Once a quarter we apply the deep work strategy to upskilling our training experience. It works way better as we’re fully immersed in a learning environment for anywhere between 1-5 full days, you can’t help but learn because there’s no distractions. Outside of those days we implement what we learn.
Learning is great, results are what matters.
To know and not to do is really not really to know – Stephen Covey.
Here are 6 takeaways from a recent Gut Health seminar I attended two weeks ago.
1. Environment is everything
Blue Zones are regions in the world where people live much longer than the average; Sardinia in Italy, Okinawa in Japan, Loma Linda in California, Nicoya in Costa Rica and Icaria in Greece. Doing research of these regions to find out what their common factors are would be highly beneficial as we’d potentially be able to learn from them and live longer.
When you read articles about Blue Zone regions what you’ll find they talk about is “what they eat”, which is the wrong thing to focus on. That’s because each region eats different things, in Sardinia they will eat more plant based foods with some meat, grains (which yes contain gluten) and even consume some good old wine; and in Okinawa they will eat more pork and seafood.
When Dan Buettner the author for the book Blue Zones did his research on those regions what he discovered was that their diet isn’t as important as their environment.
The commonalities with these regions are that they’re very low stress. Their environment has way less perceived stress to what we have here in Melbourne.
Blue Zones share these common lifestyle characteristics:
- Family – Put ahead of other concerns
- Less smoking
- Semi-vegetarianism, some animal protein
- Constant to moderate physical activity levels
- Social engagement
Compare this to Melbourne or a modern capital city:
- Family – Dependant on individual values
- More smoking, passive smoking, pollution and xenoestrogens
- More available convenience foods
- Sitting at a desk
- Lower social engagement (social media, Tinder, only talk to me once I’ve got my dream partner, travelled the world, got married, had kids and my dream home – got that from a meme)
It got me thinking, we can break it down and apply Blue Zone characteristics to our hustle and bustle lifestyle here in Melbourne.
Here’s how we would do it and what we apply with our personal training clients:
- Have people around you that challenge your standards, support your goals and display the characteristics that align with your values. It’s the “Who you surround yourself with, you become” quote
- Be consciously aware of external toxins, you can’t avoid them all but you can do a lot to limit your exposure to them – stay away from smoking areas, walk the laneway and parks instead of the main road, don’t drink out of reusable plastics and use skincare that contains less chemicals
- Eat more real/fresh food – anything hunted, gathered, fished or plucked
- Measure your steps to ensure you’re being as active as your should be
- Make time to do the things that give you energy and love. As you get busier, people, work and tasks take up more of your time. Here’s where you have to make time for rest and leisure, going from flight or fight mode to rest and digest mode
You don’t have to be a hippy to do this, you can still be a goal getter and achieve the things you want without sacrificing your health. It’s about working smarter and harder during the times you are working, yet still making time to rest, recover and do the things you love.
It’s not about being stress free because without stress you can’t build tolerance. It’s about conditioning your stress resistance so you can keep moving forward outside of your comfort zone without ageing faster through unnecessary stress. Repeating that process over and over again towards training, work or life goals.
2. Food rotation for healthy gut microbiome
A study conducted by De Filipo examined the gut bacteria of European children compared to kids who grew up in rural Africa. The diets of the two were quite different with European children having more processed ‘western’ foods and rural Africans having more of a plant based paleolithic diet. Of course what they found was a difference in gut microbiome and the bacteria living inside their gut. Children in rural Africa had a wider variety and much more bacteria, many of which were anti-inflammatory, helping to combat inflammation that increases risk of diseases. European children had less or none of the good bacteria found in the rural African children.
What does this mean for you? If you want to get less sick, develop a stronger immune system and more stress resistance you have to look at rotating your food more. If I was to get you to count how many types of foods you eat in a week would it be over twenty? In modern society that is rarely the case, we tend to eat the same foods over and over again.
A healthy gut flora teaches the cells of your immune system that not everything is bad.
The more balanced your mood, the less sick you get the more likely it is that you’re going to achieve your health and fitness goals and execute on all of your day to day activities.
