WELCOME TO Chapter 15 of BEYOND TRAINING: MASTERING ENDURANCE, HEALTH & LIFE, IN you’re going to discover what happens when your digestion goes wrong, how to hit the reboot button on your gut, and the best ways to detox your body.
As my toes dug into the Spanish sand, part of my body anticipated the blasting air horn that would start the 2012 Long Distance Triathlon World Championships, and send me sprinting out into the water for a grueling 2.5 mile swim, 75 mile bike and 19 mile run.
The other part of my body was messed up. My eyes were bloodshot from severe lack of sleep, my gut had a deep gnawing pain, and my usually sprite pre-race muscles felt drained and empty.
No, this was not a result of a nasty Rioja wine drinking binge, too many Café Largo’s the night before, or some kind of stomach bug.
It was simply me experiencing the same sub-optimal state that has been described to me over and over again by athletes who I coach, whether during a training workout or before an important race: that dead feeling of being completely exhausted and unable to dig when the workout or race intensity begins.
It’s been so long since I’ve arrived at a triathlon starting line in that state, I had forgotten what it feels like to have a frustratingly un-responsive body despite perfect training, a good taper, and very low emotional and lifestyle stress.
Six hours and thirty minutes later, I stumbled across the finish line after one of the most painful and uncomfortable races of my life, complete with gastrointestinal distress, vomiting, the inability to “keep food down”, and most importantly, that distinct frustration that accompanies these problems and is the bane of marathoners, cyclists, triathletes and anyone else who needs to simultaneously eat and perform.
Some call these problems “gut issues”, and others “a weak stomach”, but regardless of the nomenclature, my personal experience was a loud and clear reminder: arriving at a starting line ready to race at 100% of your capabilities means taking care of your gut, especially during race week.
Otherwise, by abusing or neglecting a section of your body that is even more exposed to external environments than your skin, you’re setting yourself up for subpar performance that unfortunately is often simply accepted as part of the fueling perils of endurance events.
So what is it about the gut that can create this kind of dreaded pre-race or pre-workout condition in athletes, and what can you do to avoid yourself not feeling 100% on the day of a big workout or on race morning, and to get that complete confidence that you can simply eat your planned fuel and focus primarily on performing, pacing or racing?
Whether you want to spend less time on the toilet, have embarrassing and uncomfortable gas and bloating, or experience cravings and mood issues that seem extremely related to food, you’re going to find out what you need to know in this chapter. But first, let’s take a look at why it’s such a big deal if your digestion goes wrong.
What Happens When Your Digestion Goes Wrong
You’re not alone if you think of your gut as one long twisting garden hose that extends from your mouth to your butt.
Heck, even the classic Gray’s Anatomy – a go-to manual for every aspiring medical student – describes your gut as…
But the gut is way more complex than that tiny sentence makes it sound.
For example, 3/4 of your immune system is in your digestive tract.
And that entire immune system is protected from the external environment by a thin, fragile lining that is only one cell-thick layer. If that lining is damaged and the barrier becomes penetrated, crazy things happen. You become allergic to foods you normally would have been able to digest just fine, you get sick much more easily, your immune system become overactive, and and a result, your body becomes overrun by inflammation.
Your gut is very much alive and crawling with critters too. Over 500 species and 3 pounds of bacteria in your digestive tract form a giant ecosystem that helps you to digest food, regulate hormones, excrete toxins, and produce vitamins and other healing compounds that keep your gut and your body healthy.
If that ecosystem is out of balance, then a bacterial imbalance called gut “dysbiosis” is the result, and in this chapter, you’ll learn how disruptive that imbalance can be to your performance.
Your gut is intimately tied to your brain and mood too.
This is called the brain-gut connection (very similar the the brain-heart connection you learned about in chapter 7) and author Jordan Rubin describes this relationship quite well in his book “Patient, Heal Thyself“:
“Early in our embryogenesis, a collection of tissue called the ‘neural crest’ appears and divides during fetal development. One part turns into the central nervous system, and the other migrates to become the enteric nervous system. Both ‘thinking machines’ form simultaneously and independently of one another until a later stage of development…
…Then the two nervous systems link through a neural cable called the “vagus nerve,” the longest of all cranial nerves. The vagus nerve “wanders” from the brain stem through the organs in the neck and thorax and finally terminates in the abdomen. This is your vital brain-gut connection.”
-You get butterflies in your stomach before going on stage…
-You can get nervous or stomach cramps before a hard workout or race…
-Why antidepressants cause nausea and stomach upset, and stomach upset can depress you…
-Why overeating when you’re anxious helps you produce extra “feel good” chemicals…
-Why stress makes you want to eat more…
-Why food intolerances or gut inflammation can cause serious behavioral issues…
-Why an unhealthy gut can make you feel stupid or sluggish…
And then there’s your liver, which is also part of your digestive system. Your gut has to somehow get rid of all the toxins produced as byproducts of your metabolism by circulating food components to your liver. If liver or gut is no functioning properly, your body becomes toxic and your health greatly suffers.
Your liver destroys old red blood cells, manufactures proteins and blood-clotting agents, manufactures cholesterol, stores glycogen, fats and proteins, converts fats and proteins to carbohydrates and lactic acid to glucose, transforms galactose (milk sugar) into glucose, extracts ammonia from amino acids (proteins), converts ammonia to urea, produces bile, stores fat soluble vitamins, converts adipose fat into ketone bodies, and neutralizes pharmaceuticals and alcohol (14).
So just imagine what happens if that important organ gets broken.
However, if you flip through the pages of most sports nutrition manuals, you’ll usually read that any amount of gut issues, bloating, indigestion or gas is simply due to excessive calorie consumption during exercise. Yeah, that’s right, you ate too much cowboy. Next time back off the Gatorade.
And while it’s true that feasting on gels, sports bars and energy drinks during a workout can certainly cause you to slow down and experience mild to severe stomach discomfort, the reasons for gut issues can go way beyond simply “eating too much”.
From the digestive glands in your mouth to your esophagus to your gallbladder to your stomach to your small intestine to your colon I could go on and on with examples of where things can go wrong inside your “giant garden tube”.
As a matter of fact, there are huge comprehensive manuals and websites out there on gut issues. One of my friends, Konstantin Monastarsky, actually has what I would consider to be the single most useful, non-run-of-the-mill, resourceful website on gut health that exists.
And you want to dig into the specific anatomy and physiology of the gut even more, I’ll also end this chapter with some of my favorite gut resources for you.
But in this chapter, I’m going to specifically focus on 9 primary issues that I’ve observed to especially create problems for very physically active people and athletes – which is my wheelhouse. I’ll tell you how to test for these issues and how to fix them. Sound good? Let’s jump right in!
How To Identify & Fix The 9 Most Common Gut Issues
1) Gluten intolerance
Let’s begin by taking look at the single most inflammatory substance you can find in modern food: gliadin – and it is in this first issue that you’re going to find out what happened to me in that race in Spain.
I have to admit that was a bit hesitant to begin this section by telling you about gluten, simply because it seems that these days everybody and their dog thinks they have a “gluten allergy”, when in fact – as you will learn later in this chapter – many people who think they have gluten issues actually have a completely different problem altogether.
Gliadin is a protein molecule found in most (but not all) gluten-containing foods – primarily the grains of wheat, rye, barley, kamut, spelt, teff and couscous – with wheat being the biggest gliadin containing culprit (1). An inflammatory reaction to gliadin can take place in the small intestines of many individuals who do not have Celiac disease or a full-blown gluten intolerance, but who instead have what is called a “subclinical” sensitivity to gliadin. This is often the case in those with Irish, English, Scottish, Scandinavian, and other Northern European and Eastern European heritages (you can get your ancestry tested at a website like 23andme.com).
