Small Habits to Try to Improve Digestion

by | Jun 12, 2024 | Nutrition

I recently wrote about dealing with gut distress during a race, and the ways to avoid that race day gut. But for most of us who deal with what I’ll call “gut issues” (of many different varieties), it’s not just a race day situation. We know that things like irritable bowel syndrome are likely more prevalent with endurance athletes. (The why is less understood.) We know that a lot of us have sensitivities to certain foods, whether that’s during training or outside of it. And I know so many endurance athletes who simple would put themselves in the same category as me: No clinical gut issues, but more stomach pain than they would prefer.

My gut distress background

Over the years, I’ve said I have a relatively sensitive stomach. There was a point where I struggled to function during a day without severe stomach pain and cramping, not amazing digestion, and during rides and runs, it often got worse before it got better. I had all the testing—endoscopy, colonoscopy, all that fun stuff—in my early 20s, but there wasn’t any discernible issue, so my GP labeled it garden-variety IBS and told me to just take OTC painkillers. Terrible advice. (Also, I’ll avoid soapboxing about how women’s complaints get ignored by doctors far too often.)

I won’t go into a litany of ways I’ve tried to fix it over the years, but now that I’m in a relatively good place with it, I did want to share the small habits I’ve been integrating to help keep things on the right track (or I guess, on the right digestive tract).

The small habits I use to improve digestion

Steady hydration!

As longtime readers may know, I was not a big water person growing up. I was a strictly Mountain Dew (and truth be told, a couple of liters a day) kind of gal. So, hydration is always a focus for me. I’ve noticed that when I’m light on hydrating enough, my gut is the first thing to go. My digestion slows down, I tend to feel more bloated, and I risk the stomach cramping kicking off. But the solution isn’t to chug a half gallon of water at a time… Slow and steady is the constant goal for me. This makes it even harder to drink enough, since if I try to ‘catch up’ by chugging, I just end up with a grumpy gut anyway!

Focus on fiber

Obviously, eating a ton of fruit and veggies is super important, and we include them in every meal when we’re home. But another thing I’ve been playing with lately is psyllium husk gummies and chia seed pudding (recipe for chia seed pudding here). Psyllium husk is a fantastic source of fiber and really helps improve my digestion but it’s… well, it’s gross. However, when it’s mixed with a liquid, it takes on a gummy-style texture. So, I make a small tray of psyllium husk, then add a combination of 2 parts cranberry juice and 1 part apple cider vinegar, stirring until it takes on a gummy type of consistency and is all sticking together. Refrigerate, and have a small piece on the daily. (As usual, don’t try this race week! This can improve digestion, but maaaaaybe not in a way you’re prepared for during heavy training or racing. Wait until you have an easy week to experiment.)

Being picky about supplements

If you listen to the podcast, you know we’ve been working with AG1 for a few years now, and it’s become pretty much the only supplement that I take on top of Tailwind during runs and the occasional whey protein shake. That’s after a lot of trial and error with different supplements over the years—I’m super careful not just because of things like drug testing for athletes but also because I know my gut gets really grumpy with certain supplements. (Not that I do many races that have testing, but I act as if I do—I think it’s just good/smart practice!) These days, I will occasionally consider extra supplements but I pay close attention to how they make me feel—and definitely don’t try anything around exercise unless I’ve been using it for a while!

Actually pausing for mealtime

This has been a big one for me and a major staple of my life. Working for yourself and having a never-ending to-do list often means that mealtimes are compromised for getting more work done. They’re done in front of a computer screen, not enjoying the moment or slowing down momentarily. I admit, I’m not at the “mindful eating” level where I just sit and focus solely on food. But I do break from work and eat meals chatting with Peter or reading a fun book! Basically, anything that feels more like rest, I’m all about. Even if I have to keep it brief, I take that break.

Accepting it + breathing

I still do get the occasional severe stomach pain. It feels like someone has overstuffed my intestines and is also squeezing them. And yes, it sucks. But luckily, it’s less frequent now than it used to be, and I’ve found I can ease the discomfort by laying flat on my back and doing some deep breathing. I sometimes add in some windshield-wiper movements with my head and legs, which I think helps to move things along.


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