You’re in the middle of a squat when suddenly you hear it. Or maybe you feel it, or worse, even smell it. However it goes down, you just let one rip in the gym. I know how embarrassing it can be. Last week, one got loose in my CrossFit class. My coach’s response? A pat on the back and this kind reassurance: “Happens to the best of us.”
While you might not be able to rid yourself of fitness flatulence completely, gastroenterologists and fitness pros do have some tips that can help. Here's why workout farts strike, plus what you can do when you're in a class or crowded weight room and really, really have to break wind.
RELATED: 8 Reasons Your Farts Smell So Bad
Why moving your body makes you fart
It's physics, really. “Any exercises that involve physical bending or twisting can cause the air in our digestive tract to be literally pushed out,” Peyton Berookim, MD, director of the Gastroenterology Institute of Southern California, tells Health. This includes pilates, cycling, yoga, and bodyweight workouts that physically compress the intestines, such as inchworms and forward folds.
Strength-based workouts aren’t any less gassy. Many strength athletes employ something called the Valsalva maneuver, a way of breathing that’s thought to help them lift more weight, Dr. Berookim explains. But if air isn’t fully exhaled through the mouth, it comes out the other end.
“This way of breathing is most common in exercises that involve pushing, hinging, and squatting, so powerlifters and Olympic weightlifters might notice more gas being expressed,” he says. Same goes for people who do CrossFit.
There's another gas-producing mechanism at work when you do aerobic workouts. During bouncy exercises like running and jumping rope, our internal organs jostle up and down and side to side. Working out can speed up the natural digestion process, causing gas produced in our GI tract to bubble out at a faster—and potentially more noticeable—rate, says Dr. Berookim. This may be what causes another exercise-related digestive condition, the dreaded runner's diarrhea.
How you breathe plays a role, too
Inefficient breathing while you work out makes it more likely that you'll cut the cheese. “An individual's inability to inhale and exhale properly can cause flatulence at a higher rate,” exercise physiologist Jim White, owner of Jim White Fitness & Nutrition Studios in Virginia, tells Health. Breathing rapidly forces excess air into the stomach, then the intestines…and then out your anus, he says.
On the other hand, breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth will limit the amount of air that gets caught in your GI tract, in turn limiting the urge to fart, White says.
What you eat matters as well
“I often advise my patients to avoid eating high-fiber foods that create lots of gas, such as onions, cruciferous vegetables, Brussels sprouts, and legumes,” says Dr. Berookim. White adds that wheat and whole grains, carbonated drinks, and sugar alcohols (which are typically found in items labeled “sugar-free”) are also highly gaseous. Consume them in the hours before you hit the gym, and you risk a flatulence attack.
So what should you fuel up with? White’s go-to pre-workout snack is a banana (for fast carbohydrate energy) and peanut butter (for protein and fat) an hour before you plan to sweat. But since everyone’s digestive system is slightly different, he suggests experimenting. Some people may find bananas gas-producing and will do better with oatmeal or toast with peanut butter, he says.
Gulping water is a culprit
When it comes to farting, how you hydrate is key. “Gulping down water can cause more air to be swallowed into the digestive tract, which will get released either through the mouth or anus,” Audra Wilson, RD, nutritionist at the Metabolic Health and Surgical Weight Loss Center at Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital in Geneva, Illinois, tells Health.
Instead of trying to hydrate all at once, she recommends drinking water all day long and sipping it throughout the time you’re at the gym.
What if you get gassy mid-workout?
What to do depends on how comfortable you are letting loose in the moment. Holding in a fart will likely make you feel uncomfortable and bloated, so if you’re feeling particularly flatulent and no one is on the machines near you, you might as well release it. If you are in a crowded class or weight room, excuse yourself and pass gas in private.
Bottom line: Everyone farts, especially at the gym. Of course, it goes without saying that if your flatulence becomes painful or is regularly interfering with the quality of your workouts, talk to your doctor to rule out more serious gastrointestinal issues.
To get our top stories delivered to your inbox, sign up for the Healthy Living newsletter