You might have this type of sensitivity if you experience a feeling of uneasiness in your gut after being exposed to gliadin, and it’s prevalence means that in most cases, you don’t need to be embarrassed to ask “Is that gluten free?”, especially during a race or important event week.
When gliadin is consumed, there is an inflammatory reaction in the gastrointestinal tract that involves heat, redness, swelling, and a change or interruption in the normal function of the small intestine (Mittag). As your body attempts to fight off a foreign, undigestible substance, blood vessels in the gut enlarge and become more permeable (13). This brings more white blood cells and other immune system cells to the site of injury to provide protection.
In addition, fluids exudates (leaks) from these blood vessels into surrounding tissues, brining more white blood cells into those tissues for enhanced immune protection. A thin filament called fibrin (the same substance used for blood clotting) also forms in the site to aid in the intestinal wall’s physical repair process.
Within 12-15 hours after the gliadin-containing meal has hit the gut and the inflammatory response has occurred, the body’s reaction diminishes and the gut is able to slowly heal, assuming there is no further gluten exposure. But if you eat a gluten-containing food again, the entire inflammatory response and damage to the intestinal wall is repeated. A vicious cycle sets in, similar to if you go for a run on a sprained ankle before letting the injury heal.
And this entire scenario can create some serious issues.
First, there can be a loss of nutrient absorption. Your small intestine is lined with tiny, fingerlike projections called “villi”, which stick out from the wall of the intestine and increase the surface area for absorption by up to 1000 times (which means the absorptive area of your small intestine can be roughly the size of an entire basketball court!). The presence of these villi allows you to efficiently absorb significant quantities of nutrients from your food.
However, any substance like gliadin that irritates the lining of the small intestine can destroy the villi and significantly reduce the total area available for absorption. This not only affects your ability to absorb vital nutrients from the food that you’re eating to support your training and racing, but also results in indigestion as less food is absorbed in your intestine. Typically, this manifests in gut bloating, feelings of tiredness, a hyperactive bowel, and very sizeable or uncomfortable bathroom stops – especially during exercise.
Next, there can actually be an increase in the permeability of your gut. Your gut permeability already increases a bit as soon as you begin exercising, especially if you’re exercising in the heat, but what we’re talking about now goes way above and beyond that permeability. Your small intestine also has mucosal lining – which is the same type of tissue that lines your sinus passages, your lungs, your urinary tract, your mouth and your throat. The reason these areas are lined with mucosae is to defend your body from infection. Under the chronic inflammatory stress you experience with repeated gliadin exposure, the mucosal tissue breaks down and your gut becomes extremely permeable, resulting in an uncomfortable condition you may have heard of called “leaky gut syndrome”.
Leaky gut syndrome is like having a water filter installed on your house that has big holes in it everywhere. Anything you don’t want to be drinking suddenly ends up inside you because it hasn’t been filtered. In the case of leaky gut, this means that undigested food particles, particularly proteins, pass through the intestinal barrier and into the bloodstream, resulting in an immune response in the blood and an enormous amount of immune stress as your body tries to fight off these foreign invaders that aren’t supposed to be in your bloodstream (8).
As I mentioned earlier, gut permeability is already increased with exposure to heat and during intense exercise. When combined with a leaky gut from gliadin exposure, you vastly increase your chances of getting sick, feeling “brain fog”, having a hard time sleeping, and feeling much less than adequate – just like I did when I arrived at the starting line of that race.
But nutrient malabsorption and leaky gut aren’t the only issues. Regular consumption of gluten foods can also cause fat malabsorption and lactose intolerance – even if you weren’t prone to those annoying and embarassing issues in the first place.
For example, in the tips of those villi that can be destroyed by inflammation are “lacteals”, which are responsible for breaking fat down into tiny, absorbable droplets (26). When these lacteals are compromised, you lose the ability to properly absorb fat, which is crucial for hormone formation and cell membrane building. You also miss out on absorption of fat-soluble vitamins such as Vitamin A and Vitamin E, as well as essential fatty acids. And yes, this means you may not be getting any benefit from that expensive fish oil pill you’re popping.
You’ve already learned about the importance of fat, so as you can probably imagine, fat deficiencies can also result in poor blood sugar control, inability to repair central nervous system damage, poor nerve cell function, low hormone production, low antioxidant levels, and many other issues.
Then there’s the issue with lactose intolerance, which is also aggravated by gluten. As you probably know, milk products contain lactose sugars, which are normally digested by lactase, an enzyme that breaks down the milk sugars to a digestible and absorbable form.
However, because a damaged intestinal wall cannot properly produce lactase enzymes, lactose intolerance often accompanies gluten intolerance – and people who can normally eat foods like cheese, yogurt or ice cream simply cannot do it when gliadin is present in their diets, and this is why it is necessary to avoid milk products for several months after going “gluten free”.
Of course, on the brightside, after giving up bread, many people find they can comfortably eat ice cream.
So now you’ve learned that gliadin exposure from consumption of gluten-containing foods can cause inflammation, nutrient loss, leaky gut, fat malabsorption and lactose intolerance. You’ve also learned that the consequence of these problems can be gut discomfort, poor food absorption (especially while exercising in the heat), lots of bathroom stops, feeling of extreme tiredness, and trouble focusing or getting motivated.
With this understanding, we can come full circle to the reason that I and many other athletes experience frustrating gut issues, especially when traveling to a race. Let’s use the race I described earlier as an example.
I am about 90% gluten-free in my day-to-day training and 100% gluten-free the week of a race – and I never get gut pain or experience trouble holding anything down during a race. However, just twice during race week, I ate Spanish tapas (high amounts of wheat in even just a couple of these), nibbled bread at dinner (even small amounts of bread pack a large gliadin punch) and ate a few scoops of gelato in a gluten-based ice cream cone. These exposures may seem small, silly or trite compared to a big bowl of pasta or an entire baguette, but when it comes to inflammation, even these seemingly insignificant exposures are enough to set off a chain reaction in the gut for anyone with even mild gliadin sensitivities – and they left me sleepy, tired, bloated and in subpar condition on race morning.
So what can you do about gliadin-related gut issues, what are you “allowed” to eat during to eliminate these type of gut issues, and what should you avoid?
You can flip back to chapter 11 to review a bunch of gluten-free meals, but below is a basic list of easy-to-find foods that will give you ample calories (even giving you some carbohydrates you can eat during something like a race week if you’re not doing the whole ketogenic, low-carb thing). But these foods will not expose you to the chain-reaction of inflammation from gliadin.
–Beef, pork, lamb, bison, buffalo
-Chicken, turkey, duck
-Tuna, salmon, trout, halibut, swordfish, shrimp, clams, mussels, crab or lobster
-Any beans except soybeans
–Corn or corn tortillas and corn chips
–Wild rice, basmati rice, brown rice, black rice, white rice, rice flour
–Potato, sweet potato, and yam
-Amaranth, buckwheat, chia, millet, quinoa, sorghum, kamut, einkorn, spelt and teff (which are sometimes called “ancient grains” because each was an important food source for ancient civilizations, and although not 100% gluten-free, are much lower or non-existent in gliadin content compared to modified, high-yield wheat crops). Most of these grains you can get at health food stores, sites such as Vegefood.com, ethnic food stores, or online speciality grain stores like KingArthurFlour.com.
–Wheatgrass and barley grass (has no gliadin protein)
If you want the “gold-standard” test for gluten sensitivity and gluten intolerance, I highly recommend you speak with your physician about ordering you a test through Cyrex labs, which has the most thorough gluten reactivity screening you’ll find anywhere.
Finally, if you do get exposed to gluten, there are some supplements you can use to help break down the gliadin. These are called peptidases, and often sold under the name “gluten enzymes“. To heal a broken gut lining or reduce gut permeability, you can also include supplements such as marshmallow root, licorice extract, colostrum, L-glutamine, aloe vera juice, probiotics and digestive enzymes.
