You're probably not digesting your food enough. Most people aren't.
We hear so much about proper dieting, but we hardly ever hear about how to digest better. The focus is always on which foods to eat and when.
But in the eyes of many functional medicine experts, poor digestion is one of the main culprits underlying a lot of modern health problems. Here's the good news: you can easily fix this issue.
The Problem With Poor Digestion
The whole point of eating food is to absorb it and let it nourish our bodies. But when food isn't properly digested it can muck up the gears for a lot of natural biological processes.
Poor nutrition is one of the obvious results of incomplete digestion. Our digestive systems are specially made to absorb the maximum amount of nutrition from food. When chunks of food speed through our system too quickly we miss out on all the benefits.
Another problem is something we've all experienced: indigestion. Whether it's gas, bloating, heartburn or worse, we all know how uncomfortable and embarrassing indigestion can be.
Wasting Too Much Energy
Our bodies use quite a bit of energy digesting meals. This is normal.
But we make things harder for ourselves by eating the wrong foods, eating too quickly, and failing to replenish our digestive enzymes. So our bodies have to work extra hard to digest, which uses up a lot of our precious energy.
Harming Your ‘Second Brain'?
Gut health is a concept that's received a lot of attention lately (and for good reason). We've learned that a healthy gut helps not only digestion, but our overall health and well being.
Don't just take my word for it. This article from Johns Hopkins Medicine describes the importance of gut health:
If you’ve ever “gone with your gut” to make a decision or felt “butterflies in your stomach” when nervous, you’re likely getting signals from an unexpected source: your second brain. Hidden in the walls of the digestive system, this “brain in your gut” is revolutionizing medicine’s understanding of the links between digestion, mood, health and even the way you think.
Scientists call this little brain the enteric nervous system (ENS). And it’s not so little. The ENS is two thin layers of more than 100 million nerve cells lining your gastrointestinal tract from esophagus to rectum.
What Does Your Gut’s Brain Control?
Unlike the big brain in your skull, the ENS can’t balance your checkbook or compose a love note. “Its main role is controlling digestion, from swallowing to the release of enzymes that break down food to the control of blood flow that helps with nutrient absorption to elimination,” explains Jay Pasricha, M.D., director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Neurogastroenterology, whose research on the enteric nervous system has garnered international attention. “The enteric nervous system doesn’t seem capable of thought as we know it, but it communicates back and forth with our big brain—with profound results.”
As the article explains, a healthy gut is critical for maintaining a positive mood and good overall health.
Incomplete Digestion Limits Your Athleticism
Given what we've covered so far, it makes sense that poor digestion will hamper your goals in the gym.
Athletes pay a lot of attention to the amount of protein and other macronutrients that consume. But those amounts aren't meaningful if they aren't digesting them. What's the point of drinking so much protein powder if it's just going to sit there in your intestines and rot?
This is something that vegan bodybuilder Wade Lightheart has been advocating for a while now. He says that consuming a lot of protein without digesting it properly will not only deprive you of muscle fuel, but it can actually increase your risk for disease over the long term. In fact he is the creator of the Masszymes enzyme supplement, which we have written about before.
Although enzyme supplements can help solve the problem, they aren't the only solution.
Easy Ways To Improve Your Digestion Today
For most people, poor digestion is a result of bad habits and bad food. Of course you should always consult your doctor if you suspect you have a unique situation, but otherwise these fixes should help considerably.
1. Chew Your Food More
How many times do you chew before you swallow food? Chances are it's not enough.
Our saliva contains amylase proteins which are the first step in breaking down food. If we rush through this step, we send incompletely digested chunks of food down our esophagus and miss out on a lot of nutrient absorption.
Try chewing at least 30 times before swallowing. If this doesn't sound like a lot, count how many times you actually chew next time you eat. I can almost guarantee it's far less than that.
By the way, chewing doesn't only apply to solid foods. When you drink smoothies, take some time to “chew” the drink in your mouth before you swallow it. Those salivary amylases need to work their magic on liquid food, too.
2. Eat More Digestible Foods
Again, another seemingly obvious tip that we usually ignore. Processed foods lack natural enzymes and often contain ingredients that we aren't evolved to digest well.
You also need to pay attention to the probiotics and prebiotics in our foods. What does that mean? Here's what Fitness Magazine has to say about it:
Consume more fiber from fruit and veggies and cut back on processed foods, animal protein, and simple sugars, all of which feed harmful bacteria and contribute to obesity and disease, says Carolyn Snyder, RD, a dietitian at the Cleveland Clinic. Choose foods that have the fewest ingredients listed on their labels, and chow down on those that contain probiotics (including milk, sauerkraut, and yogurt) and prebiotics, which are certain nondigestible ingredients (found in high-fiber fruit like bananas; whole grains, such as barley and rye; and vegetables like onions and tomatoes) that act as fertilizer for the probiotics in our guts.
If you're wondering whether a certain food is easily digestible, a good rule-of-thumb is that the foods we typically consider healthy are also going to be gut-friendly.
3. Enzyme Supplements
By simply chewing more and choosing better foods, you can eliminate a lot of digestive problems. But taking a good digestive enzyme supplement is a safe and easy way to help even further.
Dr. Joseph Mercola, a renowned expert in natural health, provides some helpful guidance on this issue:
If you suffer from occasional bloating, minor abdominal discomfort and/or occasional constipation and suspect your enzyme production is low, you might want to consider a digestive enzyme supplement in addition to eating more of your foods raw.
Keep in mind that digestive enzymes should be taken WITH a meal, whereas systemic enzymes, taken for other health reasons, are taken between meals (see following section). There are hundreds of digestive enzymes on the market. Ideally, look for an enzyme formula with the following characteristics:
- It should contain a mixture of different types of enzymes, to help digest all of the different components of your diet (including lipase, protease and amylase)
- The ingredients should be high-quality, all-natural and free of allergens and additives
- The supplement should be labeled as to the enzymatic strength of each ingredient, not just its weight
- It should be made by a reputable company with rigorous quality control and testing for potency
The full article is worth reading because he describes these issues in a lot of detail.
It should be clear by now that proper digestion is critical to your health and fitness. And fixing it can be done easily, without expensive treatments or special diets.
Old habits are hard to break, but by implementing these suggestions little by little into your daily life, you will start to see major improvements in the way you feel.