by Will Grumke July 10, 2021 7 min read
Tired of dealing with bloated abs? Want to show off your six-pack? We're here to help you figure out what’s causing your bloating, and what you can do to fix the problem?
Bloated abs are a common complaint among anyone from fitness enthusiasts, average joes, and all the way up to top level bodybuilders – all you need to do is take a look around your local gym to see that you’re not alone.
Even ultra-fit workout pros struggle to achieve mastery over their belly bloat.
It doesn’t matter where someone is at in their fitness journey – stomach discomfort and bloated abs are dislikable to say the least.
While the exact cause of bloating varies, there are some general issues that can lead to unwanted bulging and an overall ‘puffiness’ in your abdomen. These include:
Reducing bloating in your abs can sometimes be a simple fix … while other times it can take some serious work in terms of tracking your diet, monitoring your overall health and wellness, and paying attention to how your exercise routine impacts the appearance of your abs.
Here’s some of the reasons why you might be suffering from ‘belly bloat’, and what you can do about it:
Some of the leading causes of bloated abs among both bodybuilders and ‘average Joe’s’ alike is food sensitivity and food allergies.
With the introduction of more and more genetically-modified products into our daily diet, health problems linked to food are on the rise.
Gluten, dairy, and fruit juices are some of the most talked about possibilities when it comes to ab bloating food sensitivities.
Gluten has become the go-to villain in the battle against diet-related abdominal bloating, and the gluten-free grocery craze has rapidly become mainstream. Like most everything, there are two sides to the argument.
Can gluten be a cause for stomach discomfort and belly bloat, yes. But is it always THE REASON? Should everyone should avoid it like the plague? … No.
Plus there is no denying the fact that there are some serious health conditions linked to gluten like celiac disease.
The low-FODMAP diet is used to treat people who suffer from bloating related to their diet. It’s designed to restrict the intake of foods that are known to be poorly absorbed by the small intestine, which can in turn lead to trouble with bloating and discomfort.
This restrictive diet has been proven to provide significant relief from “gut symptoms such as bloating, wind, abdominal pain and an altered bowel habit“.
During the first four to eight weeks of the diet, foods that are known to be high
in “Fermentable, Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides and Polylos (FODMAPs)” are eliminated; these foods include “short-chain carbohydrates that are poorly absorbed in the small intestine” and include wheat, rye, lactose, honey, fruit juices, sorbitol, and mannitol.
The low-FODMAP diet requires strict monitoring, tracking, and adherence but can certainly be effective at times when trying to figure out what foods are potentially causing stomach discomfort, digestive issues, and bloating.
Another cause of bloated abs, especially among fitness buffs and bodybuilders, is lactose intolerance.
Much like gluten intolerance, lactose intolerance can lead to a host of uncomfortable symptoms like bloated abs, diarrhea, stomach pain, and swelling throughout the torso.
Since the majority of protein shakes are based around whey protein (which comes from dairy) many of these shakes will have lactose in them.
While there are certainly people with lactose intolerances, that will want to stick with lactose-free options (Phormula-1 Watermelon, Phormula-1 Cherry Lime, Phormula-1 Fruit Punch), it is common that “lactose intolerance” is mistaken for someone ingesting a low quality protein powder.
Some people get caught up in thinking it is the lactose messing with their stomach or creating unwanted gas, when in reality they are taking a product that has been exposed to high heats and chemicals that have denatured the protein.
This makes the product unrecognizable or useable by the body which leads to stomach discomfort and belly bloat. Level-1 and Phormula-1 are Low Temperature Processed and Crossflow Micro-Filtrated proteins that have not been exposed to heat or chemicals.
Therefore, they don't give you an upset stomach, or the “protein farts,” and will be much easier for your body to use effectively.
Dehydration can also lead to a bloated abdomen, thanks to the fact that your vital organs will become depleted of water when you’re dehydrated.
This can cause your kidneys and liver to become irritated, which in turn may result in that uncomfortable, and unsightly, appearance of abdominal bloat.
Dehydration is one of the reasons why many bodybuilders seem to suffer from bloated abs during competitions – they might try to cut back on their fluid intake during the days prior to competition in an attempt to enhance muscle definition and look more ‘cut’, and in turn, they wind up with a bloated, distended belly.
While it seems virtually unthinkable that someone with an incredibly low body mass, body index, and high muscle content could suffer from bloated abs, it’s a surprisingly common problem, especially among hard-core bodybuilders.
Your core muscles are active throughout the day, but when it comes to lifting massive weights during exercises like the squats, deadlifts, and bench press, your ab muscles are really called into action.