My recommended resource for these type of gut-healing compounds are 1-2 servings of bone broth or organic gelatin per day, combined with daily use of a Gut Healing Pack I designed (pictured right), used exactly according to instructions that come with the pack. The Gut Healing Pack is comprised of probiotics, digestive enzymes, colostrum, cleansing herbs, and oil of oregano.
Colostrum has even been shown to improve athletic performance by reducing gut permeability caused by heavy exercise, improving measures of performance, and supporting lean mass maintenance.
When used in conjunction with a gliadin-free, dairy-free diet, these strategies will help give you that envied iron gut.
As prevalent as gluten issues can be, many people think they’re gluten intolerant and they’re not. This can especially be true if you are eating healthy ancient grains (e.g. spelt
A recent study actually found that people with self-reported “gluten sensitivity” actual had zero bad gut effects from eating gluten and instead experienced complete elimination of their gut issues after they simply underwent a dietary reduction of fermentable, poorly absorbed, short-chain carbohydrates – also known as FODMAPs (2).
Specifically, researchers reported that:
“In all participants, gastrointestinal symptoms consistently and significantly improved during reduced FODMAP intake, but significantly worsened to a similar degree when their diets included gluten or whey protein.”
In other words, it may not be gluten (or, incidentally whey protein) that could be causing your gut to become upset, but rather the combination of these foods with FODMAPs, or the presence of FODMAPs all by themselves.
How could this happen?
To understand, let’s back up for a moment and look into what FODMAPs really are. Many of the foods that we commonly eat, even in a healthy diet, are what are called “high-residue” foods. This means that these particular foods, when being digested, leave a lot behind for bacteria to feed on, and when bacteria feed and proliferate, they ferment.
When bacteria is fermenting in your gut, the result can be bloating, cramping and gas.
So what kind of foods have a tendency to ferment more or ferment faster than others? These foods are the FODMAPs referred to above.
FODMAP stands for “Fermentable, Oligo- Di- Mono-accharides And Polyols”, and basically, these are sugars that you can’t actually digest – so they end up feeding bacteria, creating fungal overgrowth in your digestive tract, and throwing off the entire balance of the ecosystem in your gut (FODMAP).
Sometimes, in addition to bloating, cramping, gas, constipation or diarrhea, FODMAPs can also create symptoms outside of your gut, such as depression, fatigue, headache or brain fog (which makes sense, since your body creates a significant amount of your neurotransmitters in your gut – it’s that’s whole brain-gut thing you already learned about).
So what kind of foods fall into the FODMAPs category? I’m going to list them below, and while I’m certainly not advocating that you completely cut these foods out of your diet, you may find that when you consume high amounts of the following foods, especially eaten in one meal or one day, you get some significant gut issues…and when you eliminate these foods, you may find that you can eat gluten-containing foods just fine (Reducing fermentable…).
1. Fruit, agave, and honey
Fructose is fructose-based fruit sugar and a monosaccharide (the F and the M in FODMAPs). Fruits that are higher in fructose also fall into this category (like melons and citrus fruits such as mango). Fruits high in polyls (sugar alcohols) such as apples, peaches and pears would also be included. Many sweeteners also contain fructose, such as high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), honey, and agave. And of course, fructose is a major ingredient in most gels and sports drinks, so if you find that sports gels mess you up, this could be why.
2. Beans and lentils
Oligosaccharides are short strands of simple sugars and all beans and lentils fall into this category. Maltodextrin, which is found in many, many sports gels, is also an oligosaccharide.
3. Wheat, onions, and cabbage
Wheat is also an oligosaccharide, and in addition, contains sugar called fructan. Wheat is found in many sports bars and energy “chews”, and fructans are also found in cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage and cauliflower, onions, scallions and garlic.
Lactose, the sugar found in dairy (especially unfermented forms of dairy such milk, as opposed to yogurt or kefir) is a disaccharide. You’ll also find large amounts of lactose in many post-workout recovery beverages.
5. Sugar Alcohols
Examples of sugar alcohols, which are found as an ingredient in many packaged or processed foods, are xylitol, maltitol, and sorbitol. You’ll commonly find these in sugar-free or “health” foods, and also in items such as diabetic candy, toothpaste, and chewing gum.
But as you may already know from personal experience and pure common sense, sitting down and eating an entire plate of sautéed onions is probably going to give you gas (due to the fructan content that you just learned about).
You also probably wouldn’t mow down a few bowls of beans and lentils, or eat a smoothie made of 4 or 5 apples, and expect to not have something funky going on in your gut.
But in the same way that baked beans and apples can cause an issue, you can also create a nuclear bomb in your gut by consuming 50-100 grams of fructose and maltodextrin per hour from sports gels during a triathlon or marathon, downing a wheat-filled energy bar each afternoon at work, or sucking down lactose-laden recovery shakes after a workout.
There’s not really a good test for FODMAPs aside from simply eliminating the big triggers from your diet and observing how you feel. This is basically an “elimination diet” strategy. So if you have gas, bloating, indigestion and other problematic gut issues, I’d highly suggest you print the chart below, hang it on your fridge, try a low FODMAP diet for a week, and see what happens.
3) Insufficient digestive enzymes or low enzyme activity.
This is a problem I tend to often see in people who stress their guts with high amounts of food and also eat before, during or after exercise or in a stressed post-workout state.
When you eat a meal, or even an bar, energy gel or, sip of sport drink, your digestive system (primarily your pancreas and small intestine) secretes enzymes that break down proteins, carbohydrates and fats into useable nutrients that can pass from your intestine to your bloodstream.
For example, foods such as meat, eggs, and beans consist of giant molecules of protein that must be digested by enzymes before they can be used to build and repair body tissues (15). For example, an enzyme called pepsin exists in the juice of the stomach and this starts the digestion of swallowed protein. Then, in the small intestine, several enzymes from the pancreatic juice and the lining of the intestine complete the breakdown of these protein molecules into even smaller molecules (amino acids).
These amino acids can then be absorbed through the small intestine into the blood and then be carried to all parts of the body to build the walls and other parts of cells.
But in many cases, the amount of food you eat can often exceed the capacity of your digestive enzymes (very typical among high-calorie consuming, active individuals)…
…or your pancreas or small intestine have a genetic inability to produce a certain enzyme (such as lactase, which digests lactose sugars in dairy products and is deficient in folks with lactose intolerance)…
…or your gut is ravaged from periods of poor eating, gliadin exposure, etc., and simply unable to produce adequate enzymes…
…or enzymatic activity is downregulated due to high levels of physical activity – such as when you try to down a protein shake a few minutes after walking in the door from a hard run.
For example, if pepsin isn’t working properly or isn’t present, then proteins are not completely digested, and undigested protein particles are more likely to make their way into the bloodstream through the intestinal wall with other nutrients. This results in the problematic phenomenon you already learned about called leaky gut syndrome.
So how do you know if you have a digestive enzyme insufficiency?
The best way to know is with a stool test such as the GI Effects Kit from Metametrix, which will measure how well you’re digesting your food and how well your pancreas is producing digestive enzymes. Most doctors won’t run these tests, and they may not be covered by insurance, but you can oversee the entire process yourself, and usually the report that you get along with the test results is pretty self-explanatory.
You can also pay attention to symptoms. Symptoms that suggest you might have problems with digestive enzymes are:
-Gas and bloating after meals
-Feeling like you have food sitting in your stomach after you eat
-Feeling full after eating just a few bites of food
-Seeing undigested food in your stool
-Frequent and consistent floating stool
-An “oil slick” in the toilet bowl (this indicates undigested fat)
The fix for digestive enzyme issues is actually pretty simple.
First, clean up your diet using some of the strategies you’ve already learned about, so that your gut is able to adequately produce digestive enzymes.
Second, eat more slowly and avoid rushed, hectic meals.
