Your body is like a delicate little flower. How you take care of your body dictates whether it wilts and dies or blossom. The rapid pace of our modern society takes our focus away from the simple things that our body appreciates and longs for: rhythm, movement, nourishment. We often underestimate the importance of the basics when it comes to reaching the results we are working towards.
In this blog series Eat, Sleep, Train Repeat, we are going to talk about how you eat, how you sleep, how your train, and how you recovery can impact your delicate little flower. Let’s get started with how you eat.
We have all heard the saying “you are what you eat”, but this should be changed to “you are what to digest and absorb.” Your food choices influence your personality, thought, recovery, and energy levels throughout the day. Proper nutrition is vital to reaching your full physical and cognative potential and meeting your goals. You need to water and feed your body properly for health, survival, and training.
Proper nutrition is not simply about hitting the right macros, if-it-fits-your-macros-is-not-enough, or eating quality food. It's about producing the right hormones in the body at the right time of the day. Many people are low on energy, storing additional body fat, and not seeing any progress in their training because they have poor food hygiene. It's not simply a question of how clean your food is, its a question about your eating habits and the environment that you choose to digest your food in, this is a simple and very often overlooked aspect that has an impact on you health and performance.
Far too often people eat in a hurry, they don’t chew their food, they don’t taste their food, they don’t enjoy their food, and most importantly they fail to digest and absorb a lot of the nutrients. Yes, you can be eating a “healthy diet” and not absorb the enough of the nutrients that your flower needs flourish. This can impact your energy levels, your ability to think and focus, your ability to train, and your ability to get a good night sleep.
Those who eat on the run are not allowing their bodies to digest the food they are eating. The autonomous nervous system (ANS) has two states: the sympathetic state (fight or flight) and the parasympathetic state (rest and digest). In a sympathetic state, the ANS pumps blood to the muscles so that our body can be prepared to deal with the stress of fight or flight. On the other hand, when stress levels are low, the ANS pumps blood to the digestive system which allows the stomach to break down, digest and absorb the foods we eat.
Interesting fact: The vagus nerve is the longest nerve of the ANS running from the taste buds in your mouth all the way to your butt hole. This means that the vagus nerve is responsible for such varied tasks as heart rate, gastrointestinal peristalsis, sweating, and quite a few muscle movements in the mouth, including speech and chewing.
The vagus nerve can be stimulated via the taste buds which can increase the blood flow to the digestive system. How do we activate the vagus nerve? Historically, many different cultures had traditional vagus stimulant rituals they would follow before eating:
Drinking a hot drink (green tea, miso soup, soup, lemon or hot water)
Positive affirmation - saying grace and thanking their gods for the food they are about to eat. This focuses the mind on the food. Gratitude has been researched and shown to have both an emotional and physical effect on your body. Positive affirmations about your meal have been shown to help increase nutrient absorption and lower inflammation.
Meditation - lowering cortisol levels (sympathetic nervous system) and increasing blood flow to the digestive system (parasympathetic nervous system)
Eating with friends and family - sitting down around a fire or a communal area to enjoy the company of the tribe or the family. Reflecting on the day, telling stories and enjoying food together. Not in front of the TV, iPad or the mobile phone. Remember the vagus nerve can be stimulated by speech.
Other ways to stimulate the vagus nerve include:
Apple cider vinegar - stimulated digestive functions
Chew your food properly - imagine every mouthful you eat may contain a fish bone in it. Chew it carefully and chew it until you are certain there are no bones. Your saliva plays a huge role in breaking down food as it stimulated the vagus nerve. We produce around 1ltr of saliva per day, another reason to stay well hydrated.
Smell your food - The simple act of smelling your food will switch your salivary glands on and get your stomach ready for the meal you are about to enjoy.
Eating at regular times of the day allows the body to find a rhythmic cycle of switching between sympathetic and parasympathetic blood flow. Eating on the run, skipping meals, and changing food times impacts this rhythm.
Taking pancreatic digestive enzymes - help to stimulate the digestive system. On a side note, if you take pancreatic digestive enzymes between meals they can help digest protein structure in the bloodstream and speed up recovery from injury.
Sit down and allow the muscles to relax. Muscle activation move blood away from the digestive system
Avoid eating large amounts of raw foods and cold foods. The stomach is like a hot pot, the more heat you add to it the more it cooks and breaks down the food. Adding cold foods or liquid can dampen the process and slow down digestion.
Avoid drinks with a meal, cold drinks can lower the temperature of the stomach (the pot), and liquid can dilute digestive fluid in the gut and slow down the process. Try to drink your fluids around your meals.
Enzymes in pineapple and pawpaw have been shown to improve digestion
Stress in the form of pollution, exposure to chemicals, food sensitivities, relationship, family, work, and event exercise can have an impact on the digestive system and our ability to absorb vital nutrients. Meditation, breathing, finding your happy place can help lower stress and improve digestions
Stop eating 5-6 meals a day and only eat 3. Each time you eat a meal your body needs to change states and shift blood from the muscle to the digestive system and back again. This creates a rollercoaster of hormones throughout the day. Three simple meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) is much healthier for the body. The only exception to this would be high-level athletes who are training multiple times per day
Gut health - There are 10 times the levels of bacteria in your gut than there are cells in your body. What do you do to improve and maintain your gut health? The positive scientific evidence on the benefits of probiotics and prebiotics continues to grow. A really interesting book "Gut: the inside story of our body's most under-rated organ" by Giulia Enders and David Shaw is worth a read.
Slow cooked meats are easily digested, more so than many other meat cooking methods
Add herbs and spices to your food like curcumin, garlic, and turmeric to help lower inflammation and improve digestion. Herbs are also very high in nutrients.
Add rosemary and/or oregano to your diet as the oils in these herbs can improve gut bacteria balance (good guys v the bad guys)
WATCH spicy foods in the gut, nothing too hot and spicy
NO COFFEE after 12 PM (Always eat PROTEIN before to coffee. Meat and nuts for breakfast before you have your first coffee. Never take coffee on an empty stomach)
Taste the food/break it down/digest it/utilise it
Breath between mouthfuls, eating a meal is not for time.
It may take some time for your body to adjust to these food hygiene practices. However, the payoff will come in the form of improved athletic performance, better body composition, and better resiliency both mentally and physically.
We will talk more about the impact of sleep, training and recovery in the upcoming post. PART 2A