When Our Bellies Become Bottomless Pits

Let’s just get something straight from the beginning: Our bodies were not designed to consume 5,800 calories a day. But come training season, I sure as hell try my damnedest. I happily pull up Strava after a long ride and fantasize about the pizza, the blueberry smoothie, the four apples, the sausage, the peanut butter, the giant salad with avocado, and the half pound of nuts I’m going to eat. The problem is, even if you can technically fit that much grub into your gullet, chances are your body cannot break it down. Best case scenario, you get heart burn and have an expensive bowel movement. Worst case, you flare up some gut rot and cause a spiraling of unhealthy digestive woes. So what are we to do when the demands of training or an epic weekend of adventure turns our appetites (and need for nutrients) into an inner Jabba the Hutt? We follow a few basic rules of good fueling.

Eat nutrient-dense foods. Do not waste digestive effort, money, or time on food that is devoid of anything but calories. Yes, we need calories to burn, but we also need vitamins and minerals necessary to support that activity. That means good fats and proteins as well as vegetables and fruits that are rich in the nutrients that rebuild and maintain your body tissues. Empty calories (cake, crackers, candy, bread, processed grain, sugar, etc.) take a lot of space in your gut but don’t bring much bang for their buck. You are more likely to overeat these foods because they do not fulfill your nutrient requirements.

Photo: Shallan Knowles.
Photo: Shallan Knowles.

Chew like your grandmother taught you. Seriously. Our mouths are not just a giant portal to the black hole of our stomachs. They actually have a digestive function. Chewing (30 times — I dare you to try) produces salivary amylase, an enzyme that helps break down carbohydrates before you even swallow. Chewing also stimulates the production of stomach acid and pancreatic enzymes so they can further break down your food once it begins its southward journey. Many of us inhale our energy bars while avoiding traffic collisions on our bikes. This habit is obviously not conducive to good digestion. Foods that are not broken down will go rancid in the stomach and cause heart burn while undigested particles work their way into the intestine and cause inflammation. You do not want inflammation in our intestines while we ride our bikes. Trust me on this one.

Don’t wash your food down with water. This just thins out the stomach acid, making your stomach more basic and less capable of breaking down foods. Hydrate between meals.

Take digestive enzymes. We are (theoretically) designed to eat a couple of reasonable meals a day. While we aren’t eating, our bodies are processing old meals and awaiting the new one by making and storing digestive juices. Grazing throughout the day or sitting down to enormous post-run/ride/adventure meals quickly exhausts your digestive juice factory capabilities. Food then cannot be chemically separated, and we end up wasting half the antioxidant benefits of the pound of strawberries we just chucked in our pie hole. During training season, when our food intake increases and we find ourselves bloating out or burping up, we can support digestion by taking a broad spectrum digestive enzyme compound. You can find this at the local health food store, and it’s typically taken during meals. I prefer mine to include a little extra hydrochloric acid (the stuff in your stomach) to keep heartburn at bay. Because sometimes four slices of pizza just isn’t enough. //

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