Next, jumpstart the process of digestion by simply taking digestive enzymes before you eat. Prior to large meals or downing a big steak, I personally pop two digestive enzyme capsules called “Caprazymes” before my two biggest meals of the day (especially before pre-race or big workout meals) and I’m good to go.
Finally as you’ll learn in the upcoming chapter on race week protocols, I also prefer to blend and juice most of my foods on race week and before big workouts. This seems to help tremendously.
4) Insufficient gut bacteria.
A healthy human body carries over 100 trillion microorganisms in the intestines, which is ten times greater than the total number of human cells in the body. The metabolic activities performed by these bacteria resemble those of an organ, and these microorganisms perform a host of useful functions, such as training the immune system, attacking foreign invaders (like food poisoning compounds, toxins, etc.), preventing growth of harmful, pathogenic bacteria in your gut, regulating the development of the intestinal lining, producing vitamins such as biotin and vitamin K, and even producing hormones (10).
So how can you develop insufficient gut bacteria?
In my article The Art of Using Antibiotics – How To Limit the Damage (which I highly recommend you read if you are or ever have been on antibiotics), I point out how pharmaceuticals can deprive your body of precious probiotics.
In addition, an extremely low-fiber diet can also result in insufficient gut flora (20). This is because prebiotics are fiber-based sugars that you get from fruits and vegetables, and these provide food and sustenance to the probiotics.
Insufficient intake of fermented foods rich in good bacteria can also be an issue, especially in a modern, Westernized diet. Unfortunately, most commercial probiotic foods that you buy at the grocery store have been pasteurized, packaged improperly for keeping good bacteria alive, or treated with high amounts of added sugars to satisfy a palate conditioned to sweet foods.
If you do have insufficient gut bacteria, you’re likely to experience some serious performance-inhibiting issues, including:
-Complete absence of gas (yes, you actually stop farting)
-Undigested fiber in stool, which can be seen as white or dark specks.
-Constipation, with occasional periods of diarrhea or irritable bowel syndrome.
-Frequent sickness and allergies
-Neurological problems and brain fog
If you suspect you may have insufficient gut bacteria, I recommend a Comprehensive Stool Analysis Kit to test for presence of bacteria. If you discover that you have a bacteria insufficiency or you have many of the symptoms described above, you have to repopulate your gut with good bacteria, get adequate amounts of prebiotics, and replace any bacteria that’s been wiped out by an antibiotic protocol, I recommend a one-two-three combo:
1) consume a wide variety of fermented foods with natural amounts of good bacteria (read a comprehensive article I wrote at WellnessFX to see exactly how to find fermented foods and prepare your own fermented foods);
2) consume a full spectrum probiotic such as Caprobiotics, and if you’ve ever been on an antibiotic protocol, also add in the probiotic Saccharomyces Boulardii (Jarrow Formulas is good brand). Taking Colostrum with probiotics helps the bacteria colonize your gut.
3) consume high amounts of vegetables and moderate amounts of fiber to feed the probiotics, or include a greens supplement that is rich in prebiotics, such as Enerprime.
Finally, if your bacterial insufficiency includes a strange absence of gas accompanied by frequent constipation (which can often happen if you’ve been on some big antiobiotic regimens) and you simply want the shotgun, nuclear bomb, fix-everything-all-at-once approach, the best solution I’ve found is called the “Colorectal Recovery Program“. It totally eliminates the issue by literally “infecting,” or, as a microbiologist might say, “reinoculating” your large intestine with bacterial strain. This formula has saved my ass (quite literally) after having to take antibiotics.
5) Too much gut bacteria.
Something called “Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth”, also known as SIBO, tends to fly under the radar, but can be especially problematic in athletes who have been consuming a traditional high carbohydrate diet, because bacteria in the gut tend to feed quite readily upon sugars and starches. As a matter of fact, I think this is a hugely underdiagnosed issue.
Basically, SIBO is a chronic bacterial infection of the small intestine (3). The actual infection is with bacteria that would normally live in your gastrointestinal tract but have abnormally overgrown in a location that is simply not meant for that many bacteria.
These bacteria interfere with your normal digestion and absorption of food and are associated with damage to the lining or membrane of the SI (leaky gut syndrome, which I prefer to call leaky SI in this case). This can be a serious issue, because the bacteria:
-Consume some of our food, which over time leads to deficiencies in bacteria’s favorite nutrients such as iron and B12, which can cause anemia.
-They consume food unable to be absorbed due to SI lining damage, which creates more bacterial overgrowth (a vicious cycle).
-After eating our food, they produce gas, which causes flatulence, abdominal bloating, abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea or both.
-They decrease proper fat absorption by “deconjugating” bile, which leads to deficiencies of vitamins A & D (and those lovely fatty stools).
-Through the damaged lining of the gut, larger food particles not able to be fully digested enter into the body, and your immune system reacts to these, creating food allergies and sensitivities (leaky gut rears it’s ugly head once again).
-Bacteria themselves can also enter the body and bloodstream. Your immune system reacts to these bacteria and their cell walls, and this can produce something called endotoxemia, which causes chronic fatigue and stress the liver.
-The bacteria excrete acids which in high amounts can cause neurological and cognitive symptoms.
So how do you know if you have SIBO?
1. In addition to experiencing many of the signs and symptoms listed above, when you have SIBO, you actually react pretty badly when you consume fermented foods such as kombucha and kefir, and even can get irritable bowel syndrome from consuming probiotics – which basically dump bacteria on top of bacteria. It may seem counterintuitive, but this is a case in which fermented foods could actually be bad for you.
2. You can order a simple, at-home breath test that measures the amount of gas produced by bacteria. I recommend the Quintron Breath Test at BreathTests.com.
If you have SIBO, a combination of low-carbohydrate intake, juicing and herbal cleanses can fix the issue – but this can be pretty difficult to pull off when combined with an intense exercise program, so you’ll probably need to save this one for an off-season fix or just take 30 days off while you fix the issue. There are a variety of SIBO healing programs out there, but one basic protocol is:
-If you have a juicer, juice 1-2x/day with fresh plantain leaves, 1/4 medium cabbage, 2 small to medium beets, 2 carrots, 2 stalks celery, 1 piece ginger
–Use herbal antibiotics and tinctures daily, such as goldenseal extract, phellodendron, coptis, cordynopsis, garlic extract, and oil of oregano.
If you want to learn more about SIBO and how to fix it, check out the very comprehensive and helpful website SIBOinfo.com.
6) Yeast, fungus or parasites
This is nasty stuff to think about, but harmful bacteria are a fact of life – and I have been shocked at the number of seemingly healthy folks who have tested positive for parasites, yeast and fungus. When these issues are allowed to take over and grow out of control, you get sick more often and you have some serious gut issues.
A parasite is technically defined as a microscopic organism that derives nourishment from its host without benefiting or killing the host. In your body, you can have both parasitic fungi and parasitic yeast, and intestinal parasites are those that live in your intestines and can lead to issues such as abnormal bowel movements, muscle aches and pains, chronic fatigue, insomnia, skin problems and gut discomfort (4).
So how do you get parasites?
They can be contracted in many ways, including raw meat and fish (had sushi lately), polluted water (like open water triathlon swims), contaminated fruits and veggies (all over the place), contact with pets (yes, including your beloved cat or dog), insect bites and travel outside of the country.
For example, after a particularly long triathlon training and racing trip to Thailand that included elephant rides, open water swims in stagnant man made lagoons, liberal consumption of foods (much of it cooked in suspect ways) and many insect bites, I returned and within 3 weeks had some strange coughing, skin rashes and seriously smelly poo. I tested with a home poop panel (the Comprehensive Parasitology Profile from DirectLabs) and sure enough – I had a few nasty critters in my gut.
I opted to take a high-grade oil of oregano four times per day and a supplement called mastic gum two times per day, and I was good to go within a month. I probably got lucky, because many times, parasitic infections require more serious medication and long term treatment. Often, it all depends on the type of parasite you have.
