On the show today, I have Megan Hall, Scientific Director at Nourish Balance Thrive, an online health coaching company helping people achieve optimal health and peak performance. Megan Received her BS in Exercise Biology and MS in Nutritional Biology at the University of California, Davis where her research focused on the effects of low carbohydrate and ketogenic diets on longevity and healthspan in mice.
We intended to focus today’s conversation with Megan on the importance of gut health and how to build a bulletproof gut; but we ended up covering all things nutrition, diets, digestive techniques, and lifestyle factors. We do a deep dive into how overlooked gut health is and why it is so important to understand how your system reacts and adapts to certain lifestyle diets and knowing what works for you. Megan shares a few standpoints on why you should buy organic and locally when you can because the produce is fresher, which gives you more nutrients, but also because of the way our mitochondrial function and gut health react to the pesticides on non-local products.
Megan steers the conversation to coffee and alcohol in the diet and how both, for some, can increase levels of intestinal permeability, which can cause an inflamed gut. Listen in as Megan explains a couple of factors that go into building yourself a bulletproof gut: eating in a parasympathetic and rest and digest state and also timing food around your workouts to ensure your gut is prepared for digestion. We then do a deep dive into stress and its role it plays in gut health and absorbing nutrients, as well as the gut’s response to sleep quantity and quality. We close out the episode by discussing how you can actually implement these strategies and techniques in your everyday life to achieve an unstoppable gut.
What You’ll Learn in This Episode:
- [03:10] An introduction to Megan and Nourish Balance Thrive
- [09:08] Why you should care about gut health
- [12:40] What you should be doing to build your bulletproof gut
- [17:35] What role fiber plays in gut health
- [19:48] Why you should buy organic and local produce
- [21:45] Knowing what carbohydrate is right for you
- [23:00] Soluble versus insoluble fibers
- [24:30] Coffee and alcohol in the diet
- [27:15] The AIP diet and gut repairing
- [29:25] Factors that go into building a bulletproof gut
- [35:00] The gut’s response to stress
- [38:14] The gut’s response to sleep quantity and quality
- [41:05] The effects of exercise on the gut (short-term and long-term)
- [43:15] How to implement these strategies and techniques
- [44:35] Probiotic and prebiotic experimenting
James Cerbie: Let’s jump into the episode today with Megan Hall. OK, there we go, we are live. Megan, welcome, thank you so much for chunking out some time to jump on to the podcast with me today.
Megan Hall: Of course, thank you for having me.
James Cerbie: Absolutely. So, let’s start here for anybody tuning in who doesn’t know who you are, what you do. Maybe they haven’t heard a Nourish, Balance Thrive. Can you give us the quick elevator pitch on who you are and what your day to day looks like?
An Introduction to Megan Hall and Nourish Balance Thrive
Megan Hall: Yeah, sure. So, I guess we’ll start with what I was going to do and we’ll kind of end up where I am now with NBT. So…
James Cerbie: Beautiful.
Megan Hall: For a long time, probably since fifth, sixth grade, I was on the path to medical school. I went to UC Davis and majored in exercise biology changed my major a couple of times along the way. I started with I went in with chem, then bio cam, then I ended up as exercise bio largely, I think because that the premed prerequisites that I had to take, there were many of those chemistry biology biochem classes anyway that I enjoyed.
But I also had some really amazing professors and the exercise physiology department that kind of left an impact on me to this day. But anyway, I was nearing the end of my undergraduate education, becoming more and more interested in what you might call like functional or holistic medicine. Although now I realize that the best kind of medicine is the kind that works and the kind that has the best risk-reward ratio for the patient. But anyway, I was becoming more interested in how lifestyle plays a role in things like chronic disease and simultaneously becoming more aware of the fact that I would probably be quite frustrated with much of a conventional medical school education and would probably end up in a lot of debt six plus years down the road, only to have to break out of that conventional medicine mold and practice the medicine that I knew and believe to work best, at least for the modern chronic diseases.
And certainly, there’s a time and a place for going to the E.R. if you break your leg. But I was much more excited about how impactful nutritional and lifestyle interventions could play a role in health. So more so than I was about like pharmaceutical medication. So, I was on the fence about med school and know it’s a big commitment if you’re not 110% committed to that, huh? So, I decided to take some time and do a master’s degree in nutritional biology.
I figured that nutrition was something that most doctors didn’t learn in med school and I was interested in the field already. So, the master’s degree turned out to be one of the best decisions that I made. I love the lab. I love the research. I love my peers and my colleagues. And ultimately, after that, I decided to apply to med school following getting the master’s in nutritional biology. But along the way and in the middle of applying to schools, I started working with Nourish, Balance, Thrive, and after interviewing a few schools, I realized that I love the work that I was doing with clients at NBT.
