Gastritis can make life miserable and stop you from working out. If you’ve been asking whether you can continue lifting weights with gastritis, I’m here to tell you – from my own experience – that you absolutely can! In this article we’re going to look at a strategy that will help you to get control of the condition and get you back working out in no time at all.
What is Gastritis?
Gastritis is the name given to the inflammation of the lining of the stomach. The inflammation can be caused by numerous factors, but most commonly it is the result of infection with the same bacterium that causes most stomach ulcers: helicobacter pylori (H. pylori).
The excessive consumption of alcohol, or certain painkiller medication can also be factors in the development of gastritis.
Most often, gastritis is not considered to be a serious condition and it improves quickly if treated effectively. However, as you will read in my account of living with the condition, it can sometimes last for years.
Symptoms of Gastritis
The main and most common symptoms of gastritis are:
- Bloating sensation after eating
- Gnawing sensation in the stomach
- Stinging and other manifestations of stomach pain
Where the stomach lining becomes so inflamed that it wears away this is called erosive gastritis and can lead to a stomach ulcer and in the most serious cases, perforation of the stomach.
My Experience With Gastritis
If you’ve read a few of my posts here at mysmallspaceworkouts.com then you’ll know that in 2019 I was diagnosed with a hiatal hernia. But for 6 years leading up to my diagnosis I suffered with chronic gastritis.
I began suffering with gastritis after I was seriously ill one Christmas with a condition called pancreatitis. It came on out of the blue and during that awful period I suffered the most incredible pain as my kidney function became critically impaired.
Anxiety Triggered Gastritis
Thankfully, by God’s grace, I recovered from pancreatitis without requiring any treatment, but the trauma of that episode and not knowing why it had occurred left me in a permanent state of anxiety. I was petrified that it would happen again.
I believe it was this constant state of anxiety that caused me to succumb to gastritis.
Over the next few years, I would find myself in a constant battle with nausea and stomach pain.
The nausea stripped me of my appetite and I would often either skip meals or start eating, only to find that I immediately felt bloated and even more nauseous.
Occasionally, eating would give me temporary relief but this would be short-lived and within an hour of eating my stomach would be stinging once again and I’d be burping uncontrollably as I tried to relieve the bloating.
Every morning I’d find that I was experiencing diarrhea, which was sometimes so bad that I couldn’t leave the house.
Against the backdrop of these unrelenting symptoms, I found that it wasn’t just food that I no longer enjoyed: I had completely lost my appetite for life. Most days, I felt exhausted and depressed.
I was eventually prescribed a PPI (proton pump inhibitor) in the form of Omeprazole – and while this was effective, I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life on this drug.
After a month or so, I quit the pills and sure enough, over time my symptoms returned.
Effect of Gastritis on my Gains
As you can imagine, being unable to eat normally had a dramatic impact on my gains.
Meal portions had to be drastically reduced and because eating would always spark the nausea, I wanted to eat as infrequently as possible – the opposite of the typical bodybuilding diet.
It became increasingly difficult to preserve muscle mass and I watched in horror as years of muscle building progress was stripped from my frame.
I’m a naturally skinny guy anyway, and to look in the mirror to see a version of myself that I’d left behind decades ago, was soul-destroying.
Perhaps I’d invested too much of my self-esteem in the way I looked, but I’m sure most of you will understand the anguish of losing your strength and size and being unable to do anything about it.
If only I’d have read a blog post like this back then. I would’ve been saved years of anguish.
How I Was Freed From Gastritis
I really didn’t want to go back on the meds and so I set off on a quest to find an alternative.
What I found was incredibly effective and also delicious!
I discovered a morning smoothie recipe from the Mayo Clinic which I adapted and took every day. Remarkably, I found that within 2 weeks, my symptoms had completely disappeared.
I was pain free and enjoying food again.
For the first time in years, I was able to simply enjoy eating without fear of the pain and nausea that I’d been living with for so long.
By 2018, my bodyweight had recovered and I actually reached the heaviest I’d ever been – and it was substantially muscle that accounted for the weight gain.
I’ll share the full recipe and details of the other things you can do to enjoy a similar recovery from this awful condition, but first, let’s look at why gastritis disrupts our training goals so significantly.