And how about yeasts and fungus?
Yeasts are microscopic organisms categorized as fungi, and the most common culprit for gut issues is candida albicans, which is normally in your body, but can cause some serious problems if it is allowed to thrive and multiply (5). When that happens, you get chronic fatigue, inability to lose weight, sugar and carbohydrate cravings, brain fog, and even food sensitivities or allergies to things you normally would be able to eat. This is an issue very similar to the SIBO you already learned about.
The most common group I see candida albicans in is women who eat lots of carbs – but guys can get this stuff growing out of control too. A low carb diet combined with a cleansing protocol can really help with this stuff (see SIBO recommendations earlier).
Ultimately, I’m a big fan of a high quality GI Panel to do a full scan of exactly what is going on inside your gut. This can be an at-home test that screens H. plylori and pathogenic bacteria, Candida albicans and fungus in addition to screening for many types of protozoa and worms, including C. difficile, Giardia, E. coli, Blastocystis hominis, Roundworm, Toxoplasma, Trichinella spiralis (from pork) and tapeworm.
Basically, in the privacy of your home, a few stool samples are collected (preferably by you, unless you have a very, very nice significant other) and then sent to the laboratory. Results go directly to an office, after which you will receive a personalized letter of recommendations and test results which may include natural anti-parasite herbal formulas, nutritional supplements, diet, and lifestyle changes. You can get these type of Comprehensive Stool Analyses from companies such as DirectLabs (here’s what a sample report looks like).
7) Insufficient stomach acid production
It bugs the heck out of me when I learn that someone with indigestion or heartburn has been prescribed a proton pump inhibitor or some type of other medication that blocks stomach acid (hydrochloric acid, or HCl) production. If someone isn’t properly digesting food, the last thing you want to do is further limit their ability to breakdown food in the stomach!
In many cases, the ironic cause of these type of heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD) issues is inadequate HCl production (also known hypochlorhydria) – often combined with bacterial overgrowth, lack of digestive enzymes and carbohydrate. This is a pretty significant issue, since the sterilization of food by HCl against harmful micro-organisms reduces your risk of being colonized by other micro-organisms (like parasites or fungus). Stomach acid also plays an important role in the digestion of proteins and absorption of minerals and vitamins, and signals the release of digestive enzymes and bicarbonate from your pancreas, which is crucial for digestion (19).
Insufficient stomach acid can cause absorption of partially digested food molecules, which can lead to food intolerances or alleriges. This is because food particles that would normally be digested and absorbed in your upper intestines instead pass through into your lower intestines and provide fuel for yeast or fungus, overgrowth of pathogens, and poor absorption of minerals, vitamins and amino acids. Dr. Carolyn Dean discusses this concept in detail in the article “Why Kill Your Stomach Acid” on my blog.
Low stomach acid levels can be genetic or acquired. A test called the Heidelberg ph test is probably the most accurate way to gauge HCl insufficiency, but it is uncomfortable, invasive and the Heidelberg machines are not easy to find. Blood tests through a company like WellnessFX can give you a decent indication of whether you’re low on HCl, especially if your chloride value is less than 100, and your Co2 level is greater than 27.
However, you can also simply pay attention to your symptoms – in most cases, if you’re getting heartburn after a meal (especially a protein containing meal like a steak), your HCl is probably low.
So what can you do about insufficient stomach acid production? A combination of all of the following can be very effective.
–Add raw, crushed garlic to your diet. It has the natural antimicrobial allicin, which can help to lower levels of harmful bacteria and fungi such as candida.
–If you eat grains, legumes, seeds and nuts, ensure they are soaked (and in many cases sprouted) which will improve digestibility. You’ll learn more about good resources for learning how to do this later in this book.
–Increase your fiber intake by adding a handful of dried prunes or ground flax or chia seed to your diet to encourage healthy bowel movements.
–Add extra virgin coconut oil to your diet by consuming 2-3 tablespoons a day. The stuff has really good antimicrobial properties.
–Avoid simple or refined carbohydrates like white bread, pasta, cookies, cakes, crackers, etc.). Also avoid soda, alcohol, nightshade vegetables like tomatoes, potatoes, and peppers (chili, green, red), wheat and gluten, peanuts, shellfish, excessive caffeine intake, artificial sweeteners like aspartame, sucralose, etc., nitrites (in processed foods like hot dogs, lunch meats, and bacon), MSG, hydrogenated, or partially hydrogenated oils (trans fats) found in most processed foods, deep-fried foods, fast food, and junk food.
–Make some dietary changes by eating more frequent smaller meals instead of fewer large, heavy meals. This isn’t because snacking frequently magically boost your metabolism, but simply because it may be more do-able for you to digest small meals until you’ve fixed the HCl production problem.
–Don’t eat just before bed, but instead maintain an upright position for about 45 minutes after eating. This will allow for easier digestion.
–Do not drink ice-cold water before, during, or after meals, as this can lower HCl production.
-Use the following supplementation protocol:
-1-2 capsules HCl immediately prior to meal. If no burning or indigestion, next day take 1 tablet in the same way. If still no burning or indigestion, next day take 2 tablets in the same way. Continue until you get any burning, then back off.
-1-2 serving organic bitters immediately prior to meal
-1-2 servings CapraCleanse per day
If you want to read up more on the issues with heartburn medications, and the methods you can use to fix insufficient HCl production and GERD, I’d highly recommend you visit this heartburn/GERD section of Chris Kresser’s website, in which he expounds in great detail on the diagram below.
8) Other food intolerances or food sensitivities
Let’s take a look at Joe. He doesn’t know it, but he has a deficiency of the liver enzymes that dissolve fructose. Every time he eats fruits, candies, baked goods, sports gels with fructose and even some vegetables, he feels queasy and tired, and his brain feels foggy. Sometimes, he even gets ravenous and has to eat mountains of pasta or rice to feel good again.
Jane feels exactly the same way as Joe when she consumes foods containing fructose, however, unlike Joe she has adequate liver enzymes, but impaired fructose absorption from a deficiency of fructose carriers in the small intestine.
As you may have guessed, both Jane and Joe would be classified as having a food intolerance to fructose. Joe’s is more related to a digestive enzyme deficiency, while Jane’s is due to a carrier issue.
The term “food intolerance” (also termed “food sensitivities”) is widely used for a variety of unpleasant responses to specific foods or compounds in foods, and while you’ve already learned about things like gluten intolerance and lactose intolerance, you should know that due to one or a combination of six different factors, you could have intolerances to other things too (21). These six factors include:
1) a deficiency, which is a lack of chemicals or enzymes necessary to digest a food;
2) malabsorption, which is an inability of the digestive system to absorb specific nutrients;
3) a sensitivity, which is a hyper reaction to a normal amount of a substance, usually some type of pharmacological compound like a food additive, preservative or coloring;
4) an immune antibody response to food that is mediated by less serious antibodies than a full blown food allergy (e.g. gluten intolerance);
5) a toxin present in food from either contamination or mold (e.g. afflatoxin from peanuts); or
6) a psychological reaction to food from an emotion associated with that food, such as never being able to eat chili without feeling nauseous due to the time you ate chili on a road trip and got car sick.
The most commonly known food intolerances are the ones we’ve already spent time on, such as lactose and gluten, both of which have sparked entire industries of lactose-free and gluten-free foods. But other lesser known intolerances include food additives, preservatives, artificial colors and flavors, fructose, and foods that contain high levels of salicylate, which can include many fruits, juices, vegetables, spices, herbs, nuts, tea, wines, and coffee.
If you experience gas, bloating, frequent bathroom stops or digestive cramping after a meal, it’s highly possible that you have a food intolerance, and there is a compound or multiple compounds in that meal or in your diet that is causing that response. While moderate indigestion is normal from high carbohydrate and high calorie intake, especially during long periods of exercise or racing, it is not normal to have the excessive mucus and coughing, itching, rash, sinus inflammation or headaches that dozens of folks have reported to me after a big workout or race – and these are all potential signs of a food intolerance.
