Get gut health ready for your holiday

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By The Gut Health Doctor Team

Dr Megan Rossi in a lab looking through a microscope

Holiday photo with suitcase and sun hat on a white beach with blue sky

Do you have a holiday fast approaching and is gut health on your mind? We’re sure you want to avoid stomach issues at all costs — nobody wants their holiday ruined by a funny tummy! Unfortunately, constipation and diarrhoea are both commonplace while travelling.

As many as 50% of travellers experience some sort of gut health issue on holiday.

This can be because of many different factors, from changes in your circadian rhythm, to pre-holiday stress of packing and changes in what you eat and when.

It’s certainly not all doom and gloom though, going on holiday can have many gut health benefits. From that much needed relaxation of the gut-brain axis, to the introduction of exciting local delicacies packed with novel plants for your gut microbes to taste, but there are a few tips and tricks to ensure you and your gut health both win.

Here is our holiday guide to good gut health:

Photo of a spicy miso mushroom burger with lots of salad sitting on a wooden block

1. Preparing for holiday take-off

4 weeks before: focus on building a diverse and therefore resilient community of gut microbes through diet before your holiday. This will optimise your gut health in an effort to lower your risk of gut infections. Aim to get 30 or more different types of plants a week across the six main plant groups (which we call the Super Six): vegetables, fruits, wholegrains, legumes (beans and pulses), nuts and seeds and herbs and spices. And remember plant-based eating doesn’t have to be boring nor does it mean plants-only! Check out this spicy mushroom miso burger recipe with 9 plant points.

1 week before: there is evidence that taking a specific type of probiotic bacteria for a week before your holiday reduces your risk of traveller’s diarrhoea. Unfortunately this isn’t currently available in the UK at the moment — but we’re working on it here at The Gut Health Doctor, so stay tuned!

Holiday photo of a toilet sign with female and male icons to show airplane gut health issues

2. Part of the mile-high IBS club?

Are you someone who gets bloating and discomfort while flying? This is because as the plane ascends, the atmospheric pressure in the cabin changes, which means any air trapped in your gut expands. We call this ‘mile-high IBS’. This is the same phenomenon behind your ears popping and your water bottle or crisp packet inflating after take-off.

If you’re one of those who suffers from mile-high IBS, reduce the chances of a bloated, painful gut by cutting down on a group of carbohydrates known as FODMAPs 24-48 hours before take off — check out our FODMAP-lite approach. But make sure you reintroduce these foods once landed, as most FODMAPs are prebiotic — i.e. they nourish good gut bacteria.

Tupperware box of snacks including a banana, crackers, carrots and nuts on a wooden bench for snacks to support gut health on holiday

3. Understand that jet lag means ‘gut lag’

What happens when we take our microbes to a new time zone? Your microbes are awake and at work during the day, just like you are, because they synchronise with your body clock and your eating patterns. When you move to a different time zone, your circadian rhythm becomes out of whack and… you guessed it… this impacts the rhythm of your microbes too.

For those on a long-haul flight, avoid rich and heavy meals and where able stick to packed snacks, such as veggie sticks and wholegrain crackers. When you get to your destination, get straight into the meal-time pattern in the new time zone and try to kick-start your digestion by ensuring your first meal contains at least two to three different types of plants.

That being said, if you tend to have a more sensitive gut go slow and steady when introducing the local cuisine. This is because, much like working a new set of muscles can mean aches, it can take a few days for your gut to adjust to a new diet. Your gut bacteria need to source a new set of digestive enzymes to deal with those new plants. Enjoy more familiar foods on day one and two, before immersing yourself into a culinary adventure.

Also, remember to stay on your new time schedule on arrival — strictly no napping! Try some gentle exercise, expose yourself to natural light and consider taking melatonin close to the local bedtime (if available in the country).

Photo of a young girl drinking a bottle of water on an airplane to show hydration to support gut health on holiday

4. Be prepared for gut health turbulence

If you experience constipation or loose bowel movement when travelling, consider taking some psyllium husk with you. This water-loving fibre (available from most health food shops) has a dual effect, helping to soften hard stools while also thickening looser stools. Try half a tablespoon (3g) a day mixed in 150 ml water per tablespoon. 

And remember to stay hydrated during the flight! Dehydration is a common cause of holiday-induced constipation, and nobody wants that.

Photo of a water drink with a spoon of powder balanced on top to show how to manage a tummy bug on holiday

5. Trouble with travellers’ diarrhoea?

If you do end up with a tummy bug, it’s generally advised to avoid anti-diarrhoeal medication at the start as it may prolong the infection, trapping the culprit in your intestine. Instead, try:

  • Eat smaller, more frequent meals — this helps by putting less strain on your inflamed gut
  • Drink plenty of fluids but limit food and drink that may stimulate the colon, such as chilli, high-fat meals, coffee and alcohol
  • Limit your intake of FODMAPs (see above)
  • If the diarrhoea is severe — when fluid is passing ‘straight through’ — use an electrolyte solution (such as Dioralyte), to stay hydrated and maintain levels of important body salts, which help maximise fluid absorption from your gut
  • Consider psyllium husk (again!) — it not only softens stools, but also thickens your stool output

Travellers’ diarrhoea is usually short-term, resolving within three to five days, and most cases are mild so don’t need medical treatment — but if you’re concerned do head to a pharmacy.

Illustration of a women with arrows connecting the gut and the brain


The good news is holidays are overall a big win for your gut. Lots of the clients from The Gut Health Clinic who have underlying gut symptoms report dramatic improvements on holiday — and it’s thanks to that connection between your gut and brain. A happy and relaxed brain means a happy and relaxed gut. But if you struggle with gut lag or a grumpy gut on holiday, make sure you factor these strategies into your holiday prep so you can get the most out of your time away.


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