The way I see things, you can’t make any substantial physiological changes to the body without addressing gut health first. Why so? Well because you digestive health will effect everything from focus, attention, drive, mood, energy and immunity. With such a large list of factors directly impacted by the enteric nervous system, how can you afford not to look after your gut?
The fitness industry goes through phases. This has ranged from the early low fat epidemic in the 80’s, to the calorie counting obsessed 90’s and through to the paleo revolution of the 00’s. Dietary fads will come and go but one underlying truth will never change; if your gut is in a state of distress your dietary protocols will be deemed somewhat irrelevant.
Gut health is the structural balance on the nutrition world. You may frequently hear me say that an exercise is only as good as you can execute it. Theoretically a deadlift can build an extremely impressive physique and make you very strong. It can also severely injure your lower back. It’s not the method that’s important, it’s the foundation it’s built on.
Just like the impingements, niggles and imbalances you see structurally with people, you’ll also notice some sort of digestive dysfunction as well. As the industry is smart and adaptable, a lot of coaches have studied to raise awareness of the importance of gut health and how it can be the missing link to your quest for wellness.
This is excellent. It’s a highly moral, physiologically proved system that addresses fundamental aspects of optimal well being. In other words, if someone is talking about sorting out your gut health, you can trust them. Why? Because it’s impartial, imperative and important. It’s the stretching, brushing your teeth and paying your taxes of the nutrition world.
However, with any topic, you cannot just blindly prescribe protocols without first assessing how and why something is applicable or relevant. So for example, here are a list of supplements/foods which are excellent for addressing certain digestive issues:
- Highly fibrous vegetables
- Low carb/high fat diets
If you were to go on the “Top 5 lists of foods to improve gut health” on a fitness website, it’s likely you’ll come across all of these products. This is correct, all of them are absolutely fantastic for digestion, but only if used at the appropriate time for the appropriate situation.
If you have IBS of any sort, or fatigue, or joint soreness, or any ailment for that matter, then it would be wise to take gut boosting supplements, but here are some things to consider.
- Highly fibrous foods can exacerbate symptoms for people who suffer from inflamed or leaky gut. If a food is dense in insoluble fibre, then it can act like iron wool on an open wound in the intestines. When the gut is badly inflamed, soluble fibre would be a much better option.
- Probiotics only thrive in the right environment. If there is an imbalance in unfavourable bacteria in the gut, probiotics will not be as effective as they can.
- Sauerkraut and L-Glutamine can actually feed bad bacteria if the over growth (SIBO) is at an advanced stage. Therefore, foods that would normally really benefit the gut could actually assist in making symptoms worse.
- High fat diets are a bad idea for people with liver/gallbladder issues. If liver function is optimal and the gallbladders ability to store bile is low, high fat diets will tax both these organs and lead to unpleasant side effects due to in the lack of absorption of fats.
With the factors in mind it is critical that you don’t self diagnose gut restoration protocols and instead carry out an in-depth analysis of what is going on. This can range from digestive and brain questionnaires, to an analytical food diary that logs activity pre and post meals.
Furthermore, you must consider that phases are not set in stone. Protocols only need to be used to fix/heal an issue, then they must be phased out just like training. So in a sense, the periodisation of weight training and nutrition are extremely similar. With digestion, it generally tends to follow the principles of elimination, restoration, regeneration, or the more conveniently named “Weed, seed and feed” protocol.
Where one person only may need 1-2 weeks in the weeding phase, another person may require 1-2 months. In different cases, some people may exhibit minimal signs of gut issues and so benefit from going straight in to the feeding phase. Every situation is person specific.
Knowing your gut is extremely powerful knowledge when it comes to health, performance and body composition. By getting the right diagnosis, then using trialled and tested nutrition and supplement protocols, you’ll be able to see fast, safe and effective improvements in all aspects of your life.