I really felt like I could actually cultivate relationships and get to know clients. And through that, that really helped me help them achieve their goals better than I think that I ever could. In a rushed 15-minute appointment as a physician, I also was drawn to the idea of continuing my education, but doing it through learning from brilliant people, brilliant mentors like Dr. Tommy Wood, who I know you’ve had on podcast, but also learning from both the direct work that I was doing with clients and also doing the research.
When a client asked me a question that I didn’t know the answer to, I probably now spend almost as much time on PubMed as I did in grad school, which is kind of funny, but I love it. So long story short, that brings us to today, where I work with some amazing people at Nourish, Balance, Thrive, basically helping them achieve their version of optimal health and performance. And a lot but not definitely all of that revolves around helping people optimize their health.
Why Gut Health is so Important
James Cerbie: OK, beautiful, and that was the topic that we are going to dive in today because we have yet to talk about the gut on the podcast, I’m sure that we could probably spend months really talking and diving into the gut because it is. A lot of people talk about how, like the brain is kind of the final frontier. Granted, I think most things are still the final frontier. We don’t know as much as we think we do. But I would say the gut is also this huge, vast expanse of unknown.
And we’re learning so much so rapidly, like even if you go back three years or five years, we weren’t really having very serious conversations about gut health. And now it’s come to be pretty front and center. And so, yeah, what I would love to do today is dive in and unpack kind of a big bird’s eye view of like, why should we care? Like, why is the gut so important? Like, it’s just this tube that makes poop, right?
Or does it play a bigger role? And then I would like to dive into something like just concrete, actionable advice in terms like how can the people listening to the episode today walk away and implement some core strategies and tactics and habits to help them build a bulletproof gut? And then if we have time in the back end, maybe we get into more special use cases?
Megan Hall: Sure. Yeah, that sounds great. And I’ll preface this by saying, like, I certainly have had my fair share of issues in high school and college and conventional gastroenterology. Well, there is definitely a time and a place for it. It didn’t do much to help me. But prior to working with NBT, I know I did some work with Chris and Tommy using that testing and some gut protocols which really helped a lot. And I also ended up finding other triggers like stress that I have on my gut
So I think a great place to start, like you said, would be to talk about why we care about good health and then we’ll dive into things like nutrition and some lifestyle interventions that are really impactful.
James Cerbie: For sure. Yeah, I mean, I know that I had some legitimate gut issues growing up that were probably due to stress. Like, my gut still ties really tight to my stress. Like, if I get stressed, my gut goes to poop, no pun intended. And the other one for me, like gluten and dairy, which I ate a lot of growing up. And when I pulled those two out, I was like, oh, my God.
I mean, I knew I like a new human being. This is amazing. What do you mean? You’re not supposed to have GI stress and you’re not supposed to have gas all the time and like, what is this new world? But I will turn it over to you. So maybe let’s start with the Whiley people listening. Why should we care about good health? Maybe just a few looks into how integrated this organ system is with everything else that’s going on.
Megan Hall: Sure. And like you said, this could be a whole podcast in and of itself. And there’s so much we don’t know. So, I’m just going to kind of give people that. Absolutely. So, the gut microbiota, including the bugs in the gut, as well as the whole ecosystem, including the health of the intestinal lining, plays a very important role in numerous parts of physiology, such as hormone balance, cellular or ATP, energy production, immune function, detoxification and neurotransmitter production, and the guts.
When it’s not in a place of health, it can be a significant source of inflammation, which has implications for many chronic diseases, including diabetes, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, cancer and autoimmune conditions and many, many more. And that inflammation coming from the gut could come from something like dysbiosis, which is the imbalance of good and potentially pathogenic gut bugs. It could come from something like intestinal permeability or leaky gut, or it could potentially come from something like immune overstimulation or immune suppression from something like a pathogen.
And I would argue that if the gut isn’t healthy, then the human isn’t healthy or the human isn’t as healthy as the human could be. When we think about gut related symptoms, those symptoms can be overt symptoms like gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, abdominal pain, or they could be symptoms outside of the gut, but still connected to the gut. So, things like eczema or skin issues or headaches or mood disturbances, definitely all of those things play into the health of the gut.
James Cerbie: Yeah, for sure. Because, I mean, I can remember getting turned on to the gut probably. Yeah. For about four or five years ago is when I actually started to get really interested. And like it doesn’t take much digging in to start realizing how overlooked this was for so long. It’s like you don’t even need to go into the weeds. Appreciate that. Like this is ground zero. The gut is the thing that is separating because we have this tube that runs from the mouth down my anus.
Seems like it separates what’s supposed to be outside the body from what’s going on inside the body. And then this is the interface where I’m getting all the exchange with all the food I consume. Anything that goes through my mouth passes through the system. This is where that exchange is happening, right. The gut itself can make signaling molecules that can change physiology entirely. And it’s like not surprising that you have this incredibly important integrated system with a lot of things that can tie back to what’s going on in the gut, even though, as you’ve mentioned, classic Western Medicine.
