse by movement.

If this is you, then you want to get started treating it as quickly as possible!

First and foremost, you want to start applying ice to the area over the first 24-48 hours after injury.  This is the perfect way to reduce inflammation and lower pain. My favorite protocol is icing the area for 15 minutes every hour.

After the first 48 hours, you then want to start using the muscle gently.  This mobilization not only strengthens the injured tissue but also promotes better healing.  

Spend the first week after your injury doing gentle planking exercises (on your knees is the perfect starting point).  From there, transition into planks on your toes and then to more dynamic core exercises (such as reverse crunches and dead bugs).

Hopefully, within 2-3 weeks you will back to moving about without pain and ready to jump back into working out.

Keep Your Digestive System Healthy

Salad with fresh veggies, chickpeas, ans sweet potato

You obviously cannot change the fact that blood flow is redirected away from the stomach during exercise. That is completely unchangeable. But, you can improve the health of your gut to better tolerate this change!

This might mean improving the health of your gut through probiotic supplements.  It might mean eating more fiber on a daily basis.  It might even mean reducing your intake of inflammatory foods.

However you choose to go about it, the key is to improve the health of your gut, increasing your resilience to exercise-induced changes!

Stay Hydrated

Last (but certainly not least), let’s talk about staying hydrated.  As I have already discussed, during exercise you lose a whole lot of fluid through sweat.  This can seriously affect your stomach, leading to pain and cramping.

So, make sure you keep your fluid intake up throughout the entirety of your workout.  

The general consensus is to consume somewhere between 200 and 250 mLs of water (depending on your size) every 15 minutes during exercise to keep your stomach in tip-top shape after you work out.

And don’t forget to properly rehydrate after your workout!

When Should You See a Doctor About Your Stomach Pain?

Doctor examining a patient's hands

There is a little bit of a caveat to all the information I’ve presented here.  Some stomach pains after working out are definitely normal. In most cases, they are simple things that happen to a pretty large portion of the population.

But some are not.

Some are more severe.  

In fact, some may even be an indication that something a little bit worse might be going on and that it might be in your best interest to see a doctor. These situations include if you experience stomach pains after working out and:

  • you are pregnant
  • you start vomiting
  • the pain extends beyond your stomach and into your chest, neck, and shoulders
  • the pain is extremely severe and sharp
  • your abdominal muscles are protruding out noticeably
  • you develop a fever
  • you experience vaginal bleeding

If your stomach pain occurs under any of these circumstances, make sure to get yourself checked out immediately.  It is always better to be safe than to be sorry!

Take Home Message

Getting stomach pain after working out is actually a pretty normal occurrence — but it doesn’t have to be.  In fact, by making sure that you warm up properly, look after the health of your gut, and keep hydrated, you can eliminate it completely!

Read Next: Leaky Gut Foods to Avoid: 5 Foods to Remove From Your Diet Today to Protect Your Gut Health

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