Background: Research has demonstrated that low fermentable oligiosaccharide, disaccharide, monosaccharide and polyol (FODMAP) diets improve gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms in irritable bowel syndrome sufferers. Exercise-related GI issues are a common cause of underperformance, with current evidence focusing on the use of FODMAP approaches with recreationally competitive or highly trained athletes. However, there is a paucity of research exploring the potential benefit of FODMAP strategies to support healthy, recreational athletes who experience GI issues during training. This study therefore aimed to assess whether a short-term LOWFODMAP diet improved exercise-related GI symptoms and the perceived ability to exercise in recreational runners.
Methods: Sixteen healthy volunteers were randomly assigned in a crossover design manner to either a LOWFODMAP (16.06 ± 1.79 g·d- 1) or HIGHFODMAP (38.65 ± 6.66 g·d- 1) diet for 7 days, with a one week washout period followed by a further 7 days on the alternate diet. Participants rated their gastrointestinal symptoms on an adapted version of the Irritable Bowel Syndrome-Severity Scoring System (IBS-SSS) questionnaire before and at the end of each dietary period. Perceived ability to exercise (frequency, intensity and duration) in relation to each dietary period was also rated using a visual analogue scale. Resting blood samples were collected prior to and on completion of each diet to determine plasma intestinal fatty acid binding protein (I-FABP) as a marker of acute GI injury.
Results: Overall IBS-SSS score significantly reduced in the LOWFODMAP condition from 81.1 ± 16.4 to 31.3 ± 9.2 (arbitrary units; P = 0.004). Perceived exercise frequency (z = 2.309, P = 0.02) and intensity (z = 2.687, P = 0.007) was significantly improved following a short-term LOWFODMAP approach compared to HIGHFODMAP. No significant differences were reported between dietary conditions for plasma I-FABP (P > 0.05).
Conclusions: A short-term LOWFODMAP diet under free-living conditions reduced exercise-related GI symptoms and improved the perceived ability to exercise in otherwise healthy, recreational runners. These findings may be explained by a reduction in indigestible carbohydrates available for fermentation in the gut. The therapeutic benefits of LOWFODMAP diets in recreational and trained athletes during sustained training periods warrants further investigation.
Keywords: FODMAP diet; Gastrointestinal symptoms; Nutrition; Recreational athletes.