Want to Build Muscle? Look to Your Gut

There’s a silly assumption that every nutrient of every food you consume is magically extracted no matter what the circumstance. We spend so much time finding the perfect macronutrient ratios for our goals that food choices become no more than an afterthought. Of course I’m not saying food choices trump calories in/calories out, but they’re still vital.

Let’s think about this logically. If you eat a food and it makes you feel bloated, or sick, or sends you running for the bathroom, do you really think you’re getting all the nutrients out of that meal? Even if you have no nutrition expertise, you’d have to say no. It’s common sense. So why do people continue to pound protein shakes, dairy, and gluten if it makes their stomachs look like a pregnant woman? (Note: these are the most common culprits, if you have no problems digesting these foods, eat them)

We need to be more mindful of how we’re reacting to certain foods. Just because Kai Greene eats a baby steer for breakfast doesn’t mean you have to. Next time you eat a meal, see if you notice some phlegm in the back of your throat. This is an indication of a minor food allergy. Personally, I get it when I consume chicken or turkey. Is it bad enough where I would completely eliminate it from my diet? Probably not at the moment, but it’s still good to know.

After a meal, do you feel bloated? If so, there’s something in that meal causing distress. You may also be eating too quickly (trust me, I empathize). After a while we begin to think that this is just the way things are. But it’s not. Eat, feel bloated, lie down, be unproductive. This is no way to live.

You may reach a point where it seems like nothing is settling properly in your stomach. Luckily there are a few things you can do to help rectify the situation:

Fasting

Digestion is a stress to your body. A necessary stress, since we need to eat, but a stress nonetheless. Fasting removes that stress for a short period and gives the digestive system ‘a break’ to put things simply. There are many fasting protocols, the most popular being intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting separates each day into an eating window and a fasting window. Typically, the eating window lasts 0–8 hours and the rest of the day is spent in a fasted state, consuming only water, tea, or black coffee. I use intermittent fasting off and on, and will typically have one period per week where I fast for 24 hours.

Probiotics

Probiotics are hit or miss with a lot of people. In theory, probiotics help to replenish the bacteria in your gut which would aid in digestion and immune health. There are many different probiotic strains and the potency of each supplement/food will vary. As I mentioned, it can take some trial and error to find what works for you. I like to use fermented milk, or kefir, as my source of probiotics.

Glutamine

Glutamine is popular in the bodybuilding community as an amino acid supplement. However, the cells in your intestines use glutamine as a source of energy. Glutamine can thus aid in ensuring proper intestinal permeability, which means that not too much is getting through the cells lining the gut wall. Some nutrients must pass through of course, but too much may allow harmful substances to pass through as well.

I don’t like to give too many anecdotal examples because in the end it’s just n=1, but my physique was certainly suffering when I experienced stomach issues. The macros didn’t change, the training routine didn’t change, and the training intensity didn’t change. However, my muscles were flat, my stomach was chronically bloated, and overall I was exhibiting a look that I did not like.

I’m not saying the problem is completely solved, but utilizing the three tools listed above have certainly helped. I try not to use digestive enzymes, as I don’t want to become reliant on them. I’ve tried apple cider vinegar but did not notice a significant difference. Herbal teas are fine, nothing spectacular. The point of this article was to increase your awareness of your own digestion. In the end, you may be selling yourself short despite the countless hours in the gym.