Smell You Later
Walk into any hardcore gym and your nose is likely to be assaulted by an array of noxious gas emissions. Protein farts are definitely a thing, and they're the butt of many jokes within the hardcore strength community.
But what you're about to read is no laughing matter. Poor digestion and bad gut health won't just make you bloated, uncomfortable, and unpleasant to be around, they can also turn you into a testosterone-deficient squirrel if you don't do something about it.
Poor gut health is not a "quick death" though. Rather, it's a slow cascade of inconveniences that eventually turn into serious issues that will leave you weak and frail long before you're ready to quit the iron game.
Luckily there are ways of fixing this before it becomes serious. Here's what you need to know and do.
A good portion of your immune system is located in your intestinal tract and, in some places, it's separated from your intestinal contents by a lining that's only a single cell thick. If this lining becomes permeable, food particles can slip into your bloodstream. When this happens, your body attacks these particles with antibodies and produces chemicals called cytokines that raise your levels of chronic inflammation.
If inflammation goes unchecked, it leads to a lot of nasty outcomes that can affect your performance. Fatigue, painful joints, slow recovery, and even depression can occur. It can also lead to the death of Leydig cells. These are cells within the testicles that produce testosterone, the death of which will lower your testosterone levels at the source (1).
As your inflammatory levels continue to rise, this can also make your body more likely to store visceral fat (2). Excess visceral fat can lead to higher production of interleukin-6 (IL-6), a pro-inflammatory cytokine. This creates a vicious circle of pro-inflammatory phenomena that can continue to kill Leydig cells.
To make matters worse, high inflammatory levels increase levels of aromatase, and this converts more and more of whatever testosterone you still manage to produce into estrogen.
Consistent levels of chronic inflammation in the intestinal tract can even affect the brain, since the brain and digestive system are directly connected via the vagus nerve (3). Brain inflammation can inhibit both hypothalamic and pituitary function. This can inhibit production of growth hormone, thyroid stimulating hormone, and a host of other hormones and precursors that are vital for healthy endocrine function.
Scientists also believe that there's an inherent link between your gut microbiome and your overall hormone production. Intestinal bacteria have been found to be potentially relevant in promoting signaling and production of growth hormone, testosterone, and TSH (4), which is all the more reason to work towards a healthy gut.
Poor digestion will eventually take its toll. Maybe not today, maybe not next month or next year, but it will catch up with you. Even now, those aching joints, that constant bloated feeling, and that lack of energy whenever you're not in the gym might be telling you something.
But it can be fixed. Here's what you need to do to avoid testosterone-killing gut problems and fix your digestion from entry to exit.
Lately, the carnivore diet has become more and more popular in the iron community. This is largely because so many people have had issues digesting vegetables and grains. That's why for vegetables, grains, and nuts, the digestive process needs to begin prior to the first bite. Prepping them properly can make all the difference:
When it comes to veggies, it's very important to break down and soften the exterior wall prior to eating them. With leafy greens and broccoli, make sure you cut, dice, or shred them and let them sit for 10 minutes.
When plants are damaged, they release polyphenols to prevent further damage to their tissues. To do this, the plant has to release enzymes that cause cellular breakdown to release those polyphenols. These enzymes help to break down that cellular wall, and this makes them more digestible. This also makes the plant more nutritious because of the extra release of polyphenols.
Additionally, cooking and mashing vegetables can also help to make them more digestible. Just make sure that if you boil vegetables, you also consume the liquid. Boiling can cause the most important nutrients to leach into the water.
Also, choose your vegetables wisely. If you have severe gut issues, choose vegetables high in soluble fiber but low in insoluble fiber. Example: carrots, winter squash, peeled summer squash, starchy tubers, turnips, rutabagas, parsnips, beets, and yucca.
If you're looking for a highly digestible source of plant nutrients without the digestive stress, you can also just include a serving or two of Superfood into your daily diet.
Grains have gotten a really bad rap over the past few years, but like most things, this bad rap is largely overstated. Grains can be extremely nutritious and helpful for anyone trying to increase their strength and size, as long as they're rendered digestible.
You can do this by sprouting your grains, which makes them a vastly superior product by increasing their digestibility, vitamin content, mineral content, and reducing their phytic acid content. Phytic acid is a nutrient stealer that binds to minerals and prevents their absorption. You can purchase grains that have already been sprouted, or you can easily look up how to sprout them yourself.
Nuts, especially Brazil nuts, are some of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet, but they're also amongst the least digestible. This can be fixed by soaking them up to 24 hours and drying them before eating. With large nuts like Brazil nuts, just make sure you freeze them after they dry because soaking them can make them susceptible to mold.
