How to look after your digestive health at a festival

Women at a music festival. (Getty Images)
How to look after your digestive health at a festival. (Getty Images)

Festival season is here and as the revellers arrive at this year's Glastonbury, they can look forward to plenty of late nights, dancing and yummy yet overpriced festival food.

While attendees will no doubt have a great time, festival-going and all the fun they bring can also wreak havoc on our bodies, particularly when it comes to our digestive health.

"Whilst we might consider festivals an exciting place to let down our hair, dance and generally let go, this multi-sensory experience can be incredibly high stress, for both the body and the mind, posing a significant challenge to our gut health, and leading to digestive issues such as bloating, constipation, diarrhoea and reflux," explains Lara Hughes, clinical nutritionist and nutritional neuroscientist from Wholistic Health by Lara.

Irregular eating habits, consistent snacking, consumption of generally heavily processed foods (many of which have potentially been out all day and are no longer fresh), increased alcohol intake and dehydration are the most common gut disruptors.

"Alcohol and processed foods (like burgers, fries, crisps and street food), the mainstay of festivals, are especially irritating for the gut," she continues. "Not only is our microbiome (gut bacteria) negatively impacted, but these disruptors also lead to inflammation which may trigger bloating and discomfort. They can also lead to a leaky gut and reduce its ability to absorb nutrients effectively.

"And let’s not forget the loud music, dancing and lack of sleep, which together may turn on our sympathetic nervous system (stress response) and impede normal digestion."

But all is not lost! If you’re heading to a festival soon and want to focus on enjoying the experience vs. compromising your digestive wellness (and dashing for the nearest toilet), there are some steps you can take to look after your health.

Two women eating at a festival. (Getty Images)
Going to a festival can cause some issues with our gut and digestive health. (Getty Images)

Stay Hydrated

Hydration really is key, particularly in these sweatier than usual times. "Drink plenty of water throughout the day to help flush out toxins and keep your digestive system functioning smoothly," Hughes advises.

"Dehydration can cause bloating and exacerbate the impact of processed foods and alcohol. Avoid excessive consumption of sugary or caffeinated drinks, as these contribute to dehydration."

Moderate alcohol consumption

Alcohol can be particularly harsh on the gut. Hughes suggests trying to moderate your intake and alternate alcoholic beverages with water. "There are plenty of interesting options available these days, such as fruity and refreshing Dash Waters or nervous system calming Magnesium Water," she adds. "This approach not only helps protect your gut lining but also keeps you hydrated."

Prioritise probiotics

In the run up to your festival Hughes recommends fortifying your gut by taking a probiotic supplement or eating probiotic-rich foods like yoghurt, kefir or fermented vegetables. "You can also take some probiotic supplements along to the festival to support whilst there," she adds. "Probiotics help maintain a healthy balance of gut bacteria, which is crucial for overall gut health."

Festival food can play havoc with our digestive system. (Getty Images)
Festival food can play havoc with our digestive system. (Getty Images)

Eat mindfully

Even in the festive atmosphere, it is important to try to eat mindfully. "Chew your food thoroughly and take your time to enjoy your meals – unchewed food often results in fermentation, bloating and gas," Hughes explains. "This practice aids in better digestion and reduces the risk of overeating."

Get adequate rest

Hughes says lack of sleep can negatively affect gut health by disrupting the balance of gut bacteria, and by promoting stress hormones (like cortisol) which impede digestion and foster cravings for sweet foods.

"Ensure you get enough rest each night to support your body's natural rhythms and digestive processes," she advises.

"If you’re staying at the festival overnight, consider ear plugs, a sleep mask and a proper blow-up mattress in your tent!"

Avoid poop anxiety

Going to the loo in a chemical toilet is never ideal but for those that suffer with irritable bowels, it can be a real worry.

Laura Southern, nutritional therapist at London Gynaecology, suggests taking cleaning products with you.

"If you arm yourself with rubber gloves, antibacterial wipes, seat covers, toilet roll and whatever else you need to feel you're pooing in a clean space, the anxiety of going to the toilet is reduced," she advises.

Sanitise your hands

Try to keep your hands clean before you eat. "While this is challenging at a festival/campsite, if you have a sensitive tummy, any random bits of bacteria might cause an upset," Southern adds.

Festival toilets. (Getty Images)
Festival loos can fuel toilet anxiety. (Getty Images)

Do a pre-bed food fast

Southern suggests trying to stop eating about four hours before bed. "I know this might not be easy, especially with late-night munchies, but it's important to allow our digestive system to rest overnight," she advises. "Eating close to bed can cause heartburn and/or digestive discomfort in the morning. It's also important to give our gut microbes at least 12 hours overnight rest, so they can repair and heal.”

Counterbalance UPFs

Essentially, Ultra Processed Foods (UPF) are foods that contain ingredients not typically used in a home kitchen. They are designed to be convenient, easy to grab, and cheap – making them difficult to avoid during festivals when you’re on the go.

"The food on offer at festivals typically has less nutritional value and is generally higher in calories, containing additional sugar, salt and carbohydrates and a lot less fibre and protein," explains Andrew Isaac, health and wellness coach at Vitality.

To counterbalance the effects of indulging in UPFs, Isaac suggests bringing along some of your own fruit and vegetables.

"The high fibre contained in fruit and vegetables will help keep you fuller for longer, alongside giving you more vitamins and energy throughout the day," he explains. "In fact, by boosting your fibre intake you will also be looking after your gut health which is home to your immune system. Fibre also helps your gut flora to flourish, and fermented foods or drinks like kombucha can be a more natural alternative to fizzy drinks."

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Watch: How festivals can impact your gut health