And may not look at it that way, like they’re going to eczema and probably want to give you a cream right now, he’s going down that path of like really belaboring, I think, a horse has been beat pretty good. But let’s transition then and talk more about actionable to-dos. So, if we want to think about just the big rocks that people can and should be focusing on in terms of like what should we be doing on a day-to-day basis to stack the deck in your favor to help build this bulletproof gut?
Because like you said, if you don’t have a healthy gut, then like you’re leaving something on the table, either health or performance, maybe both. Yes. I’d love to hear your thoughts on that.
What You Should Be Doing to Build a Bulletproof Gut
Megan Hall: Sure. Yeah. And I would argue both health and performance and oftentimes when I’m working with clients, they may come to us wanting to, you know, deadlift more weight or wanting to improve their endurance performance if they’re an Ironman athlete. But oftentimes what happens is we get them healthier and sometimes that has to do with working on the gut and then performance. And so, what I would always start with is nutrition or diet. So, for somebody basic, you know, average person off the street, if they’re following more of a standard American style diet, I would focus on real whole nutrient dense foods, which largely means quality animal protein and a wide variety of plants.
If you’re an omnivore, the ratio of those two things could be different for different people in different stages of life, but quality whole on processed foods. And I think that can get most people starting from a standard American diet a long way. Secondarily to that, you mentioned a gluten free and dairy free diet. I think that can also be a really helpful trial and super impactful for a lot of people long term.
James Cerbie: I want to jump into super quick on that point because. This is one that I see I see lots of Internet arguments about this whole gluten or dairy thing, some people are like it gets blown out of proportion. Some people get both sides. And what I don’t understand about the argument is I don’t know if I could think of anything that is easier to test on yourself as an end of one subject. If you can test it on yourself as an individual subject, that’s the most important outcome.
It’s like you can look at all the research studies you want. There can be complications. It’s based off an average in statistics but take gluten out for three weeks. See how you feel. Just pay attention, put it back in. Notice what happens. Similar thing with dairy, like it’s just for me, I don’t understand the argument. There’s such a low hanging fruit. Take it out, see how you feel. Reintroduce it, see what happens. Super easy. OK,
Megan Hall: Yeah.
James Cerbie: Sorry. Yes, I get that one.
Megan Hall: One hundred percent agree. Yeah, absolutely. And for a lot of the clients say that come to work with the Nourish, Balance Thrive, a lot of them are coming to us listening to all of the health and fitness podcasts already, which means that they’re usually eating some kind of gluten free, dairy free Whole Foods, maybe a paleo style diet, in which case there may be certain additional dietary interventions to play with it, to do that kind of one experiment with depending on the person, their history and their symptoms.
So those might be things like a low fodmap diet. Fodmap are fermentable carbohydrates that can or fiber’s that can basically cause in some people with this dysbiosis bacterial overgrowth, things like gas and bloating, and then maybe even something like an autoimmune paleo diet or a low histamine diet, again, depending on the person and what’s going on with them in general. There are some things that I think are that most people agree are beneficial for a healthy microbiome.
So those would include things like plant diversity, which ideally comes with a variety of fibers, plant fibers and also plant colors. So, thinking about eating the rainbow. That said, I think that it’s very clear from the people that I work with that the diet that is going to be supportive of your microbiome today might not be the diet that supportive of your microbiome five years from now. And those diets aren’t going to look exactly the same across the board from person to person, which, like you said, is why the end of one experiment is so important and so helpful.
So, while there are some generally agreed upon nutritional interventions for gut health, like a variety of plants, fiber color, whole foods, I think that it’s also going to be personalized to some extent as well.
James Cerbie: Yeah, without question. I totally agree.
Megan Hall: And some people, for whatever reason, can’t tolerate a lot of fiber. And maybe that’s because there’s some level of dysbiosis or bacterial overgrowth in the gut, or maybe that’s because they’re a hard charging athlete that needs a lot of calories. And stuffing their gut with full of cups and cups of raw fibrous vegetables at each meal might not be conducive to healthier performance. So for those people I like to use, in addition to some level of fiber, obviously a variety of polyphenols, so color in the diet and those polyphenols may or may not come with fiber as extra support for the gut.
So, when people usually think of polyphenols, they think of things like blueberries or blackberries or maybe pomegranate seeds. But other ways to get a variety of gut supporting polyphenols into the diet would include things like herbs and spices, both fresh and dried, different teas, coffee. I can get to coffee in a minute because that’s a good one and a bad one for the gut. So do I get it now?
James Cerbie: It’s never going away. Like, I don’t care if I lab work comes back and it’s just like in before. Like James, if you stop coffee, everything gets better. I’m just going to take my chances.
