Today I had someone give me a HUGE hug because the tips I'm sharing with you on today's blog post totally ˆtransformed her digestive health with real food. She had previously been plagued with bloating and discomfort after meals... which magically disappeared just by following the tips below.
Okay, sure, digestion isn’t super “sports nutrition specific,” but many runners definitely suffer from GI discomfort. And guess what?? Ain’t nobody hittin’ the pavement when they’ve got an upset stomach! (Bummed this isn't super sports-nutrition-specific? Make sure you're signed up for my FREE sports nutrition guide and sports nutrition meal plan!)
First we need a very basic lesson on the gastrointestinal (GI) system where digestion takes place.
When we think of digestion: we have to think of the whole body...the whole system.
First and foremost, remember that the brain and the gut are constantly communicating and something as seemingly-unimportant as your mood can affect digestion (more on that later).
When you eat, you chew your food and there are proteins, called enzymes, that break down food the moment your saliva hits that delish morsel. Digestion begins in your MOUTH!
You then swallow your food and it travels down your esophagus before entering the stomach. I think we all kind of know that already, but let's talk a little bit about what the stomach actually does. The stomach churns the food and breaks it down by acid & enzymes, truly priming it for the next step of the digestive process in the small intestine.
The small intestine is where proteins are broken down and absorbed, fats enter lymphatic circulation and carbs are absorbed and utilized or stored. Its the true all-star of digestion.
After the small intestine, there’s one last and final "piece" of your GI system before everything comes out the other end (ya know what I’m sayin’): the colon. The colon is a delightful playground for our microbiome! Hold up.. what is microbiome?? What is the microbiome definition??? Basically... its just a term for all the friendly bacteria (probiotics) that colonize our gut. These bacteria are HELPFUL because they digest fiber, boost immunity and stabilize mood. So while the colon doesn't play a huge role in the actual digestion of food, but rather the little buggos in our colon breakdown fibers (which turn into a fatty acid which MAY improve insulin sensitivity! SO COOL), while the colon absorbs water and electrolytes back into our system.
ANYWAYS, the whole time all of this is goin’ onnnn, your digestive system is “dancing” to the rhythm of “peristalsis” which is basically just a downward-pushing motion that helps food get from our mouth.... to "the other side."
So now that you have a super basic understanding of how digestion works, we can talk about what YOU can do TODAY to improve digestion. You, smarty pants, you!
Eight Easy Steps to Improve Digestive Health
with Real Food
Drink more water (as in, at the VERY minimum, 8 cups a day)
Here’s how you have to think of fluid and digestion. Imagine dirt in your backyard. Now imagine that dirt has been roasting in the hot sunlight without an ounce of water. Think of how hard and dry that dirt becomes. In fact, you may find “rock like” mounds of dirt that you only realize aren’t truly stones after you’ve stepped on it with force.
Now imagine that very, rock-solid dirt being FINALLY sprayed with a garden hose.
Magically, the arid ground becomes a slurry of mud.
The food in your gut is similar. Without enough fluid, food particles can become hard and difficult to pass causing bloating and constipation or even uncomfortable “pockets” in your GI system. Drink your water. Mud was always more fun to play in, right?
2. Before a meal, drink 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar in 4-6 ounces of water.
Okay, I’m about to get all hippy-science on ya right now. As we age, our stomach’s acidity decreases which can wreak havoc on our digestion. It can make us feel full and bloated because your stomach is having trouble breaking down food. As a way to prime digestion and increase the stomach’s acidity, try taking an acidic shot of ACV diluted in water 10-15 minutes before a meal.
3. Chew your dang food!!!
Listen, I know your boyfriend eats twice as fast as you, and you’re afraid if you eat too slowly you won’t get more than just a taste of your meal (oh wait, is that just my life?), but eating slowly and chewing is integral to good digestion. Your saliva has enzymes that break down sugars and begin digestion, also the smaller you chew your food, the more surface area is exposed by the time the food gets to the stomach, which optimizes your body’s ability to break it down.
