We hear about a lot of different nutritional strategies for the ultimate purpose of enhancing our performance. There are suggestions to eat more protein, eat more frequently, only eat alkaline foods, don’t eat carbs at night, only eat carbs after training, and other “tips” that may or may not have any merit.
But this is all hinging on one critical factor. Absorption.
It doesn’t matter what you are doing in terms of macronutrient ratios, meal timing, or food selection if the food is being inadequately absorbed.
Why is Nutrient Absorption Important?
Think about this. It’s recommended to eat anywhere from 30-90 grams of carbohydrate per hour during exercise. It’s also recommended to eat 10-30 grams of protein post-exercise. These are mainstay recommendations that are completely valid and important for performance and recovery. The suggestions assume, however, that we are absorbing nearly all of those nutrients.
If we only absorb 20% vs. an assumed 80% or 90%, we aren’t getting all of the nutrition that we need to fuel and recover from exercise. Instead of getting the expected 30-90 grams of carbs, we would only get 6-18. Instead of 10-30 grams of protein, we would only get 2-6. Such low quantities simply aren’t enough to help us reach our athletic goals. Most people only absorb ~50% of ingested food matter, and the range is large – anywhere from 10-90%.
Long story short, if we are not absorbing the nutrients necessary to fuel exercise and recover from exercise, we can’t train hard, we can’t train often, and we can’t progress or improve. Signs of food malabsorption include any sort of gastric distress. This can be indigestion (obviously), bloating, heartburn, flatulence, and/or diarrhea.
What Causes Poor Absorption?
The answers may surprise you. In some cases, eating more during a single sitting can decrease absorption. With large quantities of food at one time, we can overwhelm the digestive system. Other factors occur on a more individual basis. Allergens and other irritants can cause inflammation in the digestive tract, which is actually quite common for people consuming highly processed foods.
Allergens can bother even those that are not “allergic.” I, myself, do not identify as allergic to gluten, eggs, peanuts, or dairy proteins. However, I know that if I eat those foods or foods containing those foods as ingredients, I end up with some mild side effects. Nothing major. Nothing that makes me commit to avoiding those foods by any considerable degree, but some bloating, gas, soft stool, and/or stuffy nose do occur. Other allergens include soy, tree nuts, fish/shellfish, egg, some fruits (like strawberries), some vegetables (like peppers), garlic, sesame, and sulfites. Other foods and ingredients that bother the gut include alcohol, maltodextrin, medications, thickeners (carrageenan, xanthan gum), and food coloring to name a few.
What are Ways to Enhance Absorption?
Some nutritional interventions to improve absorption includes removing processed foods from the diet. Or at least only eating them infrequently and in quantities that don’t bother you because, let’s be honest, it’s going to be pretty hard to avoid all of them! Some foods enhance absorption, such as ginger, black pepper, pineapple, and ginseng.
Ginseng, as Panax notoginseng, paired with Astragalus membranaceous is particularly effective. The folks over at NuLiv Science have combined the two in their patented supplement, AstraGin, which has had its efficacy demonstrated in over 20 studies. AstraGin supplementation has been shown to increase amino acid, vitamin, and mineral absorption. It increases the capacity to absorb nutrients via upregulating transcription for key transport proteins and reducing inflammation in the intestinal wall. This is great news, because now I can continue eating far too many servings of peanut butter… in addition to the multiple servings of peanut butter that actually fit into my diet 😊
Enhancing absorption during the post workout “window” is so important that our bodies intuitively know to upregulate absorption after training. It does so for at least up to 2 hours immediately following exercise. It’s very good at doing so for carbohydrates to restore muscle glycogen, but the data is mixed regarding protein and amino acids at this time. This is why we have included AstraGin in the best post workout recovery drink for endurance athletes, RecoverElite. To optimize post exercise nutrition, a 4:1 ratio of carbs to protein is recommended, and this works out to 1.0 gram of carbs per kg body weight and 0.25 grams of protein per kg body weight. However, this amount of protein is not thought to maximize muscle protein recovery, which is why RecoverElite also has extra leucine in addition to AstraGin to help muscles fully recuperate from exercise. By providing complete and easily digested whey protein hydrolysate, additional leucine to trigger muscle protein synthesis, and AstraGin to potentiate more complete absorption of proteins, athletes are able to optimize their recovery nutrition because even if the quantities are correct, poor absorption can prevent anticipated muscle recovery. Choose RecoverElite with AstraGin and rest assured that you won't be missing out on any nutritional value needed to train hard day after day!