Digestion: It’s an Inside Job

You are what you eat….right?

One of the most crucial lessons I’ve learned about nutrition that I think should be shared comes from my gut. Call it a gut feeling if you will (see what I did there, haha).

All jokes aside, I don’t mean like a feeling or intuition, but literally from my gut, my insides.

When I began working with my diet/contest prep coach Matt Jansen, his first email to me explained how he is a big proponent of digestive efficiency and maximizing the nutrient absorption from food—getting the most out of the least. There’s the old adage everyone has heard and I’m sure, at some point, has mindlessly repeated, “You are what you eat.” Sounds legit, right? Well, not really.  Matt’s introduction to me can better explain this adage by clarifying “You are what you can absorb, digest and assimilate efficiently.”  Think about it — you can eat all of the vegetables and fruits in the world, but if your body isn’t absorbing their nutrients then you aren’t reaping any of the health benefits. 

Prior to working with Matt, I didn’t really put a huge emphasis on digestion. I mean, your stomach just does it’s job right? It’s not that I didn’t think much about food choice as having as much an effect on the look and overall performance of the body as it actually does, it just hadn’t been made so blatantly clear. Sure, nutrition is my minor, so, yeah, I knew the importance of food variation and getting adequate vitamins and minerals from different food sources, but I didn’t really place importance on what hormonal or digestive affects the foods had. After all, I did win my first show doing my own diet, so surely it couldn’t be too difficult.  During that contest prep, I had focused on hitting macronutrient and calorie requirements for fat loss, but didn’t consider much HOW my insides were actually performing optimally… or even IF they were performing adequately at all. I came to learn that when it comes to attaining a certain physique appearance, achieving an athletic performance goal, or even just maintaining or improving health, food choice DOES matter, HOW your insides perform does matter, and yes, you are what you can absorb efficiently. Let’s take a closer look.

WHAT LIES BENEATH

Most forms of Western Medicine work on a surface level and therefore treat the outward symptoms, but never really address root cause. Fortunately, there is more than one form of medicine. Over 2000 years ago, Hippocrates said, “All disease begins in the gut.” Physically, our bodies will manifest outwardly what the real story is on the inside. Outwardly we often see diabetes, cancer, arthritis, obesity, heart disease, and even acne while the rarely-seen underlying causes are really chronic inflammation, digestive, microbiological and hormonal imbalances. The deepest level of healing possible and the underlying cause of many diseases and preventable conditions stems from gut health, digestion and nutrient absorption and waste elimination. An unhealthy colon is the base of many issues. More specifically, constipation is directly related to a sluggish or in many cases a toxin-filled colon. Unless this gets addressed, you may waste time chasing a false diagnosis and ‘treating’ the wrong thing. The road to health lies beyond these roadblocks.

Probiotics: A Love Story

The topic of probiotics probably isn’t very appealing or “sexy” when it’s brought up, especially when trying to discuss the importance with weight loss clients, athletes, powerlifters and bodybuilders. I mean, when I first think of probiotics, I think of Jamie Lee Curtis, Activia, Yoplait or Chobani yogurt commercials, and how probiotics are supposed to make me poop and keep my insides happy. Let’s get one thing straight…having a cup of a name-brand yogurt every day isn’t going to do much in the way of repopulating your gut lining with the ‘right’ bacteria, especially if it’s the sugar-laden kind (which is the best-tasting of course). There are literally hundreds or thousands of species of bacteria (kind of disgusting if you stop to think about it) in your gut and a typical name-brand yogurt contains maybe, like…two strains. Lol. The funny thing is that one of the first things listed in my supplementation and diet plan was a probiotic—not to be confused with prebiotics. Prebiotics are non-digestible carbohydrates that act as food for probiotics. When combined, both of these are synbiotic—they work together. Probiotics are found in foods such as yogurt, while prebiotics are found in whole grains, bananas, onions, garlic, honey and artichokes. As a refresher, according to the Mayo Clinic a probiotic is: “a type of "good" bacteria which may help with digestion and offer protection from harmful bacteria, just as the existing "good" bacteria in your body already do. It’s sort of a balance.  

