There is no single factor more important to building muscle, burning fat, or improving athletic performance than locking down proper nutrition. Even the most genetically gifted athletes using every advanced training technique known to man will fall woefully short of achieving their full potential if they aren’t equally as diligent at the dinner table as they are in the gym. And if good nutrition really is the vehicle driving our metabolic success, that should make upgrading our gut health a major priority.
We’ve all heard the expression “you are what you eat”. But in reality it would be more accurate to say that “you are what you absorb.”
Without proper absorption of the vital nutrients consumed at each meal, even the most diligent dieters aren’t going to get the most metabolic bang for their buck. In fact, over time, impaired digestion can lead to a wide range of common gastrointestinal diseases such as GERD, IBS, IBD, and even more serious conditions such as gastrointestinal infections, Chron’s, and diverticulitis.
Recent estimates from the NIH indicate that as many as 60-70 million Americans are currently suffering from various forms of GI disease, some of which most certainly are athletes. But even for those who aren’t competitive athletes, if you want to look, perform, and feel your best both in and out of the gym it means that part of prioritizing proper nutrition has to include making an effort to optimize gut health.
In order to improve gut health you don’t have to spend a fortune ordering custom strains of probiotics, or choking down some overpriced, fermented, barely palatable mystery meal from Whole Foods. Truth be told you can upgrade your gut health and digestion with a few simple and affordable supplements that can help turn even the most mediocre inside tract into high powered nutrient partitioning machine.
The involuntary act of food being passed through our GI tract is called peristalsis. Disrupted peristaltic function can eventually lead to a long list of familiar digestive problems like acid reflux, constipation, and IBS amongst others. And while most people’s common cure for treating peristaltic issues like acid reflux is to pop a few acid reducing Zantac’s or Pepcid’s, the truth is that those seemingly quick fixes are probably doing you a lot more harm than good. Believe it or not many peristaltic issues result from having too little acid in the stomach, which prevents food from being properly broken down during digestion. As those partially broken down food chunks pass through the GI tract they eventually begin to ferment, leading to a buildup of gases that cause of the familiar bloating and burping we’ve all experienced at one time or another. By taking a single tablespoon of an organic apple cider vinegar like Bragg’s that still contains natural GI friendly enzymes, proteins, and a healthy dose of pH stabilizing acid from the vinegar in 16-20oz water with each meal you can enhance digestion and aid the body’s ability to extract more of those vital nutrients from your food.
Despite being a classic staple in the supplement cabinet of countless bodybuilders for the last few decades, in recent years glutamine has fallen out of favor a bit mostly due to numerous studies discovering that it really doesn’t seem to have as much of a benefit for building muscle or enhancing recovery as was once thought.
But that doesn’t mean it’s totally useless either.
The smooth muscle lining our GI tract is made up of specialized tissue called epithelial tissue. And as you might be able to guess, the specialized cells that make up our epithelial tissue are called epithelial cells. The epithelial cells in our gut absolutely love l-glutamine, and not having enough present can lead to atrophy of the natural mucus membrane in the stomach, potentially causing all sorts of unpleasant GI issues to develop over time.
Taking 2-5g of l-glutamine with meals daily can give the epithelial cells in your gut the boost they need to keep functioning at optimum levels, while also allowing you to take advantage of l-glutamine’s other immune and health boosting properties.
Our GI tract contains as many as 10 trillion bacteria from of hundreds of different strains. While having a healthy population of good gut bacteria can improve our digestive health, poor dietary and lifestyle choices can lead to an overgrowth of bad gut bacteria that can wreak havoc on the way our inside tract functions.
One of the easiest ways to promote good gut health is to provide those good bacteria with the type of foods it need to flourish – like foods high in dietary fiber. Dietary fiber is prebiotic, which means that as it’s broken down during digestion it feeds the good bacteria in our gut. Eating plenty of leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables daily will provide you with a healthy dose of gut enhancing fiber.
Dietary fiber supplements offer another option for anyone looking to boost their fiber intake. Taking 1-2 daily servings of a fiber supplement that contains both soluble and insoluble fiber with meals will provide more than enough to satisfy all of your daily requirements.
High sugar diets, eating too many processed foods, and overexposure to antibiotics all take a toll on our gut health by killing off the good bacteria that populate our GI tract, which opens the door for an overgrowth of bad bacteria that can eventually lead to a myriad of gastrointestinal issues. But supplementing with an effective, multi-strain probiotic can go a long way toward helping to restore the balance in our microbiome.
Considering that more than ten trillion bacteria from as many as five hundred different strains make up our microbiome, opting for a multi-strain probiotic, as opposed to a popular single strain supplement like acidophilus, will be more effective at helping to revive a gut that’s been damaged from months or even years of dietary and lifestyle abuse. While high potency, custom made, probiotic supplements are available for those who can afford to spend the extra coin, there are a wide variety of affordable multi-strain online or in retail stores.
If you regularly struggle with symptoms like acid reflux, gas, bloating, or constipation following a meal there’s a chance you might be not be producing enough stomach acid. Contrary to popular belief, many of the symptoms mentioned above manifest as a result of having low stomach acid, not high stomach acid as is commonly thought. Not producing enough acid in the stomach prevents food from being fully broken down during digestion, causing it to ferment and produce gases that lead to many common ailments falsely associated with an acid overproduction.
While the best way to avoid acid related GI distress is to avoid eating foods that have been known to cause digestive issues in the past, using supplements like betaine hydrochloride (HCL) can help balance out acid production in the gut and reduce common acid related GI disorders. Betaine HCL is essentially a supplemental form of stomach acid that helps to regulate pH in the gut. Taking 300-600 mg of betaine HCL with meals, especially high protein meals, will help to improve overall digestive health and alleviate some of the symptoms of acid related gut distress.
During digestion all proteins, carbohydrates, and fats require specialized enzymes to be released from the pancreas in order our food to be fully broken down. However in cases of undiagnosed pancreatic dysfunction, or if the body just simply isn’t producing enough of a particular enzyme(s), it can cause food to not be fully broken down during the digestive process.
If food isn’t fully broken down in the stomach, it isn’t able to be properly absorbed in the small intestine where most of our digestion and absorption actually take place. But adding in some timely supplemental digestive enzymes can dramatically improve digestive health by facilitating proper nutrient breakdown. By taking 1-2 servings daily of a digestive enzyme supplement with two whole food meals– ideally at breakfast and preworkout – you can help to solidify gut health by providing the body with sufficient enzymes to help break down food and enhance overall nutrient absorption.