3. There are 6 types of gut permeability
Leaky gut or intestinal permeability is a condition which the lining of your small intestine becomes damaged causing undigested food particles, toxic waste products and bacteria to leak through the intestines and flood your bloodstream.
It’s not what you eat, it’s what your body is able to absorb.
When this happens (foreign substances are not supposed to be in your bloodstream) this can cause immune responses (stress response) in your body including inflammatory and allergic reactions such as migraines, irritable bowel, fatigue, arthritis and more.
Looking at it from a nutrition and training perspective when this occurs it’s less likely that the athlete or client is efficiently absorbing the nutrients they’re eating from food. This leads to nutrient deficiencies, greater stress, lower strength and energy output in training and slower body composition results.
One of the first supplements we have clients taking is pharmecuitical grade digestive enzymes as this helps their digestive system to be able to efficiently break down nutrients and then absorb them. The opposite of this is that food isn’t going to break down properly, they’ll get feelings of discomfort when they eat (everyything makes them bloated) and they won’t end up absorbing all their micronutrients properly from their food – sings of this is that they’re still tired or run down even though they’re eating healthy.
If you’re wanting to achieve fast and efficient results with your health and training you have to take into consideration the health of your gut. Sometimes if you’re experiencing symptoms of gut permeability you’re going to have to do more with your nutrition, lifestyle and supplementation to get it back on track. If you’re only focused on training hard, eating healthy and not factoring in lifestyle considerations such as managing your perceived stress, work load and recovery (rest and leisure) that can as well affect the health of your gut.
When you’re in fight or flight mode the last thing your body wants to do is rest and digest. Even though you’re not being chased after by a tiger, instead you’re thinking about getting your work done by the next deadline, you’re producing the same stress response as if you were being chased by a tiger.
Because there are 6 types of gut permeability symptoms will range.
- Intracellular permeability
Cells of the intestinal lining separate causing ‘leaky gut’ where symptoms can include inflammation, autoimmune diseases, articular cartilage issues and problems with lactose and gluten.
- Severe intestinal permeability
Damage through the gut lining cells themselves plus seperation of the cells where symptoms can include diarrhea, lethargy, blood sugar management issues on top of intracellular permeability symptoms (you definitely don’t want this).
- Permeability through the cell
Only damage through the gut lining cells where symptoms are similar to severe intestinal permeability.
- Damage to mucosal cell
Mucosal cells are on top of the gut lining cells which produce enzymes to break down and absorb nutrients. Because these cells are now damaged they don’t produce enough enzymes to properly break down nutrients causing symptoms such as food intolerances, sensitivities, lactose intolerance over fermentation of food in small intestine and SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth).
- Splitting of cells
Similar to permeability through the cell however symptoms with this type include your body not absorbing proteins properly and breaking them down into amino acids and then neurotransmitters which can affect mood.
- Mixture of above scenarios
Mixture of some/all of the above symptoms.
When someone says it’s only about calories in vs calories out and you can eat whatever you want as long as you’re following the calories in vs calories out rule I first look at the environment they’re in. Most of the time they’re in the most least amount of stress state possible, having no high pressure job, no goals outside of looking good for Instagram and they usually have endless amounts of time to be able to train and eat healthy. If I was in that same environment I too would be able to get away with more of a loose approach to nutrition. A lot of people were able to from their early to mid 20’s being able to drink excessively and get away with it.
Then something changes, there’s more responsibilities which often has stress.
The people that come in to see us are sometimes in high pressure situations for work, have only limited amounts of time to train and prepare their meals and most of them have family and kids to take care of as their most important priority.
They don’t have a carefree and stress free environment.
The whole eat whatever you want as long as it’s less won’t cut it for them and doesn’t work simply because their environment is different. When you’re at this point the limited amount of time that you have to eat must contain nutrient dense foods that provide more bang for your buck, otherwise you’re running the gauntlet of creating a form of gut permeability and having the symptoms that come along with it.
4. Importance of a stool test
You can get numbers on the levels and different types microbiome in your gut through a stool test. The benefit of this is that you’re wasting time or playing any guessing games. You know exactly what’s low, what’s causing certain strains of good bacteria to be low or if you have any forms of yeast infections (Candida) or bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).
