10 Tips For Better Digestion

digestionI’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – all diseases start in the gut.

If you have poor gut health (which usually begins with poor digestion) you will constantly feel run down and sick, your body will function at less efficient levels, and your risk of chronic disease increases significantly.

As discussed in previous posts, good digestion is critically important, not only your overall health but for your fat loss and muscle building efforts as well.

This goes without saying but it’s not what you eat that counts, but what you digest and absorb.

If you don’t absorb the nutrients from your food you’ll most likely end up with deficiencies and illness – plus it’s almost impossible to build muscle or burn fat if you aren’t absorbing the nutrients you eat.

Everything begins with digestion; from the second you put the food into your mouth, until the minute you poop it out at the end of the digestive process.

This is just my opinion but I believe gut health is arguably the most underrated yet single most important factor to your overall health and wellbeing.

I was sick for 3 years with what many doctors believed to be Crohn’s Disease. I had severe stomach inflammation as well as inflammation of the small intestine.

I had extreme nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, cramps, and pooped like a fire hose every single day. I made countless trips to the emergency room for “extreme gastrointestinal distress” and all of the staff in that ER knew me on a first name basis. I really don’t know how to describe my symptoms but it was sort of like having food poisoning that never ever goes away…

The time I was sick was a very difficult period of my life. I suffered the effects of malabsorption, anorexia, and paranoia. I felt weak, helpless, and hopeless. I even had suicidal thoughts…

There are no other words to describe it other than “it sucked”.

The good news is that now I’m healthy and have an entirely new perspective on health and disease. Especially gut health and disease. I’ve seen and felt some of the worst kind of pain and suffering out there but that experience taught me a lot. I’ve learned from it and grown stronger.

Hopefully you will never have to get sick and learn the hard way (like I did) before you finally start doing the things you need to do to promote and enhance your own health and wellbeing. I used to think I was invincible, but nature showed me otherwise. That wake up call was a humbling experience. I don’t wish it upon anyone.

The tips I’m about to share with you played an integral part in my healing and recovery. I learned most of them when I was sick, and I still use them on a regular basis because they help keep me healthy – and my doctors hi fiving me at my annual checkup!

Note: some of the research that supports these tips isn’t 100% “scientifically proven”, so if you’re looking for a pharmacology report this is not it. Frankly, you will probably see mixed results when using these tips depending on your illness type, age, genetics, as well as other factors. These are just some basic digestion tips I used when I was extremely ill to help facilitate the healing process. They worked for me and I believe they can work for you as well (especially if you aren’t even sick).

Here are my ten simple tips that will help improve your digestion:

1. Chew your food well. Chewing is the first step of digestion and salivary amylase (an enzyme secreted in saliva), begins the process as you chew. Your food should be liquefied by chewing and thoroughly mixed with saliva before swallowing so that you give your food the best possible chance to be digested properly. A good rule of thumb is to “drink your food”.

2. Avoid drinking liquids with meals. Experts have argued that drinking liquids during meals can interfere with hydrochloric acid (HCl) levels and impede the digestion process. I prefer to avoid drinking liquids with meals, but if you must drink when you eat try to limit the quantity of liquids to 4 ounces or less of room temperature or warm liquids.

I recommend using warm water instead of cold water because cold water has been shown to slow digestion, reduce the concentration of stomach acid, and also cause cramps in sensitive individuals. So try to wait 45 minutes to an hour after eating before drinking large quantities of liquid or cold liquids.

The goal here is to allow your digestive juices and stomach acids to remain concentrated enough to digest your food completely and efficiently.

3. Avoid eating fruit with other foods. I know fruits are healthy but they should be eaten alone and not combined with any other food (unless you are hypoglycemic, in which case you should combine fruit with other food – balancing your blood sugar should be your primary focus).

Also, do not eat fruit immediately after a meal. I know fruit makes for a delicious healthy dessert but wait about an hour after your meal before you eat it. The reason is because the sugar in many fruits may start a fermentation process in the stomach and cause gas, bloating, and indigestion. If you have ever felt ‘fruit bloat’ or ‘fruit cramps’ you’ll know exactly what I mean.

4. Do not eat when stressed. Stress can wreak havoc on the digestive process…so try to always avoid eating when you are upset or angry…or even after a hard workout. Wait until you are calm, and at least 45 minutes to an hour after you workout before eating.

