Maev Creaven, Nutritionist [Functional Medicine] of the Nutrition Centre, Galway & Dublin, brings us the first of a series of blogs and nutritional advice as you build up towards the SKODA Tour de Conamara.
Let’s face it. Its no fun when your digestion isn’t functioning well. Do you suffer from any bloating, cramping, irregularity, pain or other conditions most people don’t like to talk about? You are not alone!
Unfortunately, GI-problems are very common, especially amongst endurance athletes and they can easily impair performance or recovery. If you are suffering, try not to think of your symptoms as a nuisance, but as a precious warning signal to investigate further.
The main causes of digestive discomfort are either mechanical, nutritional, physiological or psychological in nature. Stomach bloating, wind etc if left untreated can turn into a condition called intestinal permeability (leaky gut) where undigested food particles create an inflammatory response in the gut, and / or irritable bowel which has potential to wreak havoc over your entire body leading to acne, allergies, arthritis, autoimmune conditions, rashes, chronic fatigue, mood disorders and more sinister diseases.
For athletes, the mechanical causes of gastrointestinal [GI] problems are related to either impact [from running] or your posture. For example, on a bike, upper gastrointestinal symptoms are more prevalent possibly due to increased pressure on the abdomen as a result of the cycling position, particularly when in the ‘aero’ position. ‘Swallowing’ air as a result of increased respiration and drinking from water bottles can result in mild to moderate stomach distress. In general, the only way to reduce the effects of these mechanical causes is by training right and being aware.
It is obviously also important to rule out any physiological or nutritional issue. This is where a nutritionist can help you. There’s a digestive sequence of events which occur within your body from the moment you start to think or smell foods. If everything is working right, and all the nutrients and enzymes are present, there is no issue, but if not, you’ll know about it!
The simple strategy for any digestive issue is to find out why this is occurring, what’s the root cause of the problem. When do you notice the symptom, are there any patterns, to the number of minutes to hours after eating?
Become your own health detective. Investigate if you have a food intolerance, or is it an upper gut or lower bowel concern. A food intolerance test can be used to help pin point trigger foods, another option is to do The Elimination Plan, which is the gold standard method and takes more effort and time.
Requirement: remove common triggers foods from 10 days to 3 months and monitor your symptoms.
Other symptoms which arise with or as a consequence of bloating / flatulence:
Upper GI Symptoms: belching, bloating, heartburn, vomiting
Lower GI Symptoms: bleeding , constipation, cramping [abdominal], diarrhrea, flatulence, urgency, gurgling stomach
Related Symptoms: eczema, psoriasis, brain fog, poor memory, dizziness, stitch, malabsorption, nausea, nutrient deficiencies [iron, calcium, magnesium], mood swings, osteoporosis.
What can you do about it?
The trick is to sort out any digestive concern now, before you start clocking serious miles on your bike, as the old saying goes, prevention is better than cure.
- Eat real food, as simple as this may sound! Eat more vegetables, which feed your good bacteria.
- Increase pancreatic enzymes to help break down your macro nutrients [carbs, fats proteins and more].Take a broad spectrum digestive enzyme with your meals.
- If you suffer with heartburn or acid reflux, add ½ – 1 teaspoon of apple cider vinegar [ACV] to water pre meals. ACV mimics the acidic environment and many report reduced symptoms of reflux or heartburn after use, which is logical, since many times these conditions are caused by too little stomach acid, rather than too much.
- Remove trigger foods for a limited amount and observe improvements i.e. most common ones are gluten, sugar, coffee ,dairy, and alcohol. Book in for a nutrition consultation if you need support
- Improve your flora. Creating healthier, more resilient bowel flora is critical. Gut flora is the backbone of your immune system and helps formulate nutrients etc. When your flora isn’t healthy, your intestines don’t work right and symptoms can
- Consider adding in beneficial yeast called saccharomyces boulardii. The most research has been done on this strain regarding its general use to make your intestinal tract healthier, stable and repair damage done by antibiotic use.
- Heal your gut lining with nutrients and foods [see point 10]. A weaker gut lining from prolonged use of NSAID [anti-inflamms] and stress can cause havoc in your digestive health.
- Fibre: Adding fibre to your diet helps to “sweep” through the intestines. Dietary fibre helps decrease inflammation, as it is also metabolised by gut bacteria into short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs),and support cellular integrity.
- Additional Supplements: Glutamine and N-acetyl glucosamine (NAG) helps to rebuilds the intestinal lining and collagen. It’s what your body uses to repair itself. Glutamine feeds the cells that repair the junction between your individual colon cells raising your intestinal resiliency. This heals the nerves, so cramping is no longer a factor. Bone broths have been popularised lately because they contain NAG.
- Deal with your stress, which can alter the gut nervous system and changes the normal bacteria in the gut.
- Work with a nutritionist to spot any nutritional deficiencies and address root causal issues.
If you want to be fit and healthy, you have to get your digestion working optimally. Digestion is a central gear in your overall health, contentment and immune function. Use these simple strategies, and know that your intestinal health can be restored in no time!
Nutritionist [Functional Medicine]