There is nothing enjoyable about wanting to go do a workout, or simply enjoy a nice hike or run and experiencing gastrointestinal (GI) distress. This feeling can be presented in a multitude of ways and range from slight discomfort to extreme pain and loss of control. We typically see this on competition or testing days where the pressure is on, and quite literally causes our bodies to constrict and force anything “extra” out. There are many causes for GI distress ranging from dietary, lifestyle and mechanical factors.
We unintentionally raise our core body temperature when we are anxious or start exercising. This increase in temperature causes us to sweat, moving us towards dehydration and depleting minerals that are necessary for digestive function. This heightened state also causes our blood to flow away from our digestive tract and to the parts of the body that need it most, like our muscles. The lack of blood flow in our digestive system can cause what we know of as “leaky gut”, the opening of tight junctions in our small intestine.
A leaky gut can be exacerbated by things like gluten and non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (like ibuprofen). How many of us have used pasta to “carb up” before game day? I’m sure most of us can also raise a hand for grabbing some Advil to mask any ache or pain that may impede us on any given day as well. While not everyone has the same experiences and gut microbiota, there are certainly some tactics we can use to help prevent this from happening.
To support the health of our small intestine we can start by avoiding foods that commonly cause gas, bloating, indigestion and other digestive symptoms. This will help reduce our inflammatory response by removing foods we are intolerant to. Foods that tend to cause digestive distress are pasteurized dairy, gluten, refined sugar, spicy foods, caffeine and alcohol. There are also several supplements that can help reduce leaky gut by strengthening the gut lining, repairing tight junctions.
Getting appropriate amounts of prebiotic foods like asparagus and chicory root (which, in a tea form, tastes similar to coffee!) help support digestive function by feeding healthy bacteria. Glutamine can also help support the integrity of the gut lining and can be found in high concentration in meat and seafood. Omega-3 sources like fish oil help reduce inflammation of an irritated gut, and soothing herbs like slippery elm and ginger help rebuild mucosal lining. Utilizing stress reduction tactics also greatly help relieve GI distress.
Meditation and breathing exercises can be extremely useful in lowering the stress and anxiety that can lead to leaky gut symptoms. When we perceive something as a threat, our bodies respond by shifting into “fight or flight” mode, moving all other bodily processes to the back of the line. This survival tactic can be altered if we understand the role our mind has on activating sympathetic (fight or flight) or parasympathetic (rest and digest) states. If we are entering into an unknown challenge, chances are we may feel our “gut drop”. This adrenaline rush can be controlled if we simply channel our thoughts to something positive. By using our mind to assure our body that we are not in danger, it can continue normal functions, and save us a last minute sprint to the bathroom.
Whether GI distress is something we face often or not, it’s important to understand the underlying mechanism, in order to help lessen the negative effects. A leaky gut is the foundation of health issues like autoimmune disease and other nutrient deficiencies. Supporting our bodies by eating nutrient dense foods and learning how to channel our reactions through breathing and meditation will ensure we limit digestive upset and absorb nutrients optimally. Of the few things we can control in life, we choose what we eat, so on our journey to being fit for life, let’s provide our bodies with foods that nourish and support it’s optimal function.
- Levy, Jillian. “These Symptoms Could Mean You Have IBS.” Dr. Axe, 11 Apr. 2016, draxe.com/ibs-symptoms/.
- “Building an Iron Gut – Part I. Causes of GI Distress |.” Eat Sleep Fit, www.eatsleep.fit/endurance-sports/iron-gut-1/.