Megan Hall: Fair enough. And I’d even put a good quality dark chocolate for polyphenols in that list as well.
Fiber’s Role in Gut Health
James Cerbie: So, can I interrupt real quick?
Megan Hall: Of course.
James Cerbie: I’m assuming there’s people listening to this who are hearing fiber and are probably wondering what role fiber is playing in the gut health conversation? Like, why do we need fiber? Why do we want the fiber?
Megan Hall: Sure. Yeah. So, fiber is incredibly important from a few different standpoints. It helps different kinds of fiber. They’re soluble and insoluble. Fiber helps book the stool, helps water get absorbed from stool and passed through smoothly through the colon. And fiber also is important for feeding beneficial bacterial species that produce short chain fatty acids like glutamate, which go on to nourish the intestinal parasites or the cells of the intestinal lining. And deuterated in particular is a super interesting short chain fatty acid that we definitely don’t know everything about yet.
But there’s some evidence that it can also be a signaling molecule outside of the guts. And there may be some other ways to increase butyrate levels such as circulating beta hydroxybutyrate if you’re in something like nutritional ketosis. But in general, people can eat and tolerate the fibers that go on to feed the beneficial bacteria that naturally produce butyrate and naturally help create a normal, healthy stool, then I would definitely encourage that.
James Cerbie: Beautiful. OK, excellent. And then one other quick follow-up question in this train of thought not technically related to fiber, but when we’re talking about vegetables, there’s a lot of conversation about buying organic, not buying organic, buying local, et cetera, et cetera. I tend to try to stack the deck in my favor, like when we can. We try to buy local. We try to buy organic because I would imagine that getting something in season plus, I’m not a huge fan of spraying all the Monsanto stuff.
And I think that there’s an individual, Dr, Zak Bush, who talks a lot about I’m totally blanking on the one ingredient and it’s blowing my mind right now.
Megan Hall: Glyphosate?
James Cerbie: Glyphosate, say, yeah, that one. So again, I think sometimes it’s like maybe we don’t know the whole story, but I’m going to choose to stack the deck in my favor and avoid as many fires as I can. It’s like we go local and organic, obviously.
Do that as your budget can, but I don’t know if that’s something that you’re going to be stressing with the people that you work with as well.
Megan Hall: Yeah, so it’s a good question. And I think that I tend to fall in the same camp as you do when and if you can absolutely buy organic buy local buy both if you can visit farmer’s markets. There’s a couple of reasons for that. One is that buying local the food is fresher or the produce is fresher and you get more nutrients from that food. The longer broccoli or carrots have been sitting on the shelf at the grocery store, the more nutrients they lose.
So that’s important from just a micronutrient standpoint. And then from a glyphosate pesticide standpoint, it’s probably not great for us. We don’t know all of the effects that those things have on mitochondrial function and gut health and bacterial balance. But I can almost guarantee that there’s probably no upside of having in your diet.
James Cerbie: I would agree. One hundred percent. I think that there’s no positive that can come from getting pesticides and glyphosate in your system. Just look at the history and what it was originally designed to do and the fact that it pretty much kills everything. But we don’t need to make this a glyphosate conversation. OK, beautiful. So, one of the things I was going to piggyback on there, and we’re talking about kind of this calorie consumption conversation because just like the people listening to this, they’re going to be training.
Most of them are going to be under eating. And so, I’ll just something from my experience, like I pretty much stick to exactly what you’ve been talking about so far. Lots of animal meat. I eat as many vegetables and colors as I can that I can tolerate well. And then I handle white rice really well. So, the vast majority of my carbohydrates comes from lots of white rice, some oatmeal, and then, yes, some like blueberries and fruit when we can get them in season.
But again, that’s something just to pay attention to. I think with yourself, like sweet potatoes are great. They don’t pack that much of a punch. Like if I need to get down five or six hundred grams of carbohydrates in a day, that’s a lot of sweet potatoes.
Megan Hall: It’s a lot of fiber. Your gut probably isn’t going to tolerate that.
James Cerbie: Yeah. So, like white rice, rice cakes sometimes like chase the low hanging fruit for calories and just be really good with, like, everything else that you’re doing. So, I was just going to chime that in super-fast.
Megan Hall: Yeah, for sure. And I talk to people about this, and I incorporate some of those things myself as well, because ultimately, I think that again, your average person on the street, they’re probably going to do well with the cellular carbohydrates that look more like they came from nature. So, things like root vegetables and fruit, whereas an athlete who really needs to get in and calories and some nutrition without a ton of volume, they are in the context of an otherwise nutrient dense diet.
I’m absolutely a fan of incorporating some white rice, some oats, higher sugar fruits like bananas. All of those things can be really beneficial for athletes who need more nutrition.
