The Athlete’s Guide to Managing Ulcerative Colitis

Ulcerative colitis is one of the more common gastrointestinal disorders, but even though doctors aren’t certain what causes it, the disease can be managed.

As a fitness enthusiast, or athlete, you should know that ulcerative colitis (UC) is one of the more common gastrointestinal disorders, but the sad truth is that doctors still aren’t 100% certain what causes it. It is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease that affects the lining of the large intestine and rectum, leading to swelling, sores, and pain in the belly. Flare-ups can cause a number of symptoms, including urgent and painful bowel movements, dehydration, tiredness, fever, diarrhea, bloody stool, and belly pain.

The problem is that there are no known causes of the disease or the flares. Studies have ruled out both stress and dietary factors as being responsible. For now, all you can do is manage the inflammatory bowel disease.

How can you do that?

Diet Changes

Even though dietary factors aren’t thought to be responsible for causing the flares, the food you eat can help to manage your symptoms. Basically, you should stick with foods you know are safe (a lot of bland, easily digested foods), and which isn’t going to cause the flares to worsen. There are certain foods that can worsen the condition when it flares up. Keeping a food journal will help you to know which foods are safe, and which are more likely to cause problems.

Foods that may worsen your symptoms include:

  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol
  • Dairy
  • Carbonated drinks
  • Popcorn
  • Fatty meats
  • High fiber foods like beans, berries, and dried fruits
  • Seeds and nuts
  • Fructose
  • Spicy foods
  • Gluten
  • Sulfur- or sulfite-rich foods
  • Sugar-based alcohols
  • High-fiber veggies like brussels sprouts, cabbage, and broccoli, all of which also contain sulfur

After looking at that list, it seems like there aren’t a lot of foods left to eat! But while the sad truth is that ulcerative colitis will force you to adjust your diet, there are still plenty of options to fill your plate. Foods like fish, chicken breast, and lean cuts of meat and pork are acceptable, as are the majority of lower-fiber veggies: tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, lettuce, etc.

Here are a few particularly good foods to add to your diet:

  • Eggs
  • Applesauce, a fairly bland food that contains a good deal of easily digested fiber, minerals, and nutrients
  • Avocados, which contain fatty acids and fiber, but won’t trigger a flare
  • Salmon, a fatty fish that is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, which can combat the body’s inflammatory response
  • Fermented foods like probiotic yogurts and kefir, which can aid in healthy digestion and reduce the risk of intestinal upset
  • Water, as fluid, can help to combat diarrhea and excessive waste output
  • Instant oatmeal, which is rich in fiber, carbs, and protein and is very easily digested
  • Squash, particularly low-fiber squashes

These foods are good to eat even when your colitis flares up and can help to soothe your intestinal lining and reduce discomfort.

Non-Dietary Options


Corticosteroids can help to reduce the inflammation of ulcerative colitis, but they are only intended to be used in the short-term, due to a higher risk of complications and side effects. 5-aminosalicylic acid (5-ASA) is one of the more common ulcerative colitis treatments, but your doctor may also recommend immunosuppressants if 5-ASA and corticosteroids fail. Biologics (lab-grown antibodies) may also improve digestive tract function and decrease the risk of flares.

Stress Management

Though stress has been ruled out as an independent cause of ulcerative colitis, it’s important to manage it in order to reduce flares. The hormonal imbalances caused by prolonged stress can lead to a higher risk of digestive upset, potentially increasing ulcerative colitis flares. Exercise, therapy, meditation, and other relaxing activities can help you to reduce stress.

Surgical Intervention

As a last resort, surgery can provide relief. Surgical options include the total removal of the colon, rectum, and anus; a removal of only the colon and part of the rectum, and the creation of a new rectum using the small intestinal tissue. These are last-ditch attempts and should only be considered when all else fails.

You should always consult a qualified medical professional if you feel you have any of the symptoms of UC. Over half of UC sufferers only experience mild symptoms but serious complications can arise.