When it comes to match preparation, one of the most crucial, yet often neglected tools for peak performance is nutrition. Fortunately, we live in a day in age where nutritional science is readily available at our fingertips with the simple push of a button.
However, with such a breadth of information readily available, it often becomes difficult to discern which diets athletes should and should not be following. According to surgeon and founder of Rachel Pauls Food Dr. Rachel Pauls, one of the most beneficial nutritional plans an athlete can follow is the low-FODMAP diet.
Dr. Pauls was inspired to create Rachel Pauls Food after a long search for healthy, low-FODMAP convenience food. “As a busy doctor and mom, who follows a low-FODMAP diet, I often need a healthy convenient snack to get me through a hectic day,” Dr. Pauls explained.
Dr. Pauls began utilizing her baking skills to create healthy, yet tasty, low-FODMAP recipes. She then applied her medical expertise to analyze the FODMAP content in her recipes in a lab setting, resulting in Rachel Pauls Food’s signature products – Happy Bars, Happy Jerky, Happy Spices and Happy Soup.
So, what exactly is a FODMAP? According to Dr. Pauls, they are carbohydrates found in many common foods that are difficult to digest, therefore triggering gas, bloating, diarrhea, and other symptoms associated with irritable bowel syndrome.
FODMAP is an acronym for fermentable (easily broken down by bacteria in your digestive system), oligosaccharides (short chain carbohydrates found in wheat, onion, garlic and beans), disaccharide (formed of two sugars together, such as laxtose), monosaccharide (fruit sugar commonly found in pears, apples and honey) and polyols (sugar alcohols such as those added to sugar free gum and mints and found naturally in some fruits and vegetables).
Foods that are high-FODMAP can have side effects that hinder an athlete’s performance. In fact, strenuous exercise is a trigger for stomach issues such as cramping, gas and diarrhea. “Tennis is one of the most physically demanding professional sports. Long matches mean a need to fuel and hydrate similar to endurance athletes,” Dr. Pauls explained.
Recent studies have focused on the use of a low FODMAP diet to treat athletes’ exercise-induced gastrointestinal symptoms with success, according to Dr. Pauls. Additionally, research has found that even athletes without gastrointestinal symptoms have benefitted from the use of low-FODMAP diets.
“It just makes sense. FODMAPS are a group of carbohydrates that include wheat, dairy, fructose, and inulin. These carbs are difficult to digest and can result in symptoms of gas, bloating, diarrhea and cramping,” said Dr. Pauls. “What I find ironic, is many of these FODMAP offenders are added to energy bars and other sports beverages. So, athletes really need to be careful what they fuel up with.”
Dr. Pauls recommends a number of different options in each recommended food group as low-FODMAP fuel for athletes. Examples include bananas, grapes, strawberries, kale, broccoli, sweet potatoes chicken, egg, fish, pork, gluten free baked goods, oatmeal, quinoa, rice cakes, and lactose-free dairy products.
On the flip side, some foods to avoid include apples, avocado, watermelon, cauliflower, asparagus, couscous, wheat, bran, black beans, hummus, cashews, milk, ice cream, yogurt and ricotta cheese.
Based on the recommended low-FODMAP foods, athletes are able to keep their energy levels up without compromising performance due to gastrointestinal maladies. “To boost energy levels without the risk of exercise induced cramping or gassiness, high-FODMAP foods should be avoided,” said Dr. Pauls. “Our Happy Bars and Happy Jerky are fantastic sources of protein and healthy low-FODMAP carbs. My blog also has several recipes for low-FODMAP smoothies, no-bake energy bites, granola and many more tips and tricks for low-FODMAP eating.”
Compromised gastrointestinal health can severely impair a tennis players’ performance, which is why a low-FODMAP diet is something to consider. “Cramping and gassiness can impair performance. Bloating and pain impact endurance. Constipation is unpleasant when on the road,” said Dr. Pauls.
Whilst traveling, Dr. Pauls urges all athletes to become educated on the foods they are putting into their bodies. “Be aware of the ingredients you are eating and check them against the foods listed in our free FODMAP Guide that can be downloaded to your phone. Consider taking some Happy Bars or Happy Jerky with you on tour. Check out my low-FODMAP Travel Tips blog for some other hints,” she said.
“Limiting high-FODMAP foods may be the key to enhancing your training and performance. Listen to your doctor and your body. Low-FODMAP eating isn’t a ‘food fad’. It has over a decade of medical research and over a hundred well-done studies that prove it works.”