10 WAYS TO OPTIMIZE YOUR NUTRITION
10 WAYS TO OPTIMIZE YOUR NUTRITION
This article is for people who are interested in optimizing their nutrition, but are not quite sure where to start. The ten items listed below are seemingly simple, and to many people they seem pretty primary, but they’re super important! My challenge to you is to try incorporating these behaviours over the next week and see if you notice any changes in your digestion and assimilation of the nutrients that you consume. I know you can do it!!
1.) Say hello to breakfast. It’s not a myth that breakfast is one of the most important meals of the day! As glucose levels (blood sugar) decrease overnight, breakfast helps to restore and balance blood glucose levels. This is important in energy production, mood, memory and concentration, which is a crucial component for enhancing training and sport performance. Often times when breakfast is skipped nutrients and energy cannot be made up for by eating later in the day and the individual ends up with a deficit. Try preparing smoothies for an on-the-go breakfast option, or overnight oats if mornings are too busy and chaotic to make meals.
2.) Take a seat! Eat while you’re sitting down. When we stand our sympathetic nervous is activated. This is our body’s fight or flight response. In order to activate the parasympathetic nervous system -that is in charge of rest and digest- we must be sitting down and as relaxed as possible. Sitting down while we eat facilitates better digestion and reduces the possibility of encountering gastric problems. It also allows us to enjoy our food more. So work on enjoying your food from a comfortable seated position.
3.) Slow down while you eat. Work on chewing your food 20+ times – this isn’t just a myth either! Rushing while eating and not chewing food properly hinders the body’s ability to breakdown food into its fundamental components; for instance breaking down proteins into amino acids. Eating slower and paying more attention to the process helps our stomach and small intestines to do their jobs and prepare for the food that they’re about to encounter. By improving digestion of food we increase nutrient absorption potential, improve weight loss or weight maintenance and feel more satisfied with our meals. Try to slow down eating behaviours and take a good 20-30 minutes to eat and enjoy your meal, as it takes roughly 20 minutes for the brain to receive a message that you’re satisfied.
4.) Eat while you’re relaxed. Put down the phone, tablet, gaming system or whatever else you’re doing and take some time to relax and enjoy your food. This habit works similarly to habit number 2. The purpose is to be more mindful when we eat. Pay attention to the food that we’re eating, what we enjoy about the food, the texture, etc. It helps to improve digestibility of the foods that we’re consuming. So work on holding off eating when you’re in a stressed out, angry, tense or upset state. Emotions like these signal to the body that you should be in fight or flight mode, meaning that the sympathetic nervous system is being stimulated. This means that the body shunts blood away from the gastrointestinal system and sends the blood and energy to other vital organs that are used for fight or flight, like increasing heart rate and blood flow to skeletal muscle. This results in food sitting in the stomach, not being digested and eventually putrefying or being passed through the small intestine undigested.
5.) Eat fruits away from other foods. A common misconception that people often make is consuming fruits after having a meal is ok because it’s a healthy dessert. The stomach uses a ‘layering effect’ when digesting foods – meaning that the foods that are consumed first will have access to the highest amount of stomach acid, making it easier to digest foods. Given that fruits don’t require much stomach acid to digest, when consumed last they often sit at the top of the stomach and ferment while your body works hard at digesting the rest of your meal. This fermentation and putrefaction of fruits leads to bloating and discomfort. When fruit is eaten as a part of the meal, like a smoothie or oatmeal, the fruit is digested at a similar rate as the rest of the meal and doesn’t present an issue for digestion. Given this, it is best to consume fruits on an empty stomach – 2-3 hours after larger meals or half hour prior to a meal- as this is the amount of time it takes for the stomach to digest fruits.
6.) When possible, avoid processed foods at every cost, and eat whole foods instead. Although convenient, foods found in boxes or bags at the grocery store contain high amounts of additives, preservative and colours. Common food additives like high fructose corn syrup, monosodium glutamate (MSG), and sodium nitrate/nitrite are added into foods to preserve their quality to be able to sit on store shelves; they also give food more flavour or alter the colour of foods to improve their appearance. These additives are implicated in allergic reactions and common conditions like headaches, asthma, gastrointestinal difficulties, ADHD, and many others. They often stimulate a histamine cascade in the body because of their allergenic potential and create inflammation throughout the body. Not only are these symptoms unwanted, they impede on ability to perform and train. For these reasons avoiding processed foods and taking time to prepare foods is ideal. When this isn’t an option, try reading labels and look for the healthiest options on the shelf.
7.) Say goodbye to soda and sugary drinks. Soda (pop) is one of the most consumed beverages in North America. On average soda contains roughly ten or more teaspoons of sugar per serving! Imagine pouring ten teaspoons of sugar into a cup and see how full the cup is, it would likely be over filling with sugar! All of this sugar is a shock to the body and causes a number of health issues, especially when considering blood sugar management, as it drastically increases risk of diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver. The phosphoric acid in soda also interacts with stomach acid and slows down digestion – so definitely forget about having that soda with a meal – and causes calcium to leach out of the bones increasing risk of osteoporosis. As a result of the high sugar, sodium and caffeine content in soda dehydration, and often chronic dehydration, results. Other issues with soda pop include the use of artificial sweeteners, high fructose corn syrup and unfiltered (tap) water. Try consuming filtered water with lemon, or fruit infused filtered water instead of sodas.
8.) Get those bowels moving. This tends to be a taboo and uncomfortable topic for many people, but the fact of the matter is that it’s natural and everyone needs to be having regular bowel movements. To improve digestion and absorption of the nutrients that are consumed having at least one bowel movement per day helps with this. Adding foods into the diet like ginger, lemon and apple cider vinegar all help to stimulate digestion and get things moving in the desired direction. Increasing the quality and consistency of bowel movements also helps to reduce acidity by decreasing the amount of toxins in the body. This helps athletes to have better mental clarity and focus, and enhances overall performance.
9.) Choose local, organic and grass-fed over conventional. Eating right and getting the most bang for your buck, nutrient-wise, is the goal. Trying to purchase foods that are of higher quality has shown to increase nutrient absorption of foods. This includes things like eggs, beef and chicken. Buying organic or grass-fed meats, eggs and butter when possible is the best way to go. Most of the grains produced in the world are contaminated with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) that are not natural and are foreign to the body. The body has a difficult time recognizing and digesting these GMOs and can result in a number of health implications and gastrointestinal difficulties. It is also much more natural for animals to consume grass and alters the fat content of the animal itself. Buying local and organic can also be applied to other food items as well including fruits and vegetables. This helps to decrease our ecological footprint (more environmentally friendly) and improves the quality of our produce by eliminating GMOs and harmful chemicals like pesticides and herbicides. Make it a fun family event to check out local farmers markets for fresh, local produce and other goodies!
10.) Eat your vegetables! Vegetables are great for alkalinizing the body, providing lots of vital nutrients for energy production, and are an important source of fibre in the diet. Shifting the body’s balance to become more alkaline reduces the risk of injuries and helps with recovery from games and training .The fibre content and water that vegetables naturally contain helps to keep the bowels moving (#8 in the this guide). Fibre also helps to detoxify the body of different kinds of wastes and things that the body no longer needs. Consuming fresh or frozen vegetables is ideal. Take a look at the clean fifteen and dirty dozen for an idea of what vegetables are ideal to purchase organic vs conventional. Adding vegetables to your diet shouldn’t be labour intensive. Try things like adding some spinach and onion to scrambled eggs.
Remember: Nobody’s nutrition is perfect 100% of the time. Aiming for 80+% clean eating will support athletic training, enhance performance and improve overall wellness.