By knowing you can then take steps to address your gut health with confidence.
At the moment we have a woman working with us in training and after a stool test was recommended by the practitioner reading her results to undergo a lower to no carb diet to get rid of her SIBO, which makes total sense because sugar and carbs would further feed the bacterial overgrowth she’s got.
Once that procedures done she can then slowly start to implement more carbs to her diet which will align with her performance training goals.
5. There’s no one nutrition template
There’s many factors that are going to determine what type of nutrition template is going to best for you at this point in time. Once that nutrition template has done its job it’s most likely that you’re going to require another nutrition template to get you to the next goal.
How nutrition templates can change depending on your goals:
- SIBO – low carb, fodmap
- Weight loss – carb backloading
- Training performance – carb timing (before and after training)
- Body composition & performance – macro split
On the back end of these nutrition templates you would take into consideration how many calories a person is able to absorb in their current situation plus the amount of calories, protein, fats and carbs they would be having throughout the day.
What’s more important than nutrition templates and ‘diets’ is your principles for nutrition, developing principals that work for your overall lifestyle but can be made to fit into different nutrition templates depending on your goals.
E.g. of principles:
- 90% of my nutrition is hunted, gathered, fished or plucked
- I eat all of my healthy meals first before having any treats
- I’m not emotionally attached to food
- If I want to have something I’ll have it (no social conditioning drives me)
- Food is shared amongst family and friends
When you have a set of nutrition principles that work for you, 90% of the time that’s going to put you into a healthy position along with your body composition. You can be healthy, train and perform at a decent level without. The nutrition templates are the icing on the cake, they’re the coding behind the fancy looking website, the details.
6. 5-1 Method to Intermittent Fasting
I thought this topic was cool as all the rage at the moment with diets is keto and intermittent fasting. I’ve personally experimented with it in my early stages of training with success in losing weight, though I probably didn’t have the healthiest relationship with food as every weekend after 3-5 days of fasting I would binge on all the junk food I could find. Looking back on it and knowing what I know now I can see that the downfall was too many consecutive days of too much accumulated stress from fasting paired with my environment.
Right now I don’t do any form of fasting as I like eating food, don’t mind making time for meals and to be honest weight training to get stronger, build muscle and improve body composition in a fasted state would suck.
If you purposely put yourself in a calorie deficit for so long your body is going to want to make up that deficit one way or another with interest. That’s why when the 5-1 method of intermittent fasting was mentioned I was a lot more intrigued as I could see benefits of its use. It’s less stressful on the body especially if you’re in the hustle and bustle of modern society and you still want to perform at a decent level in training.
The benefits of fasting include increase in insulin sensitivity, putting your body in a calorie deficit, increases the use of your stored fat reserves and further promotes detoxification. However doing this everyday for consecutives weeks and having the pressures of work, life and training, it can more often than not be as effective as what the buzz is all about. The more stressed people are through work, life and training the more they burn through glucose and energy so if you combine that with fasting and starving yourself you can end up looking skinny-fat or store more body-fat later on.
The key is finding how much stress you can tolerate and still get results because fasting is a stress on your body. You can reap the benefits of fasting when you know when and how to pull your body out of that stress by re-nourishing your body.
Most people don’t know how or want to do this because it’s more work (preparing meals, eating nutrient dense meals after fasting), they want to save their calories for later so they can eat all the middle aisle foods as they want. They thought they’ve discovered the magic pill, the one nutrition template that they can apply forever and still get results.
If you do this you’ll forever be in a cycle.
The key is finding how much stress you can tolerate and still get results because fasting is a stress on your body. It can be a good stress when used correctly because you’re able to come out of it properly, you can then keep repeating that process to reap the rewards. The 5-1 method is a good place to start as you’re only doing 1 day.
The 5-1 Method of Intermittent Fasting protocol:
- 5 days of eating healthy normally (3-5 meals/day at slight calorie deficit, maintenance or surplus depending on your goals)
- 1 day of fasting (15 hours from dinner night before to lunch/afternoon tea the next day)
- First meal from your period of fasting should always be nutrient dense to support the optimal functioning of your body (slow cooked meat, vegetables, bone broth, low GI carbs)