If you are active and involved in the fitness community, you’ve probably been informed at some time or another that you need to take certain supplements in order to perform better. BCAA’s, whey protein, Magnesium, fish oil, Creatine, L-Glutamine; the list goes on.
“What are you taking?” is a common question guaranteed to spark a good group workout conversation.
While supplements most certainly can help you up your “game,” they may not help as much as you think—particularly if your body is not absorbing or assimilating the extra nutrients properly. In short: Your nutrition is only as good as your digestion.
So, how good is your digestion?
This is a lucrative question, especially considering how indigestion, constipation, bloating, IBS, celiac, and Crohn’s disease have seemingly become the norm for many people today. Wherever you fall on the digestive spectrum though, good digestion is imperative for getting the most from your food and supplements. And if you are not taking a probiotic on a regular basis, you may be missing a key link to enhancing your digestion.
In essence, probiotics are “good bacteria” that promote healthy gut flora. Think of them as the steel armor that helps boost your gut’s strength to fight off “bad bacteria.”
The truth is, your body is full of bacteria. In fact, it hosts over 100 trillion bacteria—most of them in your gut. (This means there are more bacteria in your gut than cells in your body.) It is safe to say then that having a “healthy” gut is correlated to your all around health—particularly since 70-80 percent of your immune system is rooted in your gut in the first place.
How does your gut become “unhealthy” or bacteria “go bad” in the first place?
There are multiple ways, including:
- Regular use of Advil, Aleve, Ibuprofen, and antibiotics
- Weak immunity from poor nutrition choices
- Lack of sleep or chronic stress
- Restrictive eating
- Low stomach acid (and consequently, poor digestion)
- Infections and/or illness
- Birth control
- Food toxins (grains, legumes, poor quality meat or eggs)
- Sensitivity to nightshade vegetables (onions, tomatoes, peppers, egg plants, potatoes) and other autoimmune irritants (nuts, eggs, egg whites)
- Overconsumption of carbohydrates and fructose
- Low fiber diets (i.e. bacteria just sits in your gut)
- Inflammation from excess polyunsaturated and omega-6 fat consumption
While no one expects you to live in a bubble, and several of these triggers have inevitably been part of your life at one time or another, the point of consuming probiotics is to reverse the tides; to build up a stronger, healthier gut to keep the ratio of “good bacteria” to “bad bacteria” in check.
How do you get probiotics?
Probiotics are available in both food and liquid as well as pill and powder form.
Some top sources include:
- Fermented foods (such as sauerkraut, fruits and veggies)
- Non-pasteurized, full fat organic yogurt
- Non-pasteurized cheese or meats like salami and some sausages
- Homemade bone broth (promotes probiotic growth)
- Liquid and pill supplements
However, if concocting or regularly consuming food sources with probiotics is a hit or miss for you, keep these points in mind when purchasing probiotics from the store.
You get what you pay for.
Don’t go to the bargain bin for your probiotics. Invest in a good quality—often times liquids are the best and most readily absorbed probiotics.
Go with reputation.
With so many choices out there (like the cereal aisle at the grocery store), it can be a little overwhelming when shopping around. Garden of Life, Jarrow, and Klaire Labs are a few brands that come to mind.
The stronger, the better.
There’s no specific recommended dosage of probiotics. Every brand and food is going to have varying amounts, from 1 billion to 10 billion live cultures. Look out for a higher potency/strength in the probiotics you purchase. Many of the over-the-counter brands are down in the 1–2 billion/dose range, so doubling up on them one to two times per day won’t hurt once your stomach is acquainted with probiotics.
Too much of a good thing.
Many probiotic formulas look impressive with a lot of strains in their formulas—like a “whey concentrate” protein (multiple proteins in one). Ideally, fewer protein strains ensure the quality of the probiotic in your formula.
People, especially athletes, can benefit from the daily consumption of probiotics.
For athletes, probiotics have been shown to:
Improve recovery by increasing antioxidant uptake.
Since free radicals are abundant (especially after training), it's important that athletes counter-balance them with high amounts of antioxidants in recovery and throughout the day. Probiotics arm your body to get the most out of these antioxidants by:
Improving digestion, thus increasing the absorption of nutrients.
Supporting immune function through enhanced ability of your gut to fight toxins.
One last thing: Don’t go overboard—especially if you have poor gut health to start. Regardless of which probiotic sources you choose, if you are dysbiotic (i.e. poor digestion and very disordered gut health), then taking a lot of probiotics or inhaling tons of probiotic-based foods is only going to send your body into a topsy-turvy overdose, and you could experience symptoms such as stomach pain, brain fog, and body aches.
Start slow and gradually increase your intake.
Step into the kitchen with our bonus recipes to make two dishes—bone broth and fermented vegetables—rich in the natural supplement. (Recipes on the following pages.)
What You Need
- 4 or 5 heads of red or green cabbage, shredded
- 1/4 cup sea salt
How to Make It
Place the shredded cabbage little by little in your fermentation jar, pounding it vigorously and sprinkling with sea salt as you go.
Make sure the mixture fills the jar up no higher than 1 inch beneath the top (because of the expansion). Also, make sure the extracted water covers the vegetables entirely. If it doesn’t, create a brine of 2 tablespoons sea salt to 4 cups water and add it to the cabbage.
Press the vegetables and keep them under the brine by placing a plate or lid on top (weighted down by a rock or a jug of water). Cover with a clean towel if needed to keep out fruit flies.
Place the fermentation jar in a warm spot in your kitchen and allow the sauerkraut to ferment for 7 to 10 days.
Check on the jar from time to time to be sure the brine covers the vegetables and to remove any mold that may form on the surface.
A good way to know when the cabbage is ready is to taste it during the fermentation process and move it to the refrigerator when you’re satisfied with the flavor.
Homemade Bone Broth
What You Need
- Filtered water
- 2 pounds (or more) of bones from a healthy source
- 2 chicken feet for extra gelatin (optional)
- 1 onion
- 2 carrots, unpeeled, roughly chopped
- 2 stalks of celery, roughly chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- Optional: 1 bunch of parsley, 1 tablespoon of sea salt, 1 teaspoon peppercorns, and any additional herbs or spices to taste.
How to Make It
Place the bones in a large stock pot (I use a 5 gallon pot). Pour (filtered) water over the bones and add the vinegar. Let sit for 20 to 30 minutes in the cool water.
Roughly chop and add the vegetables (except the parsley and garlic, if using) to the pot. Add any salt, pepper, spices, or herbs.
Bring the broth to a boil. Once it has reached a vigorous boil, reduce to a simmer until done:
- Beef broth/stock: Simmer for 48 hours
- Chicken or poultry broth/stock: Simmer for 24 hours
- Fish broth: Simmer for 8 hours
During the first few hours of simmering, remove the impurities that float to the surface. A frothy/foamy layer will form. It can be easily scooped off with a big spoon.
During the last 30 minutes, add the cloves of garlic any additional herbs (if using).
Remove from heat, let cool, and store for up to 5 days in refrigerator. Or freeze for later.