5. Use digestive enzymes. There are many different digestive enzymes that all perform specific tasks at various stages of the digestive process. From mouth enzymes (amylase), to the stomach enzymes (most notably, gastric amylase and pepsin), to the pancreatic enzymes (pancreatic amylase, protease, and lipase; which digest starches/carbohydrates, proteins, and fats respectively); these enzymes provide great aid to the digestive process and prepare the nutrients for absorption.

Unfortunately, many people suffer from ‘enzyme deficiency’ these days so I am a big proponent of digestive enzyme supplementation. My brand of choice is Digest Gold. It’s the best digestive enzyme supplement I’ve ever used and I’ve found it to help a great deal with the metabolism of carbohydrates, as well as fiber. Also, if you compare it to various other brands, you’ll notice it is slightly higher in active units of amylase, protease, lipase, as well as several other key ingredients.

Note: Digest Gold also includes cellulose, which the body does not make on its own. This enzyme is necessary for the proper digestion of fiber.

6. Use probiotics. Probiotics are the friendly bacteria that reside within the gastrointestinal tract. These little guys make the conditions inside the bowel extremely inhospitable for bad bacteria, inhibits their growth, and makes it easier for good bacteria to grow.

I like to think of them as the gut police – they monitor and control all potential harmful microorganisms within the body. As an added bonus, they have also been known to combat the effects of environmental pollutants and various other toxins.

There are three primary types of probiotics: Lactobacillus acidophilus (the most well known out of the group), which protects the colon; Lactobacillus bifidus, which protects the small intestine; and last but not least, Lactobacillus bulgaricus, which travels through the entire digestive system and supports the efforts of the other two.

I like to take probiotics in supplemental form (you can also find Lactobacillus bulgaricus in yogurt made from live cultures), and use them on a regular basis because I believe they provide numerous health benefits.

Note: when using Lactobacillus acidophilus, make sure the supplement contains at least 200 million organisms per cubic centimeter. Clinical evidence shows that this probiotic needs to be taken in large doses in order to be effective.

Note: It usually requires approximately one month of proper probiotic supplementation in order for natural gut floral to return to optimal levels.

Note: It may be helpful to supplement with probiotics following a cycle of antibiotics as antibiotics destroy bad AND good bacteria which can leave you vulnerable for proliferation by other microorganisms at the end of your cycle.

Note: Various over-the-counter medications (pain killers, antacids, etc) have been shown to have negative effects on the friendly Lactobacillus bacteria in the gut.

7. Maintain a healthy gut flora balance. I have been researching and studying gut health for over ten years now and I’ve come to the conclusion that an optimal floral balance level is roughly 85% friendly bacteria and 15% unfriendly bacteria. Some experts and doctors may agree or disagree, this is just my opinion based on (1) my own experience with IBD (2) my own research (3) basic scientific logic.

There are quite a few tests you can do to test various gastrointestinal functions and levels and I had several of them done when I was sick. These tests typically cost several hundred bucks or so and unless you are really sick, you probably don’t need to go that route. Plus, many of the labs you’ll find online that do testing are less than reputable, so if you decide to go the testing route always do it under a doctor’s supervision and be sure to triple check sources.

Here are a few sample lab reports: (Sample Report 1  | Sample Report 2) *these are just examples, I’m not endorsing these companies*

Here’s a free method of ‘testing’ your gut flora health at home: If you’re chronically sick, have allergies, rashes, frequent headaches, are chronically fatigued, experience chronic constipation/diarrhea or a mix of both, regularly take antacids or are on antibiotics, or have any other weird chronic aliment, there is a good chance you may have a gut flora imbalance and need to begin probiotic supplementation.

Note: It is extremely difficult to restore gut flora using diet alone. Studies have shown that it takes approximately one year on a new diet to produce any type of noticeable change in flora.

8. Keep bowel transit time on point. We have all experienced constipation at some point and it is typically considered to be a ‘minor medical event’. However, I have witnessed the effects of severe constipation first hand and trust me…it wasn’t pretty. I was lying in my hospital bed receiving anti-nausea medicine and a woman in the bed next to me was howling with blood curdling screams. I asked the nurse what the woman was suffering from and she said “she is severely constipated”. I’ll never forget that.

I honestly believe the long term effects of chronic constipation can be deadly – and I do remember one of my Gastroenterologists referring to it as the “modern plague”.

The negative effects of slow transit time and constipation are numerous: autointoxication, increased workload of excretory organs, slowed cellular metabolism, functional decline in cellular activity, increased acute and chronic illness predisposition, pain, fatigue, and even some cancers.