Why is Lifting Weights With Gastritis so Difficult?
People who have never experienced gastritis are likely to think of it as just a stomach ache, but the reality of gastritis is far more debilitating than that.
For me, the pain of gastritis took the form of both a sharp stinging sensation and a deep gnawing ache.
The sting would be exacerbated by eating spicy or acidic food, but not always immediately afterwards. As an example, I’m a sucker for hot chili sauce. I found that if I poured the hot sauce on a plate of sizzling fajitas, for example, the worst effects wouldn’t be felt until 24 hours later.
Yes, I may have experienced the usual post-meal bloat and nausea, but the really sharp stinging pain from the hot sauce could take up to 24 hours to manifest.
As for the deep gnawing ache, this was a permanent feature of my waking life.
It often felt like a nervous stomach and contributed to the constant state of anxiety that I lived with back in those days.
When you have this degree of pain in your life, the very last thing you want to do is workout. In fact, lifting weights would sometimes even cause the pain to spike – especially if I was lifting after an evening meal.
If there’s one thing I hate in this life, it’s nausea – regardless of whether it culminates in vomiting or not.
And nausea was a constant companion; a daily demon that stalked every waking hour.
When you feel like you’re going to chunder, the last thing you want to do is exert yourself lifting weights!
So nausea became the gatekeeper of my workouts and more often than not it blocked my passage.
The combination of stomach pain, nausea and starvation left me feeling incredibly weak. If I was able to motivate myself to workout, I’d find that my performance was poor and I’d frequently cut my workouts short – not reaching my target number of sets and reps.
It wasn’t just a perception of weakness either. The starvation that resulted from gastritis meant that I was suffering from muscle atrophy and getting weaker as the weeks progressed.
Working out in a state of starvation is not recommended and you won’t be surprised to learn that it was impossible to make – or even keep – gains during this period of chronic gastritis.
The frustration of losing weight, being in constant pain, feeling nauseous and getting progressively weaker all conspired to leave me feeling completely demotivated.
In fact, during these years, I became severely depressed and found that every aspect of my life was tainted by this condition.
My libido disappeared and I felt utterly wretched.
Whereas in the past, working out had been something that contributed to good mental health, I now felt like I was being mocked by the gastritis that was keeping me away from my bench and weights.
I felt helpless and hopeless, up until the point I discovered my cure.
How to Overcome Gastritis
As I said, I discovered my cure and the shocking thing was how quickly the condition healed when I introduced what I’m about to share with you.
I couldn’t believe how quickly I went from barely being able to face food, to (nearly) taking for granted that not only did I feel hungry, but I was able to eat without even worrying about pain, bloating or nausea.
So I’m really excited to share these strategies with you.
There’s nothing here that can’t be bought at your usual grocery store, so I hope that you’re going to be able to incorporate these things into your daily routine and find yourself healed from gastritis as quickly as I was.
Morning Kale Smoothie
As I mentioned earlier in this article, I adapted this Mayo Clinic Smoothie recipe to suit the needs of a gastritis sufferer.
The main change I made was to swap out spinach for kale. This is important as you’re going to be consuming this at least 5 days per week and regular consumption of spinach may lead to the formation of kidney stones due to it’s high oxylate content.
I also dropped the mint from the recipe as I found that it exacerbated the symptoms of gastritis.
Finally, I added in some whey protein isolate as it’s super high in glutamine which helps to rebuild the stomach lining. It goes without saying that it also helps to rebuild all that lost muscle.
- 1 banana
- Juice of 1 lemon (about 4 tablespoons), some peel too.
- 1/2 cup strawberries
- 1/2 cup blueberries
- 2 ounces fresh kale (about 2 cups)
- a thumb sized chunk of fresh ginger
- 1 Scoop of Whey Isolate (unflavored)
- 1 cup cold water or ice
Drink this every morning, first thing.
Honestly, I found this to be the most soothing thing on my stomach. It literally took that gnawing pain away, filled me up (without bloating) and kept the nausea at bay all morning.
Yes, you will have spotted this in the smoothie recipe above, but you really want to make sure you incorporate fresh ginger in your diet – as well as the powdered stuff too!