James Cerbie: Beautiful. OK, before I interrupted you, I’m sorry. So please continue. The floor is yours.
Megan Hall: OK, so again, just to reiterate what I was saying, I think a diversity of plants and then a diversity of colors and for color is just think about eating the rainbow. You can also think about buying different colored vegetables of the same variety. So, for example, you can get purple carrots as well as white and orange carrots or yellow carrots. You can get purple kale as well as green kale. You can get different colored potatoes or sweet potatoes.
So, all of those things are going to have different kinds of polyphenols, which will also nourish your gut bacteria as well. One other thing I was going to mention from a fiber standpoint is it can be really helpful to balance the soluble and insoluble fiber. And it’s far from a silver bullet. But I have seen some people with gut issues, whether that’s bloating or whether it’s like diarrhea, resolve, just by adjusting the ratio of soluble to insoluble fiber and their diet.
So, a lot of people who embark on like a paleo or a low carb style diet automatically will increase their insoluble fiber, which would come from things like above ground vegetables like broccoli, leafy greens, cauliflower, asparagus, that kind of thing. And then they’ll decrease their soluble fiber, which is coming mostly from things like root vegetables, whole grains, things like oatmeal, maybe some not seasoned like. And I found that the soluble fiber is often the missing piece for a lot of people who struggle on both sides of that stool quality spectrum, whether it be looser stools or more of a constipation phenotype.
So that is something to pay attention to. Is getting a balance of both types of fiber in your diet.
James Cerbie: Beautiful. Excellent. Okay.
Coffee and Alcohol in the Diet
Megan Hall: I want to pause and talk about coffee for just one second.
James Cerbie: Coffee as much as you want. I am a fanatic. No, that’s not the right word. That comes across not in the greatest of light. I use my own beans now, like I’m totally down the rabbit hole. I like all in on coffee. I’m a huge coffee snob, so. Yes, please. We can talk about coffee as much as you would like.
Megan Hall: Well, you might not love everything I have to say about it. So, I’m also not going to tell you to remove coffee from your diet. So, coffee and alcohol kind of put them into the same bucket. And I want to preface this by saying coffee has some amazing polyphenols. It can be anti-inflammatory for some people, but there are some elimination diets, such as the autoimmune paleo diet that removes coffee. And there’s a reason for that.
So, coffee and alcohol can be inflammatory for some people and cause some level of intestinal permeability or leaky gut. And I’ve seen bulletproof coffee be potentially one of the worst things for some guts, especially for those with just biases and got permeability because dumping a lot of concentrated saturated fat in the form of butter and oil has its own issue when it comes to something called endotoxin, where endotoxin translocation occurs across the gut barrier. So, to back up a second endotoxin or polysaccharide is a toxin that’s present in the outer membrane of the cell wall of gram-negative bacteria.
And it can cause significant gut inflammation or systemic inflammation when the endotoxin gets past the gut barrier and into the bloodstream. And then add to that the fact that that’s coming from the saturated fats for some people, depending on a lot of different factors, including what’s going on in their life, stress exercise, as well as the balance of gut bacteria. And then add to that the fact that for some people, coffee tends to further increase gut permeability and you can end up with what seems to be based off of symptoms.
Some amount of I’ve got derived endotoxin, which results in inflammation, especially with the bulletproof coffee and the effective coffee, does seem to be a little bit more acute. So if you don’t drink coffee for 48 hours, then the GI mucosa is capable of significant repair and regeneration. And that’s one of the cool things about the gut, is that if you stop putting in all of these potential insults, whether that’s gluten or dairy or for some people, coffee or even things like eggs, then it’s definitely capable of repair.
But most people drinking coffee or bulletproof coffee are habitual everyday drinkers. So that’s not to say that everyone will mess up their gut from drinking coffee or alcohol. But if somebody is having some of those symptoms, especially around drinking coffee, then I would consider pulling it out for a period of time. And again, like full disclosure, I love my coffee, too, but it is something that is problematic for some people.
James Cerbie: Yeah, excellent. I can say from experience that my wife had a ton of success on an autoimmune paleo protocol. It worked wonders for her. It was really, really good. It’s a very difficult protocol. You’re eliminating a lot. But for her it was really powerful. May not be like the magic bullet for everybody, but it worked really well for her. So, yeah, 100%.
Megan Hall: Yeah. And something I don’t know if your wife eats AP now, but for something like an autoimmune paleo diet or a low-fat diet or whatever kind of elimination diet, the goal is to remove those foods for a period of time to kind of let the dust settle, let it rebuild and repair. And then from there, you go on and start reintroducing foods, reintroduce coffee, reintroduce eggs and nitrates and all these things and see what your gut can handle.
