5 Ways To Improve Nutrient Absorption
It is not what we eat, but what we absorb. This phrase is used a lot on this site, and for good reason - it means that we might not necessarily use and/or absorb every nutrient that we eat, and we must therefore look more at what our bodies can absorb rather than what we assume it absorbs. Eating everything in sight simply as a means to gain muscle is a prime example of how the principle of absorption and nutrient utilisation can go overlooked. Your body can only take in what it's capable of taking in, and use only what it is capable of using - the rest will either be excreted or stored as body fat. Ideally we want to be eating the exact amount of nutrients that our body's both need and can absorb efficiently. While this could be almost impossible to perform perfectly, the points below will outline how you can get as close as possible to this principle.
1. Enzyme Usage
Enzymes can be described as the catalyst for most bodily processes, including using enzymes to prepare nutrients for absorption and usage. Every ingredient you eat requires an enzyme interaction in order to be absorbed, and without enough your body simply cannot absorb all the food you eat. So, your body will leech enzymes from elsewhere in the body to prioritise digestion - places like your muscles and organs. Thus, eating a meal that has too many different ingredients in it can be hard on enzyme efficiency and therefore reduce absorption substantially. You must keep your meals very simple and with as few different ingredients as possible. 3-5 different whole foods at the most. E.g. Chicken, Garlic, Lettuce, Avocado, Olive oil (salt + pepper). Simple is best for higher absorption.
2. Meal Frequency
The body has a few stages of digestion. The mouth is the start, then stomach, then small intestine, then large intestine, then excretion. All the while nutrients are being processed by other organs such as the Liver and Kidneys. The digestive process requires blood flow, and it becomes less efficient without it, e.g. if exercise draws blood away from digestion and into the muscles (more on that later) OR if more food is consumed and blood is drawn back to the first stage of digestion. To avoid this we must simply eat less frequently, to allow our food to reach the 2nd and 3rd stages of digestion unimpeded. 3-4hrs between meals is best, as it allows full digestion and release of nutrients into the blood stream uninterrupted by further eating.
3. Insulin Sensitivity
Insulin is a nutrient delivery and storing hormone. It's released into the blood stream to transport vital nutrients into muscles or store energy as fat. Having good Insulin sensitivity means that your body can do this very well, low Insulin sensitivity means the opposite. We can keep our Insulin sensitivity high (and/or improve it) by maintaining a low carbohydrate diet. This will ensure that Insulin is released less often and in smaller amounts, increasing efficiency long term and reducing fat storage as well. Try to maintain a diet that requires no more than 20% of your calories to come from Carbohydrates, preferably eating them later on in the day if Fat loss is your priority. More on Fat Loss here.
4. Workout Timing
Ever felt sick from a workout? Or even actually been sick during/ after? Chances are you ate too close to your training session. Even 1 hour before is still too close, you must aim for 2-3 hours before. This will ensure there is no food left in your stomach to even throw up. Why is it relevant to absorption (other than you throwing it all up)? Well, if all your blood is in your muscles then your digestive system cannot work efficiently. What's more is that the Growth Hormone released during a rigorous workout does not mix well with Insulin and they inhibit each other. This means that you don't get the full affects of GH (fat burn, muscle growth) or Insulin (nutrient delivery). Waiting at least 2-3 hours after eating before training ensures the energy and nutrients from that meal are absorbed and ready for usage without further digestion. Try it and see the difference it makes!
5. Active Nutrient Delivery
Nutrient absorption is the first step we need to improve, then nutrient delivery comes next. Keeping a moderately elevated heart rate will increase blood flow to damaged areas and provide nutrients required for repair and maintenance. Simply doing more walking around town is all that is needed to promote higher nutrient delivery. This does not mean increase training frequency, we need just a moderate increase in activity as a lifestyle in general. Couple this with drinking more water (2-3 litres) to ensure the flushing out of toxins and you will feel more energetic and healthier long term.