The good news is that with proper identification of specific intolerances, adjustment of dietary intake, and choice of training and racing fuels, food intolerances can become a non-issue.
However, food intolerance testing is confusing to say the least.
Options include breath testing, skin pinprick, a stomach gastroscopy, an intestinal biopsy, stool analysis, skin sample analysis, electrical current testing, muscle testing methods, and more – and there is lots of controversy in the medical and nutrition community about which test is best. Results go all the way from questionable to downright useless.
But if you actually suspect a specific intolerance, this can help to choose the proper test. For example, a fructose intolerance is best identified via a breath test, which measures undigested fructose via hydrogen levels in the breath, whereas a lactose intolerance is better measured via analyzing the blood sugar response to lactose consumption. Meanwhile, an IgG and IgA test (not to be confused with an IgE test for a true food allergy) can test immunoglobulin levels for specific protein based food intolerances, such as chicken or eggs.
You can get these type of food sensitivity tests from companies like ALCAT and Metametrix, or you can get a test called an Enzyme Linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA) methodology, which tests allergies and sensitivities to a variety of common allergens. There’s also a food intolerance test called a US Biotek Antibody Assessment that tests for IgG and IgA. I’ve had that one done and here are what the results look like:
If you cock your head just the right way, you can see the little yellow marks that my doctor placed on these test results.
It was very interesting to see that I apparently have a food intolerance to:
A) any dairy from a cow (not a goat)…
B) and also chicken eggs…
Considering the amount of omelets, raw dairy yogurt, raw dairy cheese, Greek yogurt and even grass fed cattle whey protein bars I was consuming at the time that I had this test performed, I’m not really sure which came first – food sensitivity or the high amount of antibodies naturally circulating in my bloodstream due to the fact that I was actually eating those foods.
And herein lies the problem with blood based food intolerance testing like an IgG or IgA test: the presence of antibodies to certain foods does not necessarily suggest that these foods are causing a harmful or inappropriate immune reaction. Rather, it’s more likely to simply suggest that these are the foods you eat the most often or have eaten the most recently.
As a matter of fact, people who may have been allergic to milk or eggs as kids but eventually outgrew those allergies (which is fairly common), tend to have higher levels of antibodies to these foods. In other words, the presence of the antibodies is actually linked to increased tolerance to those foods, not decreased tolerance. Yet when you test, you may receive a long and foreboding list of foods that you need to avoid (often hundreds of foods!) when in fact this is simply not the case.
So ultimately, I encourage you to simply keep a record for a few weeks of everything you eat and any symptoms that develop in response to specific foods. This can help narrow the list of foods that may be causing problems. The next step is a food elimination diet, in which you simply avoid suspected triggers.
So what do you do if you do indeed discover that you have a food intolerance?
The nature of the food intolerance will significantly affect the steps you take. For example, since a gluten intolerance is related to an antibody reaction and immune system response to gluten, it may be necessary for you to switch to a gluten-free diet.
The same can be said for fructose intolerance, which requires a complete elimination of fructose and sucrose from the diet. In other cases, complete elimination of the food isn’t necessary. For example, if you have a lactose intolerance (like I do), it can be effective to simply take a lactase enzyme pill immediately prior to consuming any dairy foods, or to only eat raw, unpasteurized dairy, which has it’s natural lactase enzymes fully intact and active.
Since multiple food intolerances are quite common, it may be necessary for you to adopt a diet that is free from common food culprits, especially if you are an athlete who is eating thousands of calories each day to support training or competition. If you want an extremely clean “auto-immune diet” that eliminates just about every food sensitivity trigger out there, then check out the Autoimmune Paleo Guide.
I also have a diet program at REVDiet.com, which is a multi-phase plan that begins by rebooting your body, then gradually brings you to a higher calorie intake – say if you were doing something like detoxing and eating clean and then gradually reintroducing higher amounts of calories safely.
9. Food Allergies
Compared to a food intolerance, a true food allergy is usually a much bigger deal.
A food allergy is often accompanied by serious symptoms such as throat swelling or respiratory distress. It occurs when the body’s immune system mistakenly identifies a protein – such as shellfish or peanuts – as harmful. Some proteins or fragments of proteins are resistant to digestion and those that are not broken down in the digestive process are tagged by an antibody called Immunoglobulin E (IgE). These tags fool your immune system into thinking that the protein is an invader, and your immune system, thinks you are under attack and triggers an allergic reaction (7).
These allergic reactions can range from mild to severe, and include hives, shock, a severe drop in blood pressure, dermatitis and other skin reactions, gastrointestinal and respiratory distress, and even life-threatening anaphylactic reactions in which the throat swells and closes, requiring immediate emergency response.
Unlike a food intolerance, you usually know for sure when you have a food allergy, because the response is readily identifiable and usually very uncomfortable or severe. Allergic and other hypersensitivity reactions to foods can actually characterized by elevated allergen-specific antibody levels in you blood, and you can get IgE tests from online companies like DirectLabs. However, if you suspect you have a true food allergy, it can really be a serious issue, and I recommend you speak with a licensed medical care provider who specializes in allergy treatments.
If you do want to go an alternative route, you can also look into Nambunripad’s Allergy Elimination Techniques (NAET) at NAET.com, or Sublingual Immunotherapy (SLIT), in which increasingly greater doses of the substance to which you’re allergic is administered by placing a few drops under the tongue. An alternative medical practitioner could walk you through either of these methods (and I used the latter to successfully cure one of my twin boy’s of bee allergies, and the other of peanut allergies).
Quick Gut Summary
Perhaps your head was spinning as you read through each of the 9 gut issues just described and thought “I have that!”…”No wait…I have that!”. Don’t worry. It’s very typical for gut issues to be multi-factorial – and often people have a blend of bacterial imbalance, food intolerance or allergy, leaky gut, a toxic liver, etc.
The very best place to begin is by:
A) testing and paying attention to symptoms;
B) cleaning up the diet and using nutrition supplementation wisely;
C) attempting as much as possible to live in a stress-free state, since stress significantly aggravates any gut issue.
If you’d like to study up a bit more on the the gut, and you need additional resources, I’d highly recommend the following:
–Clean Gut: The Breakthrough Plan for Eliminating the Root Cause of Disease and Revolutionizing Your Health – book by Alejando Junger
–New IBS Solution: Bacteria-The Missing Link in Treating Irritable Bowel Syndrome book by Mark Pimentel
–Gut and Psychology Syndrome: Natural Treatment for Autism, Dyspraxia, A.D.D., Dyslexia, A.D.H.D., Depression, Schizophrenia – GAPS Diet book by Dr. Natasha Campbell McBridge
–Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD Diet) Lifestyle book by Steven Wright and Jordan Reasoner
-Konstantin Monastyrsky’s GutSense.org website
-Dr. Allison Siebecker’s SIBOinfo.com website
So now you’ve fixed your gut. Ready to detox yourself? Let’s keep going…
The Best Way To Detox Your Body
Ultimately, you can fix your gut using many of the methods you’ve just learned about. But if your body has ever been exposed to over-processed and refined foods, chemical additives, antibiotics and pharmaceuticals, pesticides, herbicides, chlorinated water, artificial sweeteners or anything else that might remotely be consider “unnatural”, you should also consider an actual detoxification protocol.
Did you drink many diet sodas?
Eat much non-organic or farm-raised meat?
Chomp on fruits and vegetables without washing them?
Get sick and have to get on a drug protocol?
Engage in a few excessive nights of drinking?
Get exposed to second-hand smoke?
Spend much time around office or household cleaning supplies?
I don’t about you, but the answer for me to many of the items listed above is “yes!”. So I personally detox my body at least once a year – typically in the off-season when my levels of physical activity and exercise are lower.