And maybe sometimes you return to something like an AP diet a couple of times a year or once a year, whatever that looks like is kind of a reset. But ultimately, with these elimination diets, the goal isn’t to be super restrictive. The goal in my mind is to eat as inclusive as possible. Well, not having these inflammatory gut symptoms.
James Cerbie: Absolutely.
Megan Hall: So, I’d always start with nutrition and dietary interventions as the first line of defense. It’s possible that somebody could be eating like quote unquote, perfect diet and still be getting some GI symptoms, which means that we need to take a little bit deeper into what else could be going on. And even if someone has a generally solid gut without a lot of GI symptoms, these next things that we’ll talk about here are definitely things I would pay attention to because they do impact the overall health of the gut.
And like we started with, gut health is important for a lot of things. So, anything else, James, you want to mention about diet or should we move on to a couple of other lifestyle factors.
Lifestyle Factors That Go Into Building A Bulletproof Gut
James Cerbie: No, I feel pretty good with that, I feel good on the diet front, let’s jump to the lifestyle factors so that if someone is listening to like yeah, yeah, like I’m crushing this whole diet thing, I still feel bloated. My stomach still doesn’t feel good. I’m still really gassy. Thanks for the lifestyle stuff. Could be. I always think of it as building a pyramid. Right. Like we’re essentially talking about these are the things that are going to establish the base of the pyramid once those are in place.
If those things aren’t working now, we can go up a level and try something that will keep kind of going up a level until we get to where we need to be.
Megan Hall: Yeah, absolutely. And hopefully you don’t have to reach the top of that pyramid, but you’re doing fancy things like that, testing and fancy supplements. So, yeah, OK. So other factors that I would consider when we’re talking about building a bulletproof gut, whether or not that’s in the context of having gut symptoms or not, the first thing would be the state in which you eat your food. This is something that I have to work on myself all the time.
James Cerbie: I think I know where you’re going here now. I’ll piggyback on that.
Megan Hall: Yeah. Yeah. So, eating in a parasympathetic rested digest state is super important. So, sitting down trying to not eat on the go at trying to not eat at your computer desk when you’re doing a bunch of work, taking a couple of deep breaths before you eat can be really beneficial. And then chewing your food is something that a lot of people don’t put as much emphasis on as they probably should. We know that inhaling your food can definitely cause some digestive distress and even lead to you not getting the most nutrition out of your food.
Chewing also had increased protein bioavailability. Similarly, it can be beneficial to eat something like a ground meat. So, ground turkey, ground chicken, ground beef, ground lamb for people who have poor digestive capacity or even potentially for athletes who are looking for a whole food protein source that’s easier to digest post workout then something like a chicken breast or a steak that that can be a little bit trickier. And chewing also increases the secretion of GOP one from the gut, which has other implications for things like satiety and also postprandial glucose regulation.
Something else to consider, especially potentially for your audience, James, would be timing of food around workouts. So, and I say this with the caveat that, as we talked about before, it’s really important to make sure that we’re getting enough nutrition in general throughout the course of the day. So, it’s usually best to avoid a huge meal in the hour or two before working out and also immediately post workout. If you think about it, what happens is, is during exercise, flight is diverted from the visceral organs to the working tissues like skeletal muscle and the brain and the heart, and thus reduce blood flow to the abdominal organs can cause GI ischemia and hypoxia, which basically means that there’s a loss of blood flow to the gut and the result is an oxygen shortage and ATP depletion and then post exercise.
What can happen is something called GI Reperfusion with blood and that can exacerbate damage by increasing inflammation and reactive oxygen species in the gut. And this can be exacerbated. This inflammation in the gut can be exacerbated with exercise that’s intense of a long duration exercise in the heat or using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. And this can then lead to things like permeability and endotoxin translocation into the bloodstream, like we talked about before. That’s not to say you shouldn’t exercise. That’s to say that you should be careful about what you’re consuming around exercise because of what it does acutely to the gut.
I think what we just talked about applies to any kind of exercise, although there are things, like I said, that can exacerbate that injury to the gut. And for more study, state endurance or cardiovascular exercise, GI distress can also come from mechanical factors like vibration of the abdominal wall and also the movement of the abdominal organs. So ultimately, I think the most important things to know aren’t necessarily why these GI symptoms occur and can happen during and around exercise, but what to do about it.
So generally, I simply recommend not eating a huge meal, probably two hours or so plus before workouts, depending on how you feel, how your digestion is. Again, do those and equals one experiments for yourself and then also not eating like immediately after your workout. If you need to get a shake or something in for recovery or for more calories, that’s fine. But I would probably wait at least thirty to forty-five minutes after exercise to have a solid meal.
And usually in the context of exercise that is somewhat intense in nature. People generally have blunted appetites anyway after exercise for maybe half an hour or so. So following that appetite is probably a smart thing. That’s probably a pretty good proxy. Your appetite is for when your gut is ready to digest food after a hard workout. Of course, again, this is assuming that you can follow your appetite, but also get in enough calories and nutrition over the course of the day.
