3 questions for a GI specialist

Gut-friendly ways to exercise, treat pain, and eat.

Studies have shown that good gut health is linked to even better overall health. And since athletes know a fit body needs the right fuel, for the latest installment of our “3 Questions for a Doctor” series, we spoke with American Gastroenterological Association expert John Kuemmerle, M.D., a professor of medicine at Virginia Commonwealth University. Here, he tells us how a high performance lifestyle impacts digestive health(and vice versa).

Mom always said not to exercise until 30 minutes post-meal. Is this a good guideline?

Wait at least an hour to exercise vigorously—when we do functional studies of the stomach, we see that within one or two hours, most of what we eat and drink has been emptied out of the stomach. This timeline is especially important if you’re doing exercises that increase inter-abdominal pressure, like crunches or bench presses; and if you’re prone to acid reflux—when food in your stomach leaks back into the esophagus.

Can post-workout painkillers harm my stomach?

Over time, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) — the Advils, Motrins, and Aleves — can have adverse effects on the stomach in some people, leading to inflammation or ulceration. People who have had previous ulcers, a small percentage of the population, should be wary that they are taking things that could predispose them for another ulcer. Other people just tend to be sensitive to these medications. But the occasional use of NSAIDs is less likely to cause GI upset, ulcers, or bleeding.

Is gluten bad for my stomach?

Gluten-free products have become more widespread in recent years; and a gluten-free diet can be a good thing. Celiac Disease is an allergic response to the protein part of wheat. But even people who have a ‘non-celiac’ gluten sensitivity can have gas, bloating, and other stomach issues when they eat gluten. That’s not because they’re allergic to the protein part (like celiac patients are), but rather because they’re sensitive to the carbohydrate part, which is what we call a poorly digestible carbohydrate. Another poorly digestible carbohydrate is lactose, found in dairy products. We, as humans, don’t process poorly digestible carbohydrates particularly well. When they reach the lower intestines, these carbs are Thanksgiving for bacteria, causing gas, bloating, and diarrhea in some cases. Gluten-free diets, thus, can provide relief from these symptoms.