Think of a detox just like spring cleaning.
Heavy metals, toxins, pesticides and other compounds that your body is unable to metabolize can accumulate in your tissues, cells, and digestive tract (16). Perhaps not to the extent that some of the more extreme folks would have you to believe (e.g. you probably don’t have pounds and pounds of plaque built up in your colon), but there can certainly be enough toxins accumulated in your body to be able to affect the way your metabolism, brain and other important organ systems function and perform.
And when you detox, it really is true that you can feel a whole lot better, and almost “reborn” in a way, especially if it fixes some of the issues that are very common with toxin build-up, such as brain fog, gut distress, chronic fatigue, joint pain, etc.
The whole idea behind doing a detox, or a “cleanse”, is that certain herbal or medicinal components can cause peristalsis (contraction of smooth muscles propel contents through the digestive tract) and more rapid and thorough clearance of compounds from your colon. Other herbal compounds can enhance the ability of the liver’s two detoxification pathways (known as Phase 1 and Phase 2) to bind toxins or excrete toxins. When combined with caloric restriction and light exercise, you can accelerate the rate at which fat tissues are metabolized by the body, and since your body stores many toxins in fat, this can also increase the rate at which your body clears toxins.
In a nutshell: you clean out your digestive tract, pull out toxins from your body, and accelerate fat burning. What’s not to love?
Believe it or not, you don’t need to move to some expensive resort on a mountaintop, or spend literally the entire day on or near the toilet to do a detox or cleanse. As a busy, hard-charging athlete, you probably don’t have the time for that.
So here’s four easy steps to a quick detox for active people. You would simply do the following for one week to one month.
Detox Step 1) Go Easy.
Switch your exercise routine so you’re mostly doing light, aerobic exercise (such as an easy 20-30 minute walk each morning) combined with just a couple weight training sessions per week. Stay away from stressful hard sprints, intense intervals, and voluminous training sessions, as the impact, bouncing, jarring and metabolic stress is not be the best scenario for a fiber-filled gut or a digestive system that is detoxing. Think low stress.
Detox Step 2) Eat Clean.
Completely eliminate all processed foods like chips, crackers, cookies and candy, cut out anything that is non-organic, including non-organic meats, eggs, packaged foods, etc., cut out central nervous system stimulants like caffeine and alcohol and simply eat clean, real food. There are actually specific foods that enhance your gut or liver detoxification pathways, including beets, cranberries, sea vegetables, dandelions leaves, broccoli, flaxseed, lemons, garlic, artichoke, turmeric, and apples.
So a sample day of eating could be:
-Two free-range, omega-3 enriched eggs for breakfast, sprinkled with sea salt, black pepper and turmeric, with a side of steamed spinach or kale and large glass of water with lemon juice. Eat with nori seaweed wrap.
-Glass of 100% pure cranberry juice, handful of blueberries or a pomegranate or other piece of fresh, raw fruit for mid-morning snack.
-Kale smoothie for lunch. Include dandelion leaves, flaxseed and a couple cloves of garlic in smoothie.
-Apple for afternoon snack.
-Mashed cauliflower with wild salmon, sauteed garlic, and steamed beats for dinner.
There are also some really good “clean gut” detox recipes on a free pdf from the CleanGut.com website.
Detox Step 3) Relax.
Get as much sleep as possible, limit your exposure to stress and heavy work-days, and if possible, throw in regular steam-room sessions, sauna visits, or easy hot yoga classes, since your sweat can also remove toxins.
Detox Step 4) Supplement.
There are specific supplements which I highly recommend including to enhance a detox and rapidly speed your body’s ability to remove harmful compounds. Granted, there are a ton of detox supplements on the market, but most give you diarrhea or are chock full of ingredients you’re already getting from eating clean food. The following supplements will support a clean diet by binding toxins and metals, supporting liver detoxification pathways, clearing the gut, and enhancing elimination of toxins via urine and stool – and they all come from very high quality sources:
–Liposomal Glutathione – 2-3 sprays under tongue and hold for 20-30 seconds. Once per day is fine.
-Oral magnesium in supplemental form before bedtime (around 400-600mg/day, or until you get loose stool).
-A high quality greens supplement. One with chlorella is best. I recommend “RecoveryBits” from EnergyBits.com (10% discount code “ben”). Eat 20-30 bits in the morning and evening, or put into daily smoothie.
–2-4 daily capsules of activated charcoal daily (this stuff is actually useful to have around anyways to take prior to any meals that contain potential toxins, such as meat, animal products from unknown sources, foods that tend to give you gas, etc.)
Finally, as mentioned earlier in this chapter, rebuilding your gut lining is important, and can be very complementary to a detox. So include 1-2 servings of bone broth or organic gelatin per day, combined with daily use of the Pacific Elite Fitness Gut Healing Pack which includes probiotics, digestive enzymes, colostrum, cleansing herbs, and oil of oregano.
Because you’ll be moving a lot through your digestive tract, you should expect to spend an extra 20 minutes or so on the toilet in the morning, and possibly again in the evening – depending on how many toxins you need to get rid of. Incidentally, this is where a Squatty Potty can come in quite handy (you can read more about why I recommend this in my blog article “Why You Should Squat To Poop“).
You’re also going to find that detoxing your body goes hand-in-hand with detoxing your home and workplace, and in the lifestyle section of this book, you’ll learn everything you need to know about how to detox your home. For now, you can review my recommended “Detox Gear” by clicking here.
You should also be warned that when you embark on a detox or cleanse, you may experience gas, bloating, unpleasant body odor, rash, hives or other unpleasant symptoms. If this happens to you, be sure to drink plenty of pure, filtered water, which will help you to flush toxins and prevent re-absorption of these compounds.
Of course, no discussion of clean eating or detoxing would be complete without some quick tips on how to mitigate the effects of alcohol. After all, us athletes do like to get our party on every now and again, right?
Most people think hangovers are from dehydration.
But if you’ve followed the sage advice to drink a glass of water for each alcoholic beverage consumed, you still know that even if you hydrate like a champ, you can still wake up feeling less than stellar – and it’s really a myth that hangover is simply “dehydration”. In truth, preventing a hangover is way more complicated than simply drinking oodles of water (or coconut water, or Gatorade, or Pedialyte) along with your alcoholic beverage.
Dehydration is just part of hangover formation. Basically, your pituitary gland produces something called anti-diuretic hormone (ADH), which naturally increases blood pressure by causing your body to retain water. When you drink alcohol, your pituitary churns out less ADH, so you lose more water (that’s one reason the line at the bathroom is so long at the party). However, as soon as your buzz begins to wear off, ADH production is once again increased which causes a rebound of fluid retention, swollen hands and feet, puffiness in tissues like your face and around your eyes, and a headache as blood pressure goes up (11).
At the same time, your kidneys pump up their production of an enzyme called “renin” and a hormone called “aldosterone”, which results in formation of a substance known as vasopressin. As the name suggests, vasopressin increases your blood pressure by causing sodium retention and potassium loss. This is why people with heart problems are most prone to a heart attack during the hangover period after drinking. Your cardiovascular system goes into electrolyte roller-coaster hyperdrive to try and regain fluids.
And that’s not all.
Cortisol works with the hormone aldosterone to balance your electrolyte levels – so when you’re hungover, your body churns out more cortisol. This not only contributes to even more fluid retention, but also causes an increase in blood sugar levels by converting amino acids into glucose in your liver (also known as gluconeogenesis). As your blood sugar levels go up, your pancreas churns out more insulin, resulting in abnormal stress on both your pancreas and liver function. These chronically elevated levels of cortisol can also causes catabolism (decreased protein availability in skeletal muscles) as well as a redistribution of body fat from your legs and arms to your belly.
Oh yes, there’s still more.
