Exercise for Gastric Sleeve Patients
By Andres Bogarin, LN
We have all heard that exercising plays an important role in our health and well-being. Physical activity certainly helps prevent a number of chronic diseases and aids in maintaining a healthy weight (1). Although exercise is beneficial for our health, it is not the primary factor in weight loss (2). For gastric sleeve patients, exercising (post-surgery) may be a confusing topic with varying opinions from doctors and athletic trainers.
Factors to Consider Before Exercising Post-Surgery
As a gastric sleeve patient, you need to be mindful of the post-op recovery process. It is important to consider several factors before exercising, including your emotional well-being, the quality of food you are eating and able to tolerate, daily calorie intake, and physical ability to perform exercises.
Your emotional health is a critical piece of the puzzle to address in your weight-loss process, and we cannot ignore it when it comes to exercising. Before making the commitment to begin an exercise routine, check in with yourself and analyze if you are getting enough sleep, and coping well with stress and life after the surgery. Also, it is important to ask yourself why you want to exercise. What is your main motive? Maybe you still need to manage stress levels or address life events with your therapist before drilling in an exercise routine into your week.
As for your diet, the goal is to maintain a balanced eating pattern with sufficient amount of nutrients and calories from various sources of wholesome foods. Once you begin the recovery process, keep in mind you will not be able to eat as much food as before. Therefore, it is not recommended to burn too many calories through exercise. The calories you eat need to serve its purpose: give your body enough energy to heal properly and sustain your body’s basic functions. It is highly recommended to adhere to a nutrition plan to facilitate meeting your daily nutrient needs and maintaining your weight loss progress (2).
You may also need to consider going to physical therapy before starting to exercise since your body is likely debilitated from a lack of mobility and muscle weakness. If you have a history of body injuries or body aches, such as back or knee pain, it is a wise idea to talk to your doctor to determine if you need a physical therapy referral.
What happens if a gastric sleeve patient exercises more or before than suggested?
Decreased energy levels: Because your stomach is significantly smaller than before your surgery, it will be more difficult for you to recover burned calories from your workouts. This can lead to a slowdown in your metabolism and energy levels, which can end up working against your weight loss goals.
Increased appetite: The more exercise you do, the more hunger you are likely to experience, thus making you more susceptible to wanting to eat more food.
You may feel dizziness or nausea: Working your body beyond its limitations and depleting your energy storage may cause you to feel dizzy or nauseous. It is important to tune in with your body and recognize its barriers.
Dehydration: Exercising causes you to sweat and lose fluids. Remember that reaching the recommended 48 to 64 ounces of liquids per day already presents a challenge to many patients. Therefore, adding exercise without an adequate liquid intake could increase your risks of dehydration.
Please note that we do not recommend exercising until at least 6 months after your surgery. The right diet by itself will help you achieve your weight loss goals. However, we do encourage staying active throughout your day, this means taking walking or stretching breaks every 90 minutes at work, taking the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator, or even parking a little further when going to the grocery store.
We recommend starting exercise routines only when you are close to your long-term weight goal. The first type of exercise we suggest adding to your routine is a bit of strength training. You can do simple things like body weight exercises such as squats and wall push-ups, or light dumbbell exercises with 3-5 pound (2-3 kg) dumbbells.
It is not recommended to burn more than 200 calories per day. Doing so may lead to unwanted side effects like the ones mentioned above. Always recover burned calories to avoid being at an extreme calorie deficit. Remember you should aim for 1,000 to 1,200 calories per day. You may need an additional protein shake on the days you exercise to compensate the burned calories and to aid with muscle recovery. It is preferable to drink it within an hour after your workout. You can check out our protein drink recipes here.
If you need help figuring out your weight goal or have any questions you can contact our nutritionist team and we will be happy to assist you.
Warburton D, Nicol C, Bredin S. Health benefits of physical activity: The evidence. CMAJ. 2006;174:801-809.
Thomas D, Bouchard C, Church T, et al. Why do individuals not lose more weight from an exercise intervention at a defined dose? An energy balance analysis. NCBI. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3771367/. Published June 11 2012, Accessed September 14, 2018.