James Cerbie: Yeah, I’ll just chime in and kind of tell people what my general day looks like.
Megan Hall: Yeah, please do.
James Cerbie: Because I eat a lot of. And that pretty hard work out, so I’ll use my day as a frame of reference, I’m up at six, have a cup of coffee, I’m usually eating breakfast around seven, so I’ll eat a big breakfast at seven and then I’ll work for about three hours. I’ll have a snack around 10:00. So, like a protein shake, maybe a rice cake, peanut butter, banana or something in that realm.
And then my workouts at noon. So, I have a really big breakfast. I have a little snack at ten because I just get hungry and I kind of just need the calories. Right. But it’s not so big where it’s going to get in the way where I feel like I have all this food sloshing around and it doesn’t mess up my digestion. Right after I work out for about 20 minutes after I finish working out, I’ll hit another protein shake.
I usually put down like five or six rice cakes at that point, or I’ll have like Rice Krispies cereal. It’s like super easy for me to take in and digest. And then I have a real meal again. So, this puts me I work out from like twelve to one thirty, the shakes probably at about two. Then I’m having lunch more like three, three thirtyish. Like that’s the first bigger meal I’m having with like real food. I kind of sit down and chew and then yeah, dinner is usually going to be something like seven o’clock and then bedtimes like eight thirty-nine.
So that’s a rough idea of how I manage it. Obviously, you have to do what you can based off of your schedule. Like if you have to get up super early and you’ve got to work out first thing in the morning, sometimes you can’t be perfect, but just like do the best you can and manage it and as appropriate.
The Gut’s Response to Stress, Sleep Quantity and Quality, and Exercise
Megan Hall: Yeah, I love that. That sounds great. And it’s obviously working for you. So apart from nutrition around exercise, I think stress is also something both games. And I commented that it definitely plays a role in how I got to respond. And in general, stress obviously has many, many different effects on physiology. But as far as the gut is concerned, it can impact digestion and nutrient absorption and through different responses, such as immune response endorphin and autonomic nervous system responses, stress can also increase intestinal probability and can also lead to things like inflammation and contribute to food intolerances, which may be why some people find that they actually can tolerate certain foods on vacation, but not when their home and life is perhaps a little bit more stressful.
James Cerbie: And we’ve had that happen with numerous athletes and clients, whether it’s like a little bit of a nagging knee, some low back pain, some hip pain or some related kind of like gut or just not feeling good things. They go on vacation and they feel like an absolute rock star. Right. And I’m like, oh, interesting. OK, well, let us examine what’s happening now. So, yeah, definitely something for everyone to keep in mind.
Megan Hall: You’re probably your stress levels lower, you’re sleeping better, which makes everything better. So, I definitely something talks to like games that keep in mind. I would also say on the stress front, there are other more indirect effects of stress on the health of the gut, such as when you’re stressed that might contribute to poor food choices, which can then have gone on to have an effect on both the gut microbiome as well as the integrity and health of the gut barrier.
And what’s interesting is that there is kind of at this bidirectional relationship, so stress can affect the gut, but the state of the gut can also, whether it’s inflammation or just biases, can also affect how we perceive and respond to stress through the gut microbiota communicating via neurotransmitter released through the gut excellent.
James Cerbie: And then one of the things I was just going to chime in here on the stress standpoint. Right, because. This is just Robert Sapolsky, why zebras don’t get ulcers, want to run. If you haven’t read that book, you need to immediately order it on Amazon because that’s one of my top five all-time favorites. But not an easy way to think about this is if you’re running from a lion. You don’t really care about your capacity to digest your food right now.
That’s not an immediate physiological concern. You’re trying to figure out how to get away from this thing. And the unfortunate aspect is a lot of people are essentially living in that state all the time because they’re stressed about getting to work, the stress about traffic, the stress about their relationships or such, about the project that they need to get done like it’s just never ending. So that’s where I think ties back to what you said earlier of being able to sit down and meditate for five minutes before you eat, not eating in front of a screen like just taking time, slowing it down, like maybe take four or five deep breaths.
These things all matter, like the dosage when it’s happening. How long is happening for. So just something to definitely be cognizant and aware of.
Megan Hall: Yeah, absolutely. And especially if you’re spending the money and the resources on buying, you know, the highest quality food that you can. You want to make sure that you’re doing everything to actually reap the benefits of that high quality food. So, sleep is another thing that probably affects the gut. There isn’t a ton of literature yet connecting the health of the gut to sleep. However, anecdotally, a poor night’s sleep can absolutely lead to stress, which can impact digestion and hormone regulation, which can impact glucose control.