What kind should I get?

if you do choose to go the yogurt route, look for stuff made using yak milk or something similar. They generally have disgusting bacterial films in it. Yakult is a good option (Yak Culture- literally). You need to get the right bacteria, in the right amount, with bacteria species known to survive all the way through the extreme acidic environment of the gut. Most probiotics you find at the store or even online, can be one or two years old by the time you buy them. Avoid the TV based brands. There are also pills, liquids and capsules. These should be refrigerated, not just after you buy them, but also after manufacturing and before shipping. Go for these kind. The bottom line: Dead probiotics don’t and can’t work.

Make sure they conform to these standards at minimum:

  • Amounts are listed in CFUs (Colony Forming Units)—not in milligrams. Go for the ones with “billions”.

  • The product is refrigerated (even though label may not say)

  • The product is encased with some sort of shell, capsule, oil, or coated medium.

Another way to get probiotics and prebiotics is to get them from fermented food sources such as:

  • Kimchi

  • Kombucha—a bacterial culture and yeasts mixed into a refrigerated tea (where’re all my Yogis at? Lol)

  • Miso

  • Sauerkraut

  • Pickles, specifically marked as fermented

It’s What’s on the Inside That Counts

The following foods will supply your gut bacteria with the nutrients they need to grow:

  • Onions (my fave)

  • Garlic

  • Milk

  • Bananas

  • Wheat

  • Oats

  • Asparagus (another fave)

  • Artichoke

  • Chicory

  • Leeks

  • Lentils

  • Green peas

  • Lima beans

  • Kidney beans

  • Hummus/chickpeas

AN APPLE A DAY

Speaking of fermented food sources, apple cider vinegar is also a fermented product, much like kombucha and kim chi, which means that it’s great for gut health. It helps feed beneficial gut microbes with short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) that help promote satiety and fat loss. A 12 week study showed daily consumption of 30mLs (2 tablespoons) of apple cider vinegar resulted in fat loss without any change in diet in overweight people. Why? Apple cider

vinegar is a rich source of acetic acid, which is an acid with antibacterial and antifungal properties produced by the fermentation of fiber in the large intestine. So this shows that not only are fermented foods good at increasing SCFAs, but consuming more fiber is also beneficial for fat loss and gut health.

So….Now what?

What should you expect after doing this? Well, first off- Congratulations. You are now the housing complex of over trillions of new bacterial renters living in your gut. How will you know that it’s “working”? Short term, you’ll probably feel less gassy, less bloated, tighter in the waist region, get better skin, and more regularity with your bowels. You might even drop some bodyfat. At the very least, your insides will be happy and grateful.

Although more research is needed, over the long term, there's a list of encouraging evidence that probiotics may help:

  • Treat diarrhea, especially following treatment with certain antibiotics

  • Prevent and treat urinary tract infections

  • Treat irritable bowel syndrome

  • Speed treatment of certain intestinal infections

  • Prevent or reduce the severity of colds and flu 

It could also increase your resilience to getting sick too. While this article is simply an introduction to the importance of digestive health it is by no means comprehensive.

These are just a few of the benefits that can help any body, athlete, bodybuilder or stay-at-home mom alike.

I have a gut feeling that says that’s a win-win.

References:

Carter, P. (2016, October 18). Tip: Put Your Gut Health First. Retrieved November, 2016, from https://www.t-nation.com/

Grady, Denise, "Bacteria in the Intestines May Help Tip the Bathroom Scale, Studies Show," The New York Times, March 27th, 2013.

Kondo, et al. (2009). Vinegar intake reduces body weight, body fat mass, and serum triglyceride levels in obese Japanese subjects. Bioscience, biotechnology, and biochemistry, 73(8), 1837-1843.

Luoma, T. (2016, October 20). Balance Gut Bacteria. Get Leaner. Get Happier. Retrieved November, 2016, from https://www.t-nation.com/

National Center for Biotechnology Information. PubChem Compound Database; CID=176, https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/176 (accessed Jan. 3, 2017).

Torgan, C., Ph.d. (2013, November 25). Gut Microbes Linked to Rheumatoid Arthritis. Retrieved January 2, 2017, from https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/gut-microbes-linked-rheumatoid-arthritis

Zeratsky, K., R.D., L.D. (2014, October 14). Do I need to include probiotics and prebiotics in my diet? Retrieved November, 2016, from http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle

                                                   

Daniel Saunders