In making the transition to a healthier lifestyle by committing to eat more veggies, fruits and proteins and to hit the gym more regularly, temporary blips in gastrointestinal function are common and not at all abnormal. Certain symptoms - gas, bloating and constipation tend to crop up regularly in those switching up their lifestyle, but fear not: there is plenty that can be done to ease symptoms. Improvements in digestion translate into gains in health, in the gym and in your pursuit of sport.
Luckily, these symptoms tend to be transient and short-lived, resolving in 2-3 weeks all on their own as your gut flora and nervous system (especially the Second Brain, the vast neuronal network that lives in your gut and governs all things digestion) adjust. In the meantime, however, there are some key things to keep an eye out for.
Gas and Bloating: We all know the feeling, right? Most of us have dealt being bloated at one time or another, but daily bloating suggests something about your food or your system isn’t quite right. Gas that is excessive, painful, or strong-smelling enough to knock your socks off is abnormal. Bloating that occurs immediately after meals suggest you may not have the ability to break it down via enzymes, acid and bile, bloating that sets in hours after eating speaks to your gut flora acclimating to its new cuisine.
Be on the lookout for gas-causing ingredients: It’s well known that beans, cabbage and broccoli can make one toot. Yet there is a fairly long list of other foods that can cause gas, whether from their difficulty to digest, propensity towards fermentation, inability to be absorbed in the gut and your own unique reaction to them. Be on the lookout for whey, dairy products, protein powders, protein bars, soy, fructose, FODMAPs, inulin, eggs, fake sweeteners and sugar alcohols. All of these can contribute to gas and bloating.
Relax when you eat: Minding our table manners actually goes a long way towards gastrointestinal comfort. When you eat, have a seat! No chugging down a protein shake while standing at the counter. Sit, eat slowly, chew your food well, and don’t talk with your mouth full. This prevents you from swallowing air that eventually has to escape and puts your body in a more relaxed state from which it can digest optimally.
Stoke your digestive “fire”: Your body uses enzymes, acid and bile to break down carbohydrate, protein and fats into their easily absorbable, constituent building blocks. If we are not producing enough of these factors, the large, unbroken molecules will create gas and bloating. Belching and bloating of the stomach above the belly button are harbingers of this phenomenon. Strong digestive ability - your digestive fire - buffers against gas and bloating. Taking a digestive enzyme with meals can assist your body in breaking down food in addition to supplementing your own production of these important compounds.
Call on some herbs!: Carminative herbs are those that reduce spasm, cramps and gas and are great for symptomatic relief. Chamomile, fennel, anise, peppermint and caraway fall into this category and are available singly or in blends as tea or capsules and can easily be taken with or after meals.
Constipation: It’s common for your system to slow down when you make a dietary change - even one for the better! Dietary changes aside, constipation is alarmingly common. You should be moving your bowels at least once per day, without pain or strain. The large intestine is one of the five major organs of detoxification, unloading spent hormones and neurotransmitters, inflammatory molecules, blood lipids and other compounds that ultimately drive metabolism, health and physical and mental performance. A slow GI tract will have major impacts on these parameters in a negative way.
The deal with fiber: Fiber is one of the first supplements recommended for constipation, yet it’s not always the best one to lead off with. Fiber adds bulk to the stool, but that is often not the problem with gut motility issues, especially in those who are already eating a high veggie diet. It may seem counter-intuitive that you are now eating more fiber than ever, but your bowels have slowed down! This is most often because the gut flora have not adjusted to their new fare, or other things are missing from the diet/lifestyle. Don’t increase fiber consumption or start fiber supplementation without increasing water too - adding fiber to a dry system is a sure way to slow things down and increase gas and bloating.
Healthy fats: Notorious for slowing things down, low-fat diets are not a digestive systems best friend. Fats confer a lubricant quality to the GI tract and also help with cell signaling and communication within the Second Brain, improving constipation in a variety of mechanisms.
More minerals: You’re blowing through them anyway while sweating it out at the gym. Active people use minerals at a faster rate than their sedentary counterparts. Minerals and electrolytes help maintain fluid balance in the gut and restore peristalsis - the rhythmical wave that propels food down and out. Magnesium also helps to relax and dilate the bowel, making movements easier.
Too much stress: Research shows that autonomic dysfunction - overdominance of the fight or flight response in relationship to the rest and digest branch of the autonomic nervous system contribute to digestive symptoms. Restorative exercises such as leisure walking, sleep, meditation, breathing exercises and even sex can help bring about balance in this system by sprucing up “rest and digest” function.
Rule out infection: Particularly in persistent cases, where nutrition is nailed down, food sensitivities ferreted out and enzymes are on board. Dysbiosis is an imbalance of good, beneficial bacteria and problematic ones. If pathogenic bugs are given an opportunity to reproduce, whether from chronic stress, antibiotic use, improper diet or sleep, they certainly will. Infection with parasites, yeast and harmful bacteria is more common than we think. Comprehensive digestive stool analysis (CDSA) is a great evaluation tool for dysbiosis and infection. Small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) occurs when bacteria colonize where they don’t belong - the small intestine. This creates a lot of extra gas, bloating and cramping. SIBO is diagnosed via a breath test that can be ordered through your doctor or online.
Could it be fructose malabsorption? An inability to break down this molecule can cause painful gas and bloating. Not only is fructose found in fruit but it’s also present in grain products. Like SIBO, fructose malabsorption is diagnosed via a breath test.
Take a probiotic: Numerous studies show the beneficial effects of probiotics in those with constipation and functional bowel disorders. Probiotics attenuate issues with gut motility and regularity, can ease spasm, gas and bloating, assist with nutrient absorption and assimilation, and help regulate the gut-brain axis. The end result? A calmer, less painful, more predictable system. The current star in constipation research is a strain called Bifidobacterium infantis, so be sure your formula includes that, in addition to other Bifidobacter and Lactobacilus strains.
There’s always a reason for digestive distress, but never a reason to have to suffer. These reasons can be multi-fold and multi-layered and it can be hard to figure out where to start. I have created the Constipation Correction as a comprehensive, free guide that takes you through the variety of reasons why constipation starts up in the first place, how to navigate the testing world, what a bare-bones diet for constipation relief looks like, plus a variety of protocols designed to target your specific lifestyle, all of which can be tweaked for your individual case.
You can sign up for your free copy here: http://bit.ly/constipationcorrection