Nutrition for CrossFit Part 2: Digestion and All That Crap

Posted by on Aug 27, 2013 in Nutrition | 2 comments

Warning: This one could get graphic. Since we’re talking about food digestion, what goes in must come out, which means, yeah, poop is a part of the story. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves! First thing’s first.

There’s a good chance you have inhibited digestion and are not getting all the goodness from all that Paleo fare you’re so proud of. From that high Omega 3 grass-fed beef to the vitamins and minerals in the rainbow of veggies you eat throughout the week, it very well might all be going to crap, literally. And if you’re not eating clean and still eat crap, your crappy digestion isn’t helping you not absorb all the crap either. So you don’t get off easy here.

As a culture, our fast-paced lifestyle and years of eating processed faux-foods have actually caused many of our digestive fluids to go onto sabbatical. In order to keep this post from going too crazy long, I’ll simplify it to say those are the two of the biggest causes of digestive malfunction. It looks kinda like this: Processed foods often don’t take much to digest, so our stomach acid gets lazy since it isn’t needed much anymore, and quits showing up to work. Additionally, healthy, whole foods provide the salary the stomach acid needs to work in the form of usable vitamins and minerals. So on a processed food diet, stomach acid has little motivation to show up for the job as the pay is terrible. Add to this the fact that stomach acid also won’t show up to work if the nervous system (the boss) has too much going on that day and not paying attention, creating a hostile work environment for stomach acid who needs the boss to be calm and attentive.

The body has a hierarchy of physiological processes. So when we are stressed, our nervous system and adrenal glands are busy dealing with ALL THE THINGS and there just isn’t time or energy to even care about the job stomach acid has to do. If food is consumed in that stress state, sufficient acid isn’t produced to bring the food to the state it needs to be for the rest of the digestive process to work. The pancreas and gall bladder are next in line for digestive processes, but if the stomach acid hasn’t done it’s job, the pancreas and gall bladder can’t do theirs properly. So now you have undigested food particles that aren’t broken down small enough to absorb and be used by the body for all the physiological processes needed. That nasty mess passes through the intestines while the intestines try to absorb what usable bits they can, all the while being beat up by the rough and tumble that was once food. Sometimes this means the crap hangs out in the intestines too long as the body tries to get every last nutrient it can find out of there, but sometimes the body just says “get this $#!@ OUT NOW” because it’s too much of a mess to deal with. If you catch my drift, neither of those options are much fun for anyone.

What does bad digestion look like? Well the scenario above is an obvious sign, but so is bad breath, bloating, belching, feeling sleepy after meals, cramping and farting to name some obvious ones that most people deal with daily, all while assuming it’s normal. Not so obvious but more severe signs are autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and Celiac disease, as well as asthma and allergies.

So how do we address bad digestion and start getting usable nutrients from our food that can fuel a tough workout and help build muscle so we get stronger and faster? Eliminate the causes. Stop eating crap food and reduce stress, particularly around meal time. Since people like lists and tips, here are some specific things you can try to improve digestion:

– Choose real, whole food: meat, veggies, fruit. These provide the vitamins and minerals needed to produce digestive acids and enzymes.
– Grains, dairy, legumes, nuts and seeds are complicated and many people have issues digesting them, so if you want to optimize digestion, steer clear of those to see if digestive symptoms improve.
– Limit or eliminate sugar – the methods our body uses to metabolize sugar deplete vital nutrients that are also needed for proper digestion.
– Enjoy mealtime. Taste your food and chew chew chew! Don’t eat on the run or while multi-tasking.
– Limit water intake during meals to 8 oz. Too much water can dilute the acidity of your stomach, which is needed to bring chewed food to the pH needed for all the other processes to take place. Avoid sodas, even “clean” club sodas as they will neutralize stomach acid as well.
– Lemon water, apple cider vinegar, herbal ginger tea, or bone broth can help stimulate stomach acid prior to a meal if digestion is sluggish.

Digestion is a basic and vital process to life, but in our crazy modern on-the-go lives, we’ve taken for granted our body’s ability to do this, not giving it the environment and resources it needs to get the job done. Eating should become a peaceful and enjoyable ritual in order to get the most out of our meals, not an afterthought. If you want your body to work for you, make a regular effort to provide a safe, peaceful, and rewarding digestion environment.

2 Comments

  1. Question as relating to eating directly after workout.

    Any suggestions on optimizing digestion for those of us who eat immediately after a workout (especially first meal of the day) and are ingesting much more than the 8oz of water (suggested consumption during meals) in order to rehydrate? Also, do post workout supplements have any adverse effects when consumed very closely to meal?

    thanks

    • Good questions! First – you probably don’t need to guzzle massive amounts of water after your workout. Eight to twelve ounces is likely plenty for initial re-hydration. Add a pinch of sea salt to it to help restore minerals lost with perspiration and you will re-hydrate faster. Just make it your goal to drink throughout the day. People often forget that fresh whole foods have high water content too, so if your breakfast consists of those foods, that is helping you re-hydrate as well. Your post-workout recovery meal should occur within an hour or so after your workout for the best recovery. So, get your initial hydration right away, then have your meal in a half hour or so, once the water has had a chance to absorb and your body has calmed from the stressful state of exercise. You can also do a post-workout shake, which will hydrate and provide you nutrients that are already easily digested and absorbed. I can’t speak specifically to post-workout supplements and digestion as I’m not sure what you are taking. But there are supplements that work better when taken on their own, away from food, and vice versa, so it just depends on what they are. Hope this is helpful!

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