5 Digestion Tips for Athletes

Stomach issues can knock you right out of competition. Here are five digestion tips you can use to improve your health and keep you performing at your maximum potential.

1. Assess your meal size.

Your largest meal should be lunch. This can help you feel balanced and nourished throughout the day. It may also result in more restful sleep since you won't need to digest a large dinner.

To give you an idea of portion sizes, two hands cupped together (or two cups of food) is the maximum volume of food that the average human stomach can hold at a time. Physically active individuals should consider eating smaller portions more frequently throughout the day.

2. Practice food combining.

Fruits are best eaten alone, one hour before or after a meal. Fruit tends to ferment in the digestive tract and can interact with the digestion of other foods.

Eating fruit and dairy products together should also be avoided (such as fruit with yogurt or ice cream) because the acidity of the fruit can rot the milk in the stomach, leading to poor digestion and assimilation.

Avoid combining sweet and sour foods in the same meal. The two tastes counteract one another and may irritate the digestive tract, which interferes with proper digestion. Also avoid complex combinations of food, which include dairy: tacos, lasagna, meat lover's pizza, poutine, chili cheese fries and so on. While you may not react to every one of these foods, avoiding them gives your stomach a welcome break.

3. Tweak your food preparation.

A nice tip from Matthew Remski, a teacher at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine, is that you should limit meals to no more than three different foods at a time. Making complicated meals complicates digestion.

A great rule of thumb is to try to cook all of your food in the same pot. Think: stews, soups, curries, and rice dishes. This allows your stove to partially "digest" the food for you, making it easier on your body.

4. Stoke your digestive fires.

Drink 1/2 a cup (125 ml) of warm water before each meal. This helps to activate agni, the digestive fire that helps burn food and increase its absorption. Avoid drinking during or after a meal, especially cold water. This can affect the digestive fire in the stomach, prevent proper food breakdown, and may even lead to weight gain.

5. Eat mindfully.

Practice eating mindfully by chewing eat bite of food thoroughly. In naturopathic medicine, it is common to hear people say: "Drink your food and chew your water." This means that food is chewed into a liquid before being swallowed.

This practice is extremely difficult to adhere to. However, it results in less abdominal bloating after meals. You may also feel more satisfied and experience less food cravings. This is especially helpful for people who crave unhealthy foods or who tend to binge eat.

Lastly, Bri. Maya Tiwari tells us to "practice eating our meals in a spirit of harmony and gratitude." When we engage in stressful conversation at the dinner table or eat on the run, we are essentially wasting our body's digestive juices and preventing their secretion.

Digestion is a very difficult, energy-consuming task for the body. It is essential that we acknowledge the effort our body is making to break down our food and absorb the nutrients. Food should be eaten slowly and mindfully, sitting down, and preferably in silence.

These tips are challenging to incorporate into a busy lifestyle, especially if you tend to rush through meals. However, taking the time to make these changes can have profound effects on your health, preventing gut irritation, bloating, food cravings and weight gain. For athletes, better digestion means better performance.

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