During heavy lifts, most people tend to push out their ab muscles while exhaling, which over time can lead to an unwanted expansion of the abdominal muscles. This is what gives some hardcore bodybuilders that ‘bowling ball in the belly’ look.
The only way to counteract belly bloat caused by heavy lifting is to focus on controlling your ab muscles throughout the lift, even if that means cutting back on the amount of weight you use.
Women know all too well the effect that hormonal changes can have on their abs – even the most toned female bodybuilders struggle to combat bloated abs caused by fluctuations in their hormones due to pregnancy, menopause, and their menstrual cycle.
There’s no easy fix for ab bloating caused by hormonal changes; however, drinking extra water while pre-menstrual and eating clean can help minimize bloating.
Your abdominal muscles, a.k.a. your abs, are made up of a pair of long, flat muscles that run from your pelvis right upwards into your chest.
These muscles are normally relatively flat and tight; however, when you experience excessive pressure inside your abdomen, your ab muscles can separate horizontally, leading to a condition known as ‘diastasis recti’.
When diastasis recti develops, your ab muscles open up, and your internal organs and deep abdominal fat deposits begin to push forward, placing added pressure on your stomach muscles.
In some cases, this can lead to a significant increase in the size of your stomach, lead to breathing problems and back pain, and place you at risk for herniation and strangulation of your intestines.
Diastasis recti usually impacts women who have had multiple pregnancies or give birth to twins, although it can affect men as well.
Excess belly fat, severe constipation, and abdominal surgery can all weaken the muscles in the abdominal wall, increasing the risk of diastasis recti.
Lifting heavy weights can place a tremendous amount of pressure on your stomach, leading to a separation of your abdominal muscles.
Fixing this problem requires help from a trained physiotherapist who can prescribe specific activities and exercises to repair the muscle damage and eliminate the appearance of bloating caused by the muscle separation.
When you’re looking to fix bloated abs, the one thing you have absolutely no control over is your genetics.
The fact is that some people are genetically predisposed to have bloating throughout their abdomens, and while controlling your diet and monitoring your exercise program can help keep things in check, there’s absolutely nothing you can do to overcome a naturally-thicker torso.
To fix your bloated abs, start by keeping a food journal. Write down exactly what you eat, when you eat it, and track how you feel after each meal. This can help you pinpoint any food-related abdominal bloating you might be experiencing.
If you feel really bloated, measure your stomach – many people who suffer from food-related ab bloating actually notice that their waistline expands by an inch or two after eating foods to which they’re sensitive.
You can also check out certainfoods that promote gut health, like high fiber or fermented foods, and track any differences you notice.
Next, take stock of your exercise program and check your form when performing heavy lifts and ab-specific moves like the plank.
Ask a spotter to watch your stomach while you squat, bench press, and leg press, since these exercises place a significant amount of strain on your core muscles.
If you suspect you’ve already developed diastasis recti, seek help from a physiotherapist who specializes in abdominal muscle separation rehab.
Keep your hydration levels up before, during, and after your workouts to prevent both dehydration and constipation, which can lead to visibly bloated abs.
High sodium foods can also cause problems with bloating, as can carbonated beverages like soda, beer, and even calorie-free carbonated water.
The same is true if you’re deficient in potassium, so including potassium-rich foods like bananas, spinach, sweet potatoes and avocado in your diet can help.
Digestive enzyme supplements can also often help with bloating since enzymes help properly break down food.
Once you’ve ruled out all the obvious sources of belly bloat, make an appointment with your family doctor to discuss any lingering concerns you might have about your bloated abs.
Continual swelling in the abdominal area could be a sign of a more serious medical concern,, especially when bloated abs are accompanied by other unusual or uncomfortable symptoms.
In some cases, women who suffer from bloated abs should be screened for ovarian cancer – an aggressive form of cancer that can cause the ovaries to
swell, leading to belly bloating, while both women and men with abdominal swelling and discomfort should talk with their doctor about colon cancer screening.
Bloated abs can affect anyone, but that doesn’t mean you need to put up with an uncomfortable bulging, swollen belly.
Take the time to understand how your diet and exercise program impact your abs, and if you have questions, we are here to help!
NASM Certified Personal Trainer, NASM Certified Nutrition Coach, NASM Certified Fitness Nutrition Specialist, NASM Certified Weight Loss Specialist, NASM Certified Behavioral Change Specialist, NASM VCS Virtual Coaching Specialist, CrossFit Level 1 Trainer