Having seen countless GI specialists in my day, I’ve found that many physicians believe normal bowel elimination/transit time to be anywhere from two to fourteen times per week (roughly 36-72 hours after each meal). I disagree. I believe optimal transit times should be around 20-24 hours – and if you are eating 5-6 meals per day you should shoot for around 18 hours.

If you only poop once a day, for example, the colon can contain the residue from those six full meals. On the other hand, if you poop less than once per day, the colon can hold up to 9 meals or more and you’ll begin suffering the effects of chronic constipation.

The longer food resides in the bowel, the higher probability intestinal flora will be altered, toxic substances will form, and intestinal toxemia will result. I like to keep my transition time on point by eating lots of natural organic fruits and veggies, and using a fiber supplement. My daily fiber goal is between 25-30 grams and I use this supplement to help support my efforts.

9. Use bitter herbs. Research has shown that ‘bitters’ can help increase the gastric secretions of the stomach and produce digestive enzymes – this is believed to help break down and digest food. I’ve found that bitters are also a fairly effective digestive aid when consumed before eating large meals.

Examples of bitters are: angelica, chamomile, cinnamon, dandelion, fennel, gentian, ginger, goldenseal, milk thistle, peppermint, and rue.

Note: Although certain herbs are thought to have stomachic effects, the therapeutic value based on modern pharmacology isn’t quite clear. I’ve seen great results personally from using these herbs, but since this isn’t actual medicine your results will vary.

10. Practice intermittent fasting. The digestion process requires a ton of energy and is quite stressful on the body. The more meals you eat each day the more stress you place upon your digestive system each day – so sometimes it is a good idea to just give your system a rest and fast.

I know many people are afraid to fast because popular bodybuilding and fitness culture has conditioned everyone to think that “if you miss meals, you’ll enter starvation mode and lose all your muscle”. There is strong scientific evidence out there that refutes this notion, and some studies have even shown that metabolic rate can remain constant for up to 90 hours during a fast before declining.

When I was sick, my doctors advised me to spread my meals out 4-5 hours because (1) an increased meal frequency would place additional stress on my digestive system and not allow it to heal; and (2) the human digestive system is not designed to efficiently digest and assimilate food at that rate of consumption. Don’t get me wrong…the human body is definitely CAPABLE of eating that often, it just isn’t healthy, necessary, or in your best interest.

Fasting will give your digestive system a much needed break, allow the liver to detox, and help the body heal itself.

Note: I do not recommend fasting for extended periods of time without your doctor’s supervision. I also do not recommend or endorse any sort of extreme ‘detox’ diets or radical fasts. Instead, simply fast for 4-8 hours or so daily (as taught strategically in The Renegade Diet) to give your body a chance to recover and replenish its enzyme pool.

Thanks for reading – I really hope these tips work as well for you as they have worked for me over the years. All of them played an important role in helping me regain my health after being critically ill for over two years. Use them, share them, and live by them.

If you liked this post, please help me out and click ‘Like’ and share this page with your friends. Please leave your questions and comments below.

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Jamin Thompson
Jamin Thompson has been called "the most handsome fitness model in the world" and "a brilliant actor & writer", both by his mom. He's a former Clemson & UMiami athlete and World Ranked tennis player who writes to help others dominate in the gym, on the field, and in life using his real world, in the trenches experience. His book, The 6 Pack Secret, has been sold in over 50 countries and has helped thousands of folks from all walks of life get cut and jacked the healthy way.
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12 Responses to 10 Tips For Better Digestion

  1. Ian April 11, 2012 at 12:26 am #

    Nice article with simple tips. I think I need to incorporate around 8 of these into my plan. What is your recommended probiotic supplement? Thanks!

    • Jamin Thompson May 5, 2012 at 12:27 am #

      I don’t really have a recommended supplement, but there are quite a few really good brands at most Whole Food stores. Just be sure the acidophilus supplement you choose contains at least 200 million organisms per cubic centimeter and you should be ok.

  2. Deborah Scott April 11, 2012 at 11:16 pm #

    Great article, this really helped me out a lot. 

  3. Stephen R. April 11, 2012 at 11:58 pm #

    This was very insightful. I just shared on my Facebook page. 

