Becoming an Athlete Post Bariatric Surgery

Emily Fultz, MS, RD, LDN

Exercise and nutrition play a big part in the life of an individual who recently had bariatric surgery. The super inspiring part is that many people are getting into competitive sports after surgery. Unfortunately there is not too much research out there yet about a sports nutrition diet for post gastric bypass surgery patients. So, the question that I always get is: do I follow the bariatric diet or do I follow a sports diet?

Let’s look at a male marathon runner for an example. Well, if he sticks to a bariatric diet he may find himself low on energy from minimal carb intake when following his bariatric plan. If a doctor has switched him over to more of a sports diet, then he may find himself with stomach pains and even hypoglycemia during a race. This is known as dumping syndrome.

Dumping syndrome can be caused by excess energy consumption, more specifically from fast absorbed sugars (1). These fast absorbed sugars are exactly what marathon runners want to fuel their bodies with during races, but what can happen to a person whose stomach size can not handle this amount of carbohydrate? Shortly after they may experience nausea, diarrhea, and stomach cramping – Not something you want when you still have 10+ miles to run. Then about 90 minutes to 3 hours later, hypoglycemia and possible loss of consciousness may occur (1). A runners first thought would be to drink some more Gatorade, but this is the opposite of what should be done.

So how should this runner fuel before and during the race? Fueling should be individualized to the athletes’ goals and physical response to the fuel.

Some ideas to get started:

  • Rather than only run with fast acting carbs, such as gummies, make sure to have protein on hand as well. Mixing dried fruit with some peanuts has worked great for a few of my clients.
  • Avoid drinking Gatorade at every station you run by. Try to stick to water early on, and have a sip or two of Gatorade every other stop later in the race.
  • Make sure to fuel 2-3 hours before with a heavier meal that you can handle and have a lighter combo of protein and carbs 30 minutes to an hour prior to the race or training.

Every person will be different, so a little bit of it may come from trial and error. The most important part to remember is to LISTEN TO YOUR BODY. If you feel off, then likely something is off, and it needs to be addressed.

1. Chaves, Y. D., & Destefani, A. C. (2016). PATHOPHYSIOLOGY, DIAGNOSIS AND TREATMENTOF DUMPING SYNDROME AND ITS RELATION TO BARIATRIC SURGERY. Arquivos brasileiros de cirurgia digestiva : ABCD = Brazilian archives of digestive surgery, 29Suppl 1(Suppl 1), 116–119. doi:10.1590/0102-6720201600S10028.

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