The popular phrase “You are what you eat” is certainly true. Yet it’s just incomplete as it’s based upon the assumption that what we’re putting into our mouth is actually being absorbed by our body. We’re actually not what we eat, but what we digest and absorb.
If you are concerned about PRs and improving your gym or race performance, you have probably already looked into dialing in your nutrition and switching to high quality foods. But how can we make sure those good nutrients are actually absorbed by our bodies?
Focusing on your digestion can be key to a wide range of benefits that can improve performance, like better nutrient absorption, better immunity, and maybe better mental health.
Our body is a complex system
Our body is an extremely complex system, made of tissues, organs and cells. To properly nourish our body, our cells need to absorb macro and micro nutrients in order to regenerate.
In today’s society, we definitely eat enough calories (if not too many), yet many of us are still malnourished as many nutrients we need never make it to our cells. Eating junk or processed food (the so called “empty calories”) is only one of the reasons for the lack of nutrients’ absorption in our diet.
Even with a clean healthy diet and high-quality foods, most of our complex body systems are not running optimally due to stress: over-exercising, under-eating or eating too much, under-recovering (lack of high quality sleep), prescription medicines and exposure to myriad environmental pollutants. And the list goes on.
Assuming our food choice are already good and clean, how can we ensure our body is absorbing the nutrients we’re giving it?
The Bowel Transit Time Test
A test that can help us find out how good we break down and absorb the nutrients from our food is the Bowel Transit Time. Optimally it should take between 12 to 24 hours for food to completely move through our digestive tract.
You can use tablets of charcoal (found at the pharmacy), which will stain your stool black or gray, and thus provides a conveniently visible medium for measuring the transit time.
- Swallow 5 grams of charcoal tablets on an empty stomach and write down the time
- Write down the time when you see a black/grey stool during your next bowel movements
- Calculate the number of hours between the time you ingest the tablets and the time you saw the black stool. This is your Bowel Transit Time.
This test is a great first step towards getting to know our body better. However, we do recommend talking to a qualified nutritionist or doctor and get your blood tested for a better picture of your current health.
5 tips to absorb nutrients in our diet
With all the above in mind, there are a few simple tips that can help our body absorb the nutrients we’re feeding it….if we are feeding it those high-quality foods in the first place.
- Mindful Eating
Digestion starts with the very thought of food, then the sight, the smell and finally the taste. Eating is not about wolfing down lunch on the go or eating high energy bars for breakfast and hoping that will do! You must take time to eat in a calm, unhurried atmosphere. For example, do not eat in front of your keyboard or cellphone. Try to get out in the sun and enjoy your meal, reducing stress to a minimum. When the fight or flight mechanism of our sympathetic nervous system is engaged, our parasympathetic rest and digest mechanism won’t click. In simple terms, if your body is in a stressful environment, it will not rest and digest properly. That also works in reverse. Having a healthier gut may help to make you less susceptible to stress.
2. Eating Enough Macro- and Micro-nutrients
It is simpler than you might think. Eating high quality whole and unprocessed foods as well as making a goal to eat a variety of fruits and veggies will help you meet your nutrient goals. Fancy supplements or crazy juice cleanses are not necessarily required.
To start with, the human body needs 4 Macronutrients to thrive: Protein, Carbohydrates, Fat, and Water. To make sure our body perform all its functions properly (building muscles, regulating hormone production, maintaining homeostasis…) we need to balance all these 4 Macronutrients in our diet. Everyone’s needs are different depending on exercise, stress, lifestyle…
Don’t let us forget Micronutrients – vitamins and minerals – which play a vital role in retaining muscles, building our immunity, promoting brain health and, last but not least, digesting our food. As our body does not produce Micronutrients, we need to get them from outside (from our food or from supplements only if necessary).
3. Food Combining
Feeding our body all Macro- and Micro-nutrients is still not enough. The absorption of key minerals is affected by certain foods. So we need to know how to combine our food, beverages and supplements to make sure we are not affecting mineral absorption.
For example, polyphenols and tannins in foods and beverages such as cocoa, coffee, black tea, walnuts, blackberries and blueberries may reduce iron absorption, especially if in conjunction with meals. On the other hand, eating Vitamin C-rich foods such as lemons, peppers, or broccoli in conjunction with Iron-rich foods may improve your iron absorption.
Did you know eating raw or partially cooked vegetables with healthy fats like olive oil or avocado can enhance the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K?
Food combining is a great way to streamline the digestive process and ensure you’re efficiently and effectively getting what you need from the foods you’re eating. Do some research or ask your nutritionist and get creative with your food!
We can never stress it enough. Recovery (getting enough deep sleep with consistency) can also help with your digestion among many other benefits.
When we’re sleep deprived, our body produces more of the appetite stimulating hormone which reduces our willpower and induces us to overeat, especially junk food.
In addition, sleep deprived people release more cortisol, a hormone that some research has shown it can contribute to indigestion.
5. Repopulate our Intestine
Your gut environment is home to 100 trillion bacteria (about one and a half kilo worth) living within your intestinal tract.
Unfortunately, our stressful lifestyle, the overuse of antibiotics, consumption of processed foods and exposure to environmental pollutants, to name a few, can wipe out the beneficial bacteria necessary to enhance immunity, promote health and help us absorb the nutrients from our food.
Consider a high quality probiotic supplement to help repopulate your gut with beneficial bacteria. Don’t go for the cheapest or most available – quality is key when it comes to supplements!
Everyone is unique
When you tackle your stress levels, maintain a wholesome balanced diet and properly recover, you should start seeing the first positive effects of better health on your body. Adding a focus on nutrient absorption will then make a real difference.
Because everyone’s health profile is unique to them, take some time to examine exactly what’s going well and not so well in your lifestyle. And talk to a nutritionist or doctor before making radical choices.
Come and talk to our team for more tips and recommendations!