Digestion begins the moment the food passes your lips. The larger the food particles that enter your digestive system, the more likely they are to cause damage and leaky gut. Chewing helps to break these particles down, but it also helps to release important enzymes that make nutrients more digestible. The longer you chew, the more these enzymes do their work.
One of the worst ideas in the world is to take antacids to help with bad digestion. If you heed nothing else in this section, understand that antacids could definitely inhibit your absorption of protein and other nutrients (5). That alone should cause you to toss your heartburn tabs in the trash.
They can also make your digestion even worse by neutralizing your stomach acids. To add insult to injury, even though many antacids contain calcium, neutralizing your stomach acid can actually inhibit calcium absorption. When you have a lot of unusable calcium, it's gotta go somewhere, and that can translate to kidney stones.
Most people actually suffer from GERD because they don't have enough stomach acid (6). Instead of antacids, try adding two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar to a glass of water prior to meals to introduce some acetic acid to your stomach. This can help to improve your digestion along with numerous other benefits including increased insulin sensitivity and glycogen absorption.
Additionally, taking digestive enzymes can help reduce the amount of acid your body needs to produce to begin to break down foods in your stomach.
Resistant starch has numerous benefits as outlined here: The Starch That Burns Body Fat. In addition to increasing insulin sensitivity and increasing your ability to burn fat, resistant starch can also help to heal and protect your intestinal lining.
In rats, resistant starch has been shown to increase levels of IL-10. This protein helps to regulate the body's inflammatory levels and can help reduce the likelihood of colorectal cancer and bowel disease.
Resistant starch is also a prebiotic food source for friendly bacteria. This allows them to take up more real estate in your intestinal tract. For added benefit, these bacteria release fatty acids, including butyrate, when they feed on resistant starch, and butyrate helps to heal the intestinal lining and reduce gut inflammation (7).
You can get resistant starch in numerous ways, including eating potatoes and rice that have been cooked and then cooled. If you're keeping your carbs low, add a quarter teaspoon of Bob's Red Mill Potato starch to a glass of water. It's a great source of resistant starch. Just be careful not to go over that dosage initially because eating too much resistant starch at once can lead to disaster pants!
In addition to feeding friendly bacteria with resistant starch, you should also be actively populating your gut with friendly bacteria. One of the best ways of doing this, in addition to probiotic supplementation, is by including fermented foods in your diet. Including raw sauerkraut or kimchi in each of your meals can give you a great source of bacterial allies to protect your digestive tract.
Too often I see hardcore lifters with joint pain popping NSAIDS like they're Tic Tacs. As outlined in this article, NSAIDS can be highly unproductive for your recovery. They can also completely wreck your digestive health by making your intestinal tract more permeable.
Instead, fight inflammation the right way with anti-inflammatory supplements like curcumin and fish oils. Just be sure not to take these supplements directly after your workout to avoid reducing inflammation so much that it inhibits recovery. To be safe, take them around 3 hours before or after training.
- Diemer et al. Immune-endocrine Interactions and Leydig Cell Function: the Role Of Cytokines. Andrologia. 2003 Feb;35(1):55-63. PubMed.
- Gummesson A et al. Intestinal Permeability Is Associated with Visceral Adiposity in Healthy Women. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2011 Nov;19(11):2280-2. PubMed.
- Houser MC et al. The Gut-brain Axis: Is Intestinal Inflammation a Silent Driver Of Parkinson's Disease Pathogenesis? NPJ Parkinsons Dis. 2017 Jan 11;3:3. PubMed.
- Neuman H et al. Microbial Endocrinology: the Interplay Between the Microbiota and the Endocrine System. FEMS Microbiol Rev. 2015 Jul;39(4):509-21. PubMed.
- Untersmayr E et al. Antacid Medication Inhibits Digestion Of Dietary Proteins and Causes Food Allergy: a Fish Allergy Model in Balb/c Mice. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2003 Sep;112(3):616-23. PubMed.
- Krasinski SD et al. Fundic Atrophic Gastritis in an Elderly Population. Effect on Hemoglobin and Several Serum Nutritional Indicators. J Am Geriatr Soc. 1986 Nov;34(11):800-6. PubMed.
- Ma X et al. Butyrate Promotes the Recovering Of Intestinal Wound Healing Through Its Positive Effect on the Tight Junctions. J Anim Sci. 2012 Dec;90 Suppl 4:266-8. PubMed.