It may sound and smell different, but everyone farts.
It happens a lot in fitness centres and studios, especially during group exercise classes, and although it can be embarrassing, rarely do you find Malaysians excusing themselves to pass gas in private.
Instead, they will feign ignorance and pretend someone else is the culprit!
You must have observed them – the ones who fart and smile or laugh it off (if it doesn’t stink, they are forgiven and you laugh along); the ones who turn beet red out of guilt (ah ha, you’ve caught the culprit); and the ones who can choke you with their stench.
There are also the silent, scentless and respectful shooters who will suddenly blurt out “Excuse me”, much to the surprise of the class who hadn’t heard any incriminating sounds.
When I was at university in the United States, it was expected of you to run out of classes if you needed to break wind, unless you couldn’t control it.
If you didn’t, the lecturers would tactfully remind everyone to be polite and mindful when it comes to belching and farting.
Unfortunately, I don’t know of any farting etiquette among Malaysians; they just let go happily!
Out the back way
We all hold in farts on occasion, but when we’re working out, sometimes it is difficult to do so.
I’ve experienced this numerous times – before I can make my getaway, it passes out!
You may think that you might have more gas than most people, but you probably don’t.
According to the Cleveland Clinic in the US, it is normal to pass gas between 14 and 23 times throughout the day, often without attracting much attention.
So if you hit this range, fear not, it’s not a symptom of any disease.
The scientific term for the rumbling in the bowels caused by the movement of gas and partially digested food is called borborygmus.
Eating, drinking and laughing can all cause gasses to accumulate in the digestive tract and there are only two ways it can exit, either through the mouth or the anus.
If it doesn’t exit the front way, it takes the “long route” and goes out at the other end.
And if it doesn’t leave, then you’ll find your tummy bloated, uncomfortable and perhaps painful.
There are several reasons why we get gassy during physical exertion.
Heavy breathing (especially through the mouth) causes excess air to get trapped in our digestive tract.
In addition, during aerobic movements, food moves quicker through the intestinal tract, and sometimes, gasses get caught in between.
The action of bouncing, jumping and hopping jolts the system and pushes the trapped air out through the anus.
Likewise, when doing strength or resistance training, engaging your abdominal muscles causes you to compress the colon, resulting in excess air being pushed out.
Working out can also speed up the natural digestion process, causing gas produced in the gastrointestinal tract to bubble out at a faster and potentially more noticeable rate.
In yoga classes, it doesn’t help that many twisting and forward bending postures are actually intended to aid digestion and specifically relieve wind.
For new students, I tell them in advance to expect this, and if necessary, to leave the class momentarily.
But, no one listens to me and they all stay put!
True enough, I get a lot of noises and giggles in my classes, which sometimes worsens the situation.
As I mentioned earlier, too much laughter can also cause you to swallow air.
Older students tend to have more flatulence as they produce more gas due to the slowing down of their metabolism and the movement of food through the colon.
Most of the gasses in the digestive tract have no odours, but bacteria in your colon add sulphur to the mix, accounting for part of the noxious smell.
Any food that smells unpleasant in the kitchen blends that same aroma into the gassy by-products of digestion when you work out.
Believe it or not, that same odour is also found in your morning breath.
Vigorous endurance exercise can also lead to stress on the gastrointestinal system so if you’re a competitive runner or lover of high intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts, tread cautiously.
An August 2017 case study published in the World Journal of Emergency Medicine indicates that 30% to 81% of runners experience gastrointestinal complaints, including abdominal cramps, bloating and bleeding.
Pass less gas
It’s not always possible to hold your fart in as it can cause bloating and discomfort, but there are ways you can minimise gas build-up before you head for a workout.
Here are some tips:
If you can sit with your back straight instead of slouching after a meal, and walk around a little, the pressure of gas can be reduced.
This will help to prevent you from swallowing excess air.
Stop chewing gum during workouts as I’ve seen many students do this during my classes.
Avoid drinking excessive amounts of water in between workouts.
Sip slowly and a little bit at a time, and preferably only during the lower intensity portion of the workout.
Drinking from bottles and straws also induces more gas build-up.
Do not eat too much high-fibre and gas-inducing fruits and vegetables, such as lentils, broccoli and cauliflower, a few hours prior to exercising.
Also, stay away from petai, asparagus and durian because you’re bound to stink up the area when you burp or fart.
If you’ve had a wee bit too much fibre, drink some peppermint tea as it can help unwind the bound-up digestive muscles.
Or rub some peppermint oil or minyak angin around your belly button to draw the gas out.
Carbonated drinks, sugary beverages and coffee are also highly gaseous, so do limit your intake before you hit the gym.
A few months ago, I had a student who binged on pizza and teh tarik before the class, so you can imagine what happened, much to the chagrin of the other students.
This is especially so if you’re lactose intolerant, so do skip taking any milk or yoghurt before a workout.
As a result of reduced blood flow to the gut, gastric emptying and digestion in your small intestine slows down during high intensity exercises and when the core temperature is elevated.
To prevent nausea and bloating, keep moving, albeit slowly, and do some easy cooling-down exercises to bring your core temperature down.
Each person has a unique digestive system. Food that makes one person gassy may not have the same effect on another person.
Some experts believe your gut is trainable. As your fitness improves and your hourly energy and hydration requirements increase, your body adapts so that you can process more food and fluids more quickly.
Experiment and see what works for you.
With gyms reopening after the movement control order (MCO) hiatus, do keep in mind all these tips, along with the new normal procedures to stay safe while you’re working out!
Revathi Murugappan is a certified fitness trainer who tries to battle gravity and continues to dance to express herself artistically and nourish her soul. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org. The information contained in this column is for general educational purposes only. Neither The Star nor the author gives any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to such information. The Star and the author disclaim all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.
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