  4. Marie Winspear April 22, 2012 at 3:35 pm #

    Like you Jamin, I’ve had digestive problems over time. In my early 20′s I found out I was intolerant to wheat, yeast, sugar and dairy and once I stopped eating those the excess weight I’d been carrying fell off me and my stomach became flat for the first time in my life! I totally agree with you on everything in this article. Digestion is all important!
    Interestingly enough, 4 years ago I had my food intolerances ‘eliminated’ by an expensive Chinese method that supposedly resets one’s immune system. After, I was able to eat anything I wanted without any ill-effect, but in 2009 I began to have pain and inflammation in my right knee, foot and shoulders. Early 2010 I was diagnosed with a severe case of Rheumatoid arthritis and after doing a lot of research on this disease I found it was linked to food allergies and intolerances and also leaky gut syndrome with which I’d been diagnosed before. Plus all my food intolerances came back.

    Since I took back control over my eating and once again eliminated all foods I was intolerant to, plus avoiding all processed foods, added Probiotics and digestive enzymes as well as other supplements to help my immune system, over the last two years along with my weight training I have conquered my RA. No longer do I live in constant pain and stomach and bowel irritation, my RA specialist is astounded at my progress and tells me I make his job easy. Myself I wonder every day whether I even still have this disease and I know that one day I will completely eliminate it from my body.

    My point is I achieved all this through looking after my digestive health. I really believe there are so many people out there with food allergies and intolerances and they have no idea and are suffering from cancers and other diseases that could be healed and prevented through good intestinal health. Our health does start and end with our digestive system, it’s a shame that more people aren’t aware of this.

    • Jamin Thompson May 5, 2012 at 12:40 am #

      I know exactly how you feel Marie, and you are 100% correct. There is definitely a correlation between digestive health and disease. The research isn’t always going to be 100% conclusive because everyone’s situation is different and there are tons of variables, constraints, unknowns, etc…but eliminating dairy, wheat, sugar, yeast, processed foods, etc and adding probiotics, digestive enzymes, and increasing raw veggie + fiber intake are good starting points. I’m glad to hear you are getting healthier stronger, & fitter, each day. Keep killin’ it!

  5. Ginz May 9, 2013 at 8:05 am #

    Hey mate Even I have been suffering from IBS and when ever I eat rich foods its worse and Also my question is when ever I drink protein shakes I get a constipated and have a upset stomach,,is there some thing in them or Im totaly confused am I allergic to it and also its same with rice to , I get constipated ..thx

    • Jamin Thompson May 10, 2013 at 4:36 pm #

      Ginz, sorry to hear about your IBS…the best thing to do (I’m sure you have heard this before) is to simply eliminate the offending foods. As far as the protein powders go…most of them contain quite a few ingredients and any of them (or a few of them combined) may be agitating your system. If you’re using whey protein, you may want to switch to a higher quality product…or try using something a bit more natural like Sun Warrior. Are you lactose intolerant? Allergy testing may help…but it can be expensive. I would try elimination first, then go from there. Hope this helped a bit, keep me posted.

      • Ginz May 10, 2013 at 10:51 pm #

        Really appreciate ur reply and for this wonderful Article,,, yes I will try to eliminate food and see the results and also to my knowledge there aren’t any tests for allergy testing , I mean a doctor told me they are all fake money making tests, what do u suggest on this and do u suggest me seeing a nutritionist?

        • Jamin Thompson May 15, 2013 at 10:48 am #

          Thanks Ginz..I’m glad you found the article helpful. Regarding the allergy testing, I think it depends. I had mine done by a holistic MD and found it to be very helpful. Many of the foods I was eating on a regular basis showed up as “red flags” or “agitating” foods so I was advised to avoid them for a certain period of time and it helped a lot.

          With anything ‘experimental’ like this the results will definitely vary. Your doctor is right though…there are a ton of frauds out there running “allergy tests” lol.

          I went to a doctor named George Mitchell in Washington DC for my allery tests (and a bunch more stuff) and I highly recommend him. If it wasn’t for him and his guidance…I may have never gotten better. True story.

          My advice is to definitely listen to your doctors, but nobody knows everything…so if you’re sick…try to do whatever you can to make yourself feel better. Also, it’s important to surround yourself with a solid team of experts and try to come up with a plan that works for you.

          When I was sick the first 3 doctors I saw didn’t really know what was wrong with me…and since most doctors (including gastro’s) don’t really understand nutrition or holistic health at a high level (in my opinion)…sometimes you just have to figure a few things out by doing your own research and testing.

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