Written by Coach Charlotte Jones
You are what you eat. This is a common phrase you will hear circulating the internet and in conversations regarding one’s daily food choices, but, in our opinion, it should say you are what your body can digest. Experiencing digestive stress can indicate that your body may not be able to break down and use the food you are eating for energy as effectively as it could be. This can make it challenging to absorb nutrients and feel good on a daily basis and also make it more challenging to reach any physical goals you may be pursuing. For example, if the body has a hard time shuttling nutrients around the body to the places they need to be, it might struggle to get the required amino acids to your muscles to help them repair and build after an intense workout.
Digestive issues — such as bloating or constipation — are some of the most common concerns among our new online coaching clients. These are things we want to improve upon quickly to get the client feeling better and ensuring we are in a position where we can make substantial progress. This article has put together five simple tips you can implement today to see improvements in your digestion.
Note from the author: The content produced by Physique Development is meant to be informative and should not be taken as medical advice. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for the diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health conditions. It’s recommended to talk to your doctor before beginning a new fitness and nutrition routine.
Eat Slower & Chew Your Food
In today’s hustle and bustle world, it’s easy to rush through our meals — mindlessly between tasks, without thinking about how we are consuming our food. However, if we want to improve how our food digests — and travels through the body — we need to consider what is happening when this process starts.
When we eat quickly, we likely do not chew our food enough. This means that our stomach and the rest of the digestive tract have to work harder to break down the food. Thoroughly chewing your food to a paste gives us a head start on that. Also, this process introduces many different digestive enzymes needed to break down and digest food fully. Being mindful of this also forces us to slow down during mealtime, making it easier to know when we are starting to feel full and decreasing the chance of overeating.
Water has many jobs within the body, such as helping regulate overall body temperature, lubricating joints so we can move pain-free, and keeping things like your eyes, nose, and mouth moist. It is also essential for different parts of digestion specifically. From the moment food enters the digestive tract in the mouth, water — along with the help of stomach acids and digestive enzymes — helps moisten and break down food so that it is easier to move through the body.
Water is also needed to transport nutrients and provide the liquid required in bowel movements to prevent constipation. If we do not have enough water throughout the day, these functions suffer, making digestion increasingly difficult and likely contributing to further constipation. Sip water during your meals and more throughout the day to help with digestion and keep the rest of your body and brain feeling good. The general rule of thumb is around 8-10 cups per day; however, more active people will usually need more than this, especially if they live in a hot climate or lose lots of fluid due to sweating.
Consistent Meal Timing Matters
Our digestive system is one of many internal processes regulated by our body’s internal master clock. Located deep in the brain, this clock is heavily influenced by the light-dark cycle outside or when the sun rises and sets. As a result, it determines when we get hungry in the morning, our wake time, and when we start to get tired at night, along with how quickly we digest our meals.
In general, we know these systems function best with some sense of predictability and consistency — if we want to sleep better, going to bed and getting up at the same time each day can help with this. The idea is similar with digestion — if we are looking to improve or optimize our digestion and things like bowel movement regularity, eating your meals at roughly the same time each day can help. Also, it’s been shown to improve carbohydrate use in the body and hunger and fullness cues surrounding meal times in certain populations (3).
Fiber is an essential component of any healthy diet. It ensures regularity, helps with blood sugar regulation, and increases satiety or the feeling of being full after a meal. Average Americans get around 15 grams per day when they should be getting close to double that, depending on their size and daily food intake. Still, even an additional 5-10 grams per day could be beneficial in ensuring regularity and relieving bloating. When making changes to your fiber intake, do so with gradual changes of 5 or so grams at a time to not cause further digestive problems.
A rule of thumb we use with our clients is 15 grams per 1,000 calories consumed. So, if you’re consuming around 2,000 calories per day, you should be eating roughly 30 grams of fiber. Of course, you may need to adjust that number up or down based on individual biofeedback or preference. For example, those who tend to eat more plant-based may be used to consuming upwards of 40 grams of fiber in a day, which would be far too much for others. But this highlights the natural variation in where one’s ideal fiber intake may be.
Be Mindful of Caffeine & Carbonation
Let me first start by saying — I love my morning cup of coffee. Now, I am not telling you to give it up, but if you are looking to improve your digestion, it’s crucial to gain control over how much you are consuming. This also goes for energy drinks — especially carbonated ones. This can cause diarrhea and an upset stomach because caffeine acts as a stimulant, increasing gut motility or the speed that muscles contract and transport contents of the digestive tract. As you might imagine, too much of this can quickly become a bad thing.
Carbonated beverages and sodas are not inherently bad for us, but the additional air pockets found in the drinks are typical of bloating and gas. People often lean on beverages like this between meals to reduce hunger while dieting without realizing they are actually a potential source of digestive problems. Try substituting in a still (non-carbonated) drink like decaffeinated tea or fruit-infused water and see if that makes a difference for you.
Putting It All Together
As we’ve discussed, digestive issues are very common these days. Unfortunately, many people think experiencing them may be a normal part of life. However, a few simple changes to commonly overlooked things such as our daily routine and how we eat our meals can actually make a big difference in how your body breaks down food and how your overall digestion feels.
Regular movement throughout the day can also help food move through the digestive tract, so if you’re feeling heavy after a meal, keep in mind that a 10 to 15-minute walk can be beneficial. When in doubt, remember to focus on slowing down at consistent meal times, staying hydrated, and filling up on fiber-rich foods to feel full and comfortable throughout the day.
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- Vaughn B, Rotolo S, Roth H. Circadian rhythm and sleep influences on digestive physiology and disorders. ChronoPhysiology and Therapy. 2014;4:67-77 https://doi.org/10.2147/CPT.S44806
- Segers, A., Depoortere, I. Circadian clocks in the digestive system. Nat Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol 18, 239–251 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41575-020-00401-5
- Alhussain MH, Macdonald IA, Taylor MA. Irregular meal-pattern effects on energy expenditure, metabolism, and appetite regulation: a randomized controlled trial in healthy normal-weight women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2016 Jul;104(1):21-32. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.115.125401. Epub 2016 Jun 15. PMID: 27305952.