4. Eat fermented foods
Yeah yeah yeah. The microbiome is SO HAWT right now…but its for good reason.
Your gut health (the little bacteria in your colon) are SO INSTRUMENTAL in controlling your bowel regularity, reducing uncomfortable symptoms related to irritable bowel syndrome and reducing bloat. And these foods can work wonders even without digestive health supplements.
Adding grass-fed kefit or yogurt (I loveee me some Maple Hill Creamery Greek Yogurt), kombucha, kimchi (Sinto Gourmet obsesh), or sauerkraut (yummm Farmhouse Culture) to your routine is a great way to increase the diversity of the bacteria in your gut.
5. Pop Probiotics (the best digestive health supplements)
Okay… and as soon as we talk about fermented foods, I knowww you’re gonna ask about probiotics. I am sooo totally a fan of probiotics, especially for anyone who has recently/is taking antibiotics. Remember, antibiotics kill allll the bacteria without any regard for “good guys” or “bad guys.” And since you now know those good bacteria in your colon are a MUST, you need repopulate those bad boys REAL QUICK.
Choose probiotics that have at least one billion colony forming units (“CFU”) and contain at least one of these well studied species: Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium or Saccharomyces boulardii.
I know that you know that I know you want to ask me for my fave brand. So here it is: Biohm. (nope, that is not an affiliate link ... I just flippin' love that brand!)
6. Slowly increase fiber intake (if you’re not already eating a high fiber diet)
Listen, fiber is SO fabulous for us. Not only does it provide fuel for the little buggers in your colon to thrive and grow, but it keeps us slim, fuller longer, and reduces our risk of certain cancers.
But too much fiber all at once can cause bloat and discomfort. Rather than upping fiber intake super quickly, slowly add it to your diet. Let’s say right now for dinner you eat brown rice as your starchy carb. A fiber-seeking individual would sub that brown rice with beans. So…. serve yourself 1/2 cup of cooked brown rice but also add a tablespoon of beans. Slowly increase the amount of beans (while decreasing the rice) over a couple of weeks. Your body will slowly adapt to handle more and more fiber! Just remember… more fiber requires MORE water!! Don’t forget rule number one!
7. Hot liquid can help relieve constipation
Remember we talked about that sensual digestive track dance: peristalsis??? Well its totally stimulated by hot liquid! If constipation strikes, sip on hot tea, coffee or hot water with lemon. It can help get thangs movin’!
8. Eat slowly and mindfully…
I know it seems wacky, but your body actually digests food better when you are in “rest and digest” mode. When you’re running around, stressed out, your body’s “sympathetic nervous system” (also known as fight or flight mode) is activated. While in this state, your body is pumping out hormones and signals that put your body on high alert to run away from danger.
Guess what doesn’t really help when your body thinks you’re about to get attacked by a lion?!?!? Sitting down for a leisurely meal (weird, right?!). For that reason, the hormones that signal digestion are dampened when you’re stressed.
If you find you’re often bloated, belching or uncomfortably full after eating, then you may need to practice “rest and digest mode.” Try dimming the lights (if possible), sitting down and savoring and tasting your meal. Consume it slowly, chewing well, and appreciating each bite. I promise it will make all the difference in how your belly feels afterwards.
K... now its your turn to implement!
These tips are PRETTY simple BUT will make such a huge difference in your experience with food. Food is THE BEST and nothing makes me sadder than when clients tell me they have thousands of food intolerances. There's a chance those food intolerances are simply just a result of poor digestive hygiene. Doesn't hurt to try out my 8 simple tips, amiright?!
Before assuming you’re allergic or intolerant to every food under the sun, use some of the above tips and tricks to see if you can optimize digestion without cutting out foods.
Comment below if you have any questions .... andddd if you LOVED this blog post, make sure you're signed up for my newsletter (& get a TOTALLY FREE meal plan LOADED with gut healthy recipes!)