As you drink and force your body to metabolize alcohol, you’re converting ethanol into acetaldehyde and acetate in your liver, and this causes increased production of tiny blood vessel constrictors called thromboxanes. Thromboxanes also cause blood platelets to stick together (clot formation), and decrease your levels of natural killer cells (crucial to immune system). This surge in thromboxane creates symptoms very similar to what you’d experience if you had a viral infection, including nausea, headache, and diarrhea (25).
Finally, most alcoholic beverages contain something called congeners, which also significantly contribute to hangover symptoms. Congeners, which are found in especially high amounts in dark colored liquors like brandy, wine, dark tequila, and whiskey are comprised of free radicals and positively charged molecules that can significantly disrupt your acid-alkaline (pH) balance and increase your body’s need to step up antioxidant activity to scavenge all those free radicals. As your body goes into fight mode to help you handle the high levels of congeners from excess alcohol consumption, you get gastrointestinal issues, nausea, headaches, and being sweaty, clammy or chilly.
And exercise the next day absolutely sucks. So what can you do about it this milieu of misery? Here are my top 3 ways to specifically detox your body from the effects of alcohol and a long night of post-race or post-workout partying:
1. Electrolyte Load
As you just learned, when you’re in hangover mode your body is holding on to sodium and kicking out potassium. But by getting more potassium into your body before, during and after drinking, you can control the propensity for fuzzy thinking and headaches from dehydration. I’d recommend you not only drink unsweetened coconut water all day leading into a big party, but you also have it on hand for the next day. In addition, for every one to two drinks of alcohol that you have, consume an effervescent electrolyte tablet such as uHydration or GU Brew mixed into soda water or water.
And what about bananas? Since they pack a fairly hefty dose of sugar, I’d leave them out of the equation. You’ll already be getting enough calories from alcohol.
2. Use Cysteine
Cysteine shows up as a primary ingredient in many of the hangover pills and capsules you’ll find available at most pharmacies and drugstores. Basically, cysteine is an amino acid that helps your liver break down acetaldehyde from alcohol metabolism – giving cysteine a bit of a detox effect. You can get cysteine from foods like poultry, oats, dairy, broccoli, red pepper, garlic, onions, brussels sprouts, and wheat germ – but I recommend you try supplements that contain more potent doses of cysteine to help your body quickly metabolize acetaldehyde. In many of these products, cysteine is combined with fumaric acid and succinic acid, which help it to work better.
So the faster you process acetaldehyde, the less severe your hangover symptoms.
One readily available cysteine based anti-hangover supplement, which also contains some additional liver detox herbs like milk thistle, artichoke, goji berry & ginger extracts, is called “Hangover Gone”. Certain extracts derived from compounds like hybrid artichoke bud, and the root of the sarsaparilla plant can be used as liver regenerative, detoxification, and blood-purifying agents. This means they breaks down the toxins your body creates after consuming alcohol and allows the liver to function more efficiently. Another similar product is PreToxx Hangover Cure, which is a time-release anti-hangover tablet that contains Prickly Pear, Milk Thistle and Cysteine.
I personally use Mt. Capra Capracleanse (since I keep that around the house as a gut cleanse anyways) but some people find it gets them almost too regular the next day (if you know what I mean). But for me, the Capracleanse works perfectly for a liver detox, and since I tend to get constipated anyways when I drink to much, I take 3 before drinking and 3 after.
But if you opt not to use Capracleanse, and you decide to use Hangover Gone or PreToxx Hangover Cure, just shake and drink one shot of Hangover Gone before or during your alcohol consumption, or use 3-4 capsules PreToxx both before and after drinking.
If you’re a wino, then this last step is a good idea, especially if you get headaches from the sulphites in wine. Preservatives have been used in the production of wine for many decades, for three purposes:
1. Control undesirable microbial growth;
2. Inhibit browning enzymes;
3. Serve as an anti-oxidant (grape juice behaves like any other fruit in that when it is exposed to air, and begins to deteriorate due to oxidation).
So to preserve the fresh fruity flavor of the grape (and hence the wine), preservatives are added immediately after the grape skin is broken in the making of the wine, and they are continuously used throughout the winemaking process until the final bottling. Most commonly the preservative is added either as a sulphur salt such as potassium metabisulphate (which releases sulphur dioxide gas) or sulphur dioxide gas itself, which is well known as an undesirable pollutant.
Exposure to sulphur dioxide gas is very unpleasant even at quite low concentrations, and typical reactions to exposure to sulphur dioxide are headaches, shortness of breath, sneezing, watery eyes, weezing, sinus congestion and dizziness. Asthmatics are particularly susceptible to sulphur dioxide, and the level of free sulphur dioxide in most wines at bottling is definitely high enough to trigger a reaction.
Unfortunately, the use of preservatives (particularly sulphites) has been a concern for food consumers for many years and many producers have removed them from their products. But it is nearly impossible to produce high quality wine without their use.
Enter this stuff called Pure Wine – available mostly in Australia, but something you could get shipped anywhere. After the addition of 5 drops of Pure Wine to a glass of wine, the level is sulphites is dramatically reduced, but the wine is kept fresh for up to 24 hours after opening. Pure Wine basically produces a blast of oxygen that eliminates the active wine preservative of sulphur dioxide gas, without sacrificing the taste and quality of the wine.
So in summary:
1. If you’re headed out for a night of drinking or a post-race party, and you plan on sticking to wine, just bring some Pure Wine to add to your glass or bottle of vino.
2. If you’re venturing into the world of hard alcohol and beer, choose your cysteine-packed liver detox weapon of choice and take it both before or after drinking, along with an electrolyte-equipped glass of water consumed for every drink of alcohol.
Finally, if you forget to implement the steps above, or for some reason you wake up with a hangover, headache or tummy upset anyways, there are a couple other things you can throw into the mix:
1. For headaches – the natural pain-killer Phenocane (take 4-8 as soon as you wake up). It is jam-packed with curcumin (and other potent natural pain-killing compounds) and can significantly limit the severity of or propensity for headaches. And it doesn’t do a number on your liver like advil, ibuprofen and other NSAID’s.
2. For stomach upset – making your own bone broth and drinking a nice big cup of bone broth in the morning can help your stomach quite a bit, as can making and drinking your own ginger tea. But if that’s too much work for you, you can simply use Bernard Jensen gelatin or Great Lakes gelatin, stirred into hot or cold water or coconut water, or mixed into a smoothie. As you’ve already learned, this stuff can help protect your stomach lining and limit gut damage, and you’re going to especially notice the digestive benefits the day after drinking.
If you’re serious about your performance and recovery, I don’t recommend that you use these tips as license to regularly engage in excessive drinking, but I do realize that hard-charging athletes like to party every once in a while, and this is the kind of information that can come in quite handy every now and again.
Congratulations. You now know everything you need to know about the 9 bad things that happen when your digestion goes wrong, how to hit the reboot button and how to detox your body. Leave your comments, questions, feedback and personal experiences below!
LINKS TO PREVIOUS CHAPTERS OF “BEYOND TRAINING: MASTERING ENDURANCE, HEALTH & LIFE”
Part 1 – Introduction
-Preface: Are Endurance Sports Unhealthy?
Part 2 – Training
–Chapter 4: Underground Training Tactics For Enhancing Endurance – Part 1
–Chapter 4: Underground Training Tactics For Enhancing Endurance – Part 2
–Chapter 5: The 5 Essential Elements of An Endurance Training Program That Most Athletes Neglect – Part 1: Strength
–Chapter 5: The 5 Essential Elements of An Endurance Training Program That Most Athletes Neglect – Part 2: Power & Speed
–Chapter 5: The 5 Essential Elements of An Endurance Training Program That Most Athletes Neglect – Part 3: Mobility
–Chapter 5: The 5 Essential Elements of An Endurance Training Program That Most Athletes Neglect – Part 4: Balance
Part 3 – Recovery
Part 4 – Nutrition
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