Ginger is a potent anti-inflammatory and a proven antiemetic (anti-sickness) too. Almost as if it were created specifically for gastritis sufferers!
I found that adding fresh ginger to my smoothie didn’t just make it taste delicious, but it enhanced the medicinal effects of the smoothie too.
Another way you can incorporate it into your diet is to try it sprinkling dried ginger over fresh slices of melon. Try it – it really is a gorgeous combination.
In my most desperate moments, I would even suck on frozen ginger root that I had sliced and placed in the freezer earlier. Having this by my bedside or with me as I struggled through the day at work was a lifesaver.
Dairy Switch Out
Cow’s milk is known to be inflammatory to the gut. This study comparing the effects in mice of goat milk to cow milk consumption opens with the statement:
“Goat milk as compared to cow milk, is easier for humans to digest. It also has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects and can improve minor digestive disorders and prevent allergic diseases in infants”
It concludes with “…this study showed that goat milk consumption could enhance immune function and antigen-specific immune response…”
I switched over to goat milk and found that after a period of time I got used to the goaty smell and taste. In fact, after a few weeks, I stopped even noticing the taste at all and even grew to love it.
Porridge made with 50:50 water and goat milk is absolutely delicious – super creamy and gelatinous!
Knowing that goat milk is anti-inflammatory and that it also enhances immune function is all the confirmation I need that I have made the right decision.
Give it a try!
This step is incredibly important in the first few months of your recovery from gastritis.
Start keeping a food journal so that you keep track of all that you’re eating and then, if you have a flare up, you can look back and note the possible culprits that caused the problem.
Over time you’ll identify the foods that are safe and cause you no problems and more importantly pin-point those meals or ingredients that are problematic for your gut.
The next stage is to discipline yourself to avoid those foods that are now obviously causing your symptoms to flare up.
You’ll find that by following this process you develop a way of eating that avoids the pain-causing foods and that you begin to enjoy food again.
From reading my account of how gastritis affected me, you could understandably conclude that I am against pharmaceutical intervention.
This isn’t the case though. While I am against a premature reliance on medication, I’m all for the supportive role drugs can play when dietary and lifestyle interventions have been exhausted or when there are no other options available.
Omeprazole and all similar PPI medication have their place.
If you’ve been suffering terribly with gastritis, then you should absolutely continue with your treatment while implementing the above changes to your daily regime.
As you feel your health improve and the gastritis dissipate speak to your doctor about the possibility of reducing the dose.
I no longer take omeprazole unless I have a particularly bad flare up – and these only occur if I hit the hot chili sauce!! However, I find that two or three days of treatment with omeprazole is sufficient to get back on top of the symptoms.
How to Lift Weights With Gastritis
We now know how to combat gastritis and get control of the condition.
While you’re recovering though, my advice is to go easy on yourself in terms of exercise.
Having unrealistic expectations on what you will be capable of achieving while training in a compromised state will only add to your mental anguish.
Instead, you should be looking after yourself by putting together a ‘recuperation workout program’ that you can follow until you feel fully recovered.
This may look something like this:
Monday: 7k walk
Tuesday: Full body dumbbell workout
Wednesday: Core work
Thursday: 7k walk
Friday: Full body dumbbell workout
Sat / Sun: Rest
This may not look like much, but it’s vitally important that you don’t over-tax yourself while you are suffering from and hopefully recovering from gastritis.
Listen to your body throughout your recovery.
You’ll know when it’s time to start increasing the intensity and the weight again as you’ll frequently find yourself thinking about your next gym session!
When lifting weights once again dominates your thinking, you know that it’s time to start training again and you can up the intensity and amount of weight you’re lifting.
Stay Strong, Stay Healthy Despite Gastritis
So there you have my complete guide to surviving gastritis and thriving after you’ve conquered it.
I hope that you start taking your daily green smoothie and begin to feel the rapid relief that I felt once I adopted this practice.
One last thing to encourage you: I shared the smoothie recipe with a work contact who was suffering with severe gastritis himself. Sure enough, two weeks later he called me to let me know that his gastritis symptoms had completely resolved.
I genuinely believe that by following the kale smoothie regime you will experience a dramatic turnaround in your symptoms.
Let me know how you get on and please leave a comment – I’d love to hear from you.