Post-operative Nutrition Recommendations for Nausea & Stomach Upset

By: Dr. J. Timothy Katzen


After surgery, it is common to experience nausea and stomach upset. This may be due to the after-effects of anesthesia, adverse effects of pain medications, or the body’s reaction to the stress of surgery. The following are some tips that may help to alleviate nausea, indigestion or diarrhea.

  1. Frequent small meals every 2-3 hours.
  2. Separate solids from liquids (wait at least ½ - 1 hour after meals to consume liquids).
  3. Avoid food/drinks high in sugar as this may exacerbate diarrhea.
  4. Choose foods high in soluble fiber if you are experiencing loose stools.
  5. Maintain an adequate fluid intake.
  6. Increase energy/protein intake to provide a minimum of 1200 calories/day and 75-100 g protein/day. You can increase the protein content of your food by adding whey powder. Adding 1 Tbsp of oil or butter to your food can increase calories and improve flavor. However, adding too much fat can exacerbate nausea, and so be careful when adding extra fat to your food.
  7. Chew foods well to soften consistency. Take your time with your meals/snacks. It’s not a race.
  8. Check with your surgeon before resuming physical activity. Once you are given the go ahead, exercise 10-20 minutes daily with emphasis on resistance type of exercises (muscle building) with some aerobic exercise such as walking.
  9. Discuss with your surgeon options for medical intervention to alleviate symptoms.

Sample menu for frequent small meals


½ cup plain whole milk Greek yogurt mixed with 1 Tbsp peanut butter and 1 Tbsp whey protein


½ cup 4% milk fat cottage cheese mixed with 1 Tbsp whey protein and 1 Tbsp oil


1 cup of cooked oatmeal/cream of wheat/grits – add 1 Tbsp oil or butter plus 1-2 Tbsp whey powder. May add 1-2 tsp brown sugar/honey/agave to improve palatability.


1 slice whole grain toast with 1 Tbsp peanut butter and 1 Tbsp whey protein

Mid morning Snack

8 fluid oz of a high protein drink


1 oz string cheese or cheddar cheese plus 6-8 whole wheat crackers spread with butter or peanut butter


Eggs or egg whites scrambled with 1 oz grated cheese and chia/flax/oat bran – use oil in cooking- can add avocado slices if desired


1/3 to 1/2 cup tuna (canned in oil) mixed with 1 Tbsp mayonnaise – top on whole wheat toast or crackers

Mid afternoon Snack

Make a trail mix by mixing a handful of nuts with handful of dried fruit such as blueberries, craisins, mango, apple or raspberries


1 Nutrition bar


Bowl of soup (made with milk) – add 1 Tbsp oil and 1-2 Tbsp whey powder


1 cup mac and cheese cooked with milk. Add 1 Tbsp butter/oil and 1 Tbsp whey powder


1 package of amen noodles. Add 1-2 eggs and chopped spinach. Eat mostly the solids. You can drink the broth separately as a snack if desired


Nachos – 8-10 nacho corn chips with melted cheese such as Havarti, mozzarella, manchego or cheddar. Lay out the chips on a baking sheet lined with tin foil, place some cheese onto each chip, and bake in 350 degree oven for 4-5 minutes


Egg omelet with cheese (same as breakfast suggestion)


1 cup cooked cheese ravioli/tortellini – you can buy these in the refrigerated section of your grocery store – either use a marinara sauce (again you can buy jars of this) and melt Parmesan cheese on top or make a creamy cheese sauce with milk and cheese as topping. Add 1 Tbsp oil and 1 Tbsp whey powder to sauce.


Sushi rolls made with canned tuna/salmon and mayo rolled in sticky rice. Seaweed optional.

Evening Snack

Same suggestions as morning and afternoon snacks.

Suggestions for snacks and meals are all interchangeable.

Suggestions to increase soluble fiber:

Add oat bran, chia seeds or flax seeds to soups, sauces, scrambled eggs or shakes.

Choose whole grains that contain oats or brown rice. These include Cheerios, oat bread and oat bran.

Cook veggies well; the fiber content will be unchanged, but the texture will allow for easier digestion.

Try canned veggies such as peas or carrots – the fiber content will actually be higher than in fresh veggies as they will be more concentrated (like with dehydrated fruit).

Eat dehydrated fruit; the fiber content is higher than in fresh fruit as it is more concentrated.

Increasing fluid intake:

Consume fluids ½ to 1 hour after each meal or snack. Milk or high protein supplements are good choice as they contain both fluid and protein/calories.


First and foremost, check with your physician before as to when it is safe to resume physical activity.

Emphasis is on muscle building – use ankle weights when walking.

If your surgeon permits, water aerobics are good as the water provides resistance. However, keep in mind that you will not be able to get your incision wet for some time after your surgery.

Vary your exercise to decrease boredom.

* All information subject to change. Images may contain models. Individual results are not guaranteed and may vary.