So you've realised nutrition is as important to your running as the miles you run. You're doing a great job of putting nutrients in your body, but how can you make sure your body is maximising all this goodness you are consuming? After reading this you will know a few simple ways to improve absorption (whether if be of food or supplements in order to improve your health and performance.
Most people don't really consider what happens to their foods once they eat it. How does the green smoothie (or hamburger) we ate, magically turn into nutrients to sustain our bodies? The short answer is, the food gets broken down in your stomach, passes on to your small intestine where the good nutrients wanted by the body are absorbed for use. Yay, easy right? Well, yes, but if the conditions aren't right for the many different processes to occur, you can easily lose good quality nutrition as it misses its 'window' to be used by the body.
There are two factors affecting how well we convert nutrition into fuel: The state of the body (body dynamics) and the state of whatever it is you've consumed to get your nutrition (bioavailability.
Our bodies prioritises the activities it has to attend to for us to effectively function. If it's busy at the time nutrients are in the small intestine, absorption will be compromised. So what can you do to enhance your own body dynamics?
- Relax! Stress agitates the gut making digestion less effective. Running is a great stress releaser but if you do find yourself especially stressed try to at least relax around meal times by taking time out to eat slowly and mindfully. Take a few deep breaths prior to eating in order to calm your nervous system.
- Manage your caffeine: So many runners' love their shot of caffeine prior to running, but it does disrupt digestion so if possible have an hour between meals/supplements and caffeine.
- Exercise at the right time: When exercising our body is focused on using nutrients rather than processing them. Have something light and easy to digest prior to running and if you have a large meal, wait a few hours before your run. The same goes with supplements, try to have them with a regular breakfast a few hours before you are going to be exercising.
- Prescription drugs: Be aware that prescription drugs can mess with digestion and absorption of some minerals, check with your doctor.
- Alcohol: Hopefully not an issue for Runners' Beans runners, ensure your only 'shot' in the morning is our Daily Tonic and you should be ok!
Bioavailability refers to how available the nutrients are at the time they need to be absorbed. This means being in a form recognisable to the body and being in the correct place in the digestion process at the right time
If the nutrients are coming from a supplement in hard form (capsule or tablet) rather than a liquid it is more difficult to ensure the nutrients are available at the right time (i.e when they reach the small intestine). Their outer coating or shell needs to have broken down before its contents are released. If this happens too late the nutrients will have 'missed their moment' to be absorbed. Capsules are potentially better than tablets as their outer shell is supposed to be more easily broken down.
While these two formats are the cheapest way to buy (and make) supplements, it is this disintegration issue which has some claiming a liquid supplement can have up to 88% more absorption. We at Runners' Beans want to sell the BEST not the cheapest running supplements. So, as soon as we realised the bioavailability benefits of liquid we knew it was what we wanted to use for Daily Tonic.
Being in the right form is the other factor required for optimal bioavailability and thus absorption. This can be an issue in food when it is a highly processed item. The body may not recognise what you have eaten so is unsure what to do with it. An experiment was done comparing digestion of instant Ramen Noodles with fresh ones which illustrates (rather scarily) this point. It took two hours longer for the instant ones to digest due to the presence of a chemical preservative. The stomach simply kept churning over the noodles as the body did not recognise the components and so did not know which enzymes to use etc. You can read about it here.
The same issue applies to the supplements we take. When supplements are made we have to choose what source to use to deliver the vitamin or minerals. For example, Calcium can come from Calcium Carbonate, Calcium Citrate and at least 7 other forms. All different forms have different levels of bioavailability (and safety).
In most cases those with the lowest bioavailability are also the cheapest so it really is an example of you getting what you pay for, which in some cases could mean you get nothing. We have a .pdf below you can print or check to see what forms of each nutrient you should be looking for when you buy.
As a final note, (and well done if you made it all the way to the end), it is always a good idea to take supplements alongside food as some nutrients need the presence of other nutrients to be absorbed efficiently.
If you found this article useful you might like this one on the micro-nutrients you should consume as a runner.
What are the best forms of micronutrients? (pdf. showing the best forms and those to avoid)