Enhance Digestion to Boost Energy
A rock solid digestive system is essential to health and wellness. When your digestion is compromised, your energy levels can plummet because your body isn’t able to maximize nutrient absorption. We all know from the long lines in front of the porta-johns at races that many runners suffer from digestive distress.
Bloating, constipation, and diarrhea are very common symptoms amongst runners. When you’re running high mileage, your blood is flowing away from your gut to your hardworking muscles. Although common, these uncomfortable and disruptive symptoms should not be accepted as normal. Luckily there are many things you can do to improve your digestion, which will give you the energy you deserve to chase down your crazy dreams.
Here are our 10 best tips for improving digestive health.
- Drink Lemon Water
I start everyday with a glass of warm filtered water with fresh lemon juice. Lemon water helps awaken your digestion before you sit down to your first meal of the day. It’s also super hydrating before you guzzle that much needed cup of coffee.
I also love to sip on our Runner's Recovery Tea or Lemon Gingerade (see our recipe in Run Fast. Cook Fast. Eat Slow.) during the day when I’m craving extra hydration and a digestion boost.
- Go Easy on “Health” Foods
Yes you can have too much of a good thing! Runners often go to extremes to get healthy and this can backfire. Sitting down to a large bowl of raw kale can be too much fiber for many of us. If you aren’t used to consuming high fiber foods like whole grains, legumes, and cruciferous veggies, it’s best to introduce them into your diet slowly. I always recommend limiting foods that are the obvious gas-producing culprits like cabbage, beans, grains, apples, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. Yes these foods are healthy, but only if your body can digest them properly.
- Limit Dairy
Unfortunately dairy is hard to digest because of how it is farmed and processed in the United States (and other countries). When I moved abroad to Switzerland, I discovered that I could eat cheese again. Even those who are not lactose-intolerant might experience digestive distress after consuming dairy. That’s because milk (and milk products) are heated to extreme temperatures (ultra-pasteurized) and homogenized (to keep the fat from separating). Pasteurization prevents harmful bacteria, but it also destroys the good enzymes that help us digest milk.
Fear not—you might not have to completely give up dairy to improve your digestion. Over the years, I’ve found that aged cheeses (like Parmesan), raw milk cheeses, whole milk yogurt, and non-homogenized whole milk are much easier to digest. My favorite brand of yogurt is Straus Creamery and my favorite whole milk is Garry’s (maybe only available in Oregon). Trader Joe’s has a great selection of aged and raw milk cheeses. Or try our recipe for homemade cashew milk with ginger (store-bought nut milks are full of additives that can be difficult to digest).
- Eat Slow
There’s a reason why we titled our cookbooks “Eat Slow”. Yet this is still one of the hardest tips to make a reality even for us! If you’ve got kids to feed, savoring a slow dinner is often not possible. I hear ya! But I definitely notice a huge impact on my digestion when I have days where I’m eating on the go. Slow down and enjoy eating! Chewing your food is one of the most important first steps to initiating the digestive process and maximizing nutrient absorption.
- Reduce Stress
If your body is constantly pumping adrenaline and cortisol due to stress you’re directly impacting its ability to digest food. That’s because when we’re operating in a constant “flight or fight” mode blood is flowing away from our digestive systems to prime our muscles to actually fight or run. Our body is assuming that when we’re being chased by a lion, we aren’t going to try to eat a pizza, so to conserve energy the digestive system turns off. But in our fast-paced world, we are actually trying to eat a pizza while being chased by a lion, I mean your boss! And that’s asking for indigestion.
- Add Ginger
At all times I have a knob of fresh ginger hanging out in the fruit basket. I love the taste of ginger, but also it’s amazing for soothing the gut. I use it in my daily smoothie to enhance digestion and fight inflammation. It’s also delicious in sauces and soups. One of my favorite calming dinners is our Flu-Fighter Chicken and Rice Stew (page 108 in Run Fast. Eat Slow.).
- Avoid Eating Right Before Bed
If you’re running high mileage, eating right before bed can be a hard habit to break. Runners are notorious for putting down giant bowls of cereal as a late-night snack (been there, done that!). But feeling super hungry right before bed is usually a sign that you’re not consuming enough throughout the day. Since I eat dinner so early with the kids, I like to have a small bowl of whole milk yogurt and granola before bed, but I try not to eat a heavy meal before sleep. Here’s my go-to mineral-rich Performance Granola that I love as my bedtime snack.
- Carbo Load Smarter
Consuming a giant bowl of pasta the night before a race might leave you feeling bloated and not exactly ready to run at your best. There are other foods that you can consume in the week leading up to a marathon to increase your carb intake without compromising digestion. Two of our favorite digestion-friendly carbs are rice and yams (sweet potatoes).
- Limit Protein Powders
Athletes often feel like they need to supplement with protein powders and protein bars to get enough protein in their diets, but it can be really difficult to digest all this added protein. In fact adding a scoop of protein powder to your daily smoothie might even make it more difficult for your body to assimilate the real food protein in your breakfast egg scramble. If you’re eating a balanced whole foods diet, you’re probably getting enough protein naturally.
- Sip Bone Broth
Bone broth is an incredible healing drink that can help soothe an upset tummy. A rich, homemade broth is high in collagen, which coats the lining of your stomach and intestines like a soothing hug. It’s also high in minerals and has anti-inflammatory super powers to heal an inflamed gut. Read more about the importance of eating foods to fight inflammation. See our simple recipe for Classic Chicken Bone Broth in Run Fast. Eat Slow (page 113).
💕PS - For the entire month of February to share the love, we are giving away autographed Run Fast Eat Slow bookplates (signed by Shalane and Elyse) with every order on our Shop! Check out our inspirational gifts here.
Sipping Lemon Gingerade (fave beverage when I was pregnant). Photo by Alan Weiner.
We are not medical professionals and we always recommend consulting with a doctor.