And poor sleep can also lead to less optimal food choices. And there is some evidence to new evidence. But there is some that the gut microbiome diversity, which is generally thought of as a good thing, is associated with better sleep quality. Something else that there is not a lot of science on yet but is interesting I think is the impact of social connection. So, there are some emerging research suggesting that there is a connection between social connection relationships and the gut microbiota and the gut immune brain axis.
And this means generally being connected and not feeling lonely, but also eating and sharing meals with others when you can as well. There’s some evidence to suggest that kids who have early life exposures to pets, cats and dogs have a greater gut bacteria diversity, which, like I just said, is generally supposed to be a good thing. And there’s also some research showing that children who grow up on farms have a lower risk of developing asthma, which probably has to do with a more diverse gut microbiome as well.
The farm aspect could have to do with the animals. That could have to do with spending time outside. It’s hard to know, but it seems like spending time around animals is probably a good thing for your gut bacteria. And anybody who has a dog probably knows that it’s hard not to be sharing a gut microbiome with the dog.
James Cerbie: Uh huh, yeah. He gets in there real close. Oh, yeah. No, there’s like no personal bubble. No, no appreciation for space. We’re like lying in bed the other morning and then all of a sudden, I just feel like, oh, but he’s like he’s like right on top of me, like a nose and face. He’s like, hey, hey, are you awake yet. And just like I start just like a lick.
I’m like, yeah, yeah, I’m awake, I’m up. Let’s go.
Megan Hall: Oh yeah, yeah. I have one of those to exercise. So, we already talked about how intense exercise in the heat can potentially cause acute negative changes in gut area function. But long term exercise seems to do positive things for the ecosystem, such as increased butyrate, producing bacteria and short chain fatty acids like glutamates exercise seems to long term improve copyrighter function by reducing bacterial translocation and also reducing inflammatory cytokines, which likely have downstream effects on things like reducing overall systemic inflammation, increasing things like BDNF, which is brain derived neurotrophic factor, improving mood, increasing insulin sensitivity and probably a lot more.
Ultimately, there’s a lot we don’t know. I think, about the effects of exercise on the guts. A lot of this research is pretty new in general. And then when you get into niches like the effect of sleep on the gut or exercise on the gut or social connection and the bidirectional relationship, it’s all very new. But I think that more will come out for sure. So ultimately, I think that we can say that an appropriate level of movement is going to be beneficial for gut health, which will have downstream effects on your overall health.
And then apart from diet and lifestyle factors, there are definitely some other things that can support gut health that we can get into if you want to, James. But I’ll pause here to see if there’s anything else you want to mention about kind of the big rock items that I think everyone should be focusing on.
How to Implement These Strategies and Tactics
James Cerbie: Yeah, I mean, I think everybody wants to make things more complicated and there needs to be sometimes like that. That was one of my takeaways when in grad school, working there for two and a half, three years. The question is not like what should people be doing? Because we know what people should be doing where like I was in a lab, we research the oxygen cascade. We looked at aging, healthy, aging along gravity. And like the question wasn’t, what do people need to do?
Like, we actually know that answer the research and the questions at this point are like, how can we intervene probably pharmacologically so that people don’t have to change their habits and behaviors. And that’s just not really my jam. It’s like you talk to any of these researchers and it’s like the same things continue to come up, the same things we’ve talked about the. Like, if you do a good job with your nutrition, you eat whole real food, right, like animal-based protein, you eat a wide range of colors and vegetables will get you enough carbohydrates and calories as needed.
Nuts, seeds, some oils. If you exercise, if you’re moving, if you have community and friends, if you’re sleeping, if your stress levels are managed in low. Right. Like these are the big rock things. That always come up continuously, yet I find so many people just don’t want to do those things are like they get bored with the basics and I’m like, well, if you get really good at the basics, you tend to crush it.
So, yeah, I would say for the people listening, like may be listening to like, oh, James, like somebody is really obvious. Duh. And I would challenge you back to say, OK, well how many other things are you actually doing this, because it’s obvious just because it’s air quote like easy doesn’t mean people are doing it because if they were we wouldn’t have so many problems. Right.
Megan Hall: Yeah, when I was, I’ll just say, like I talk about this stuff, you know, it’s my job and I by no means am one hundred percent perfect about a lot of these things. You know, at some periods of time I am better than others. But there’s always something within those big rock items for me to work on. So just to say that
James Cerbie: I’m the same way, like I know this stuff, but it slips, I get into stretches, I just keep coming back and getting really good at the basics because that’s the principle, the basics of the 20 percent that get you to 80 percent of the outcome.
Probiotic and Prebiotic Experimenting
And if that’s not good enough for you, then let’s ask a different question. Let’s take a little bit deeper, right. Trying to think if we should go anywhere else with this or if that could be a really good place. To leave people, because I’m hesitant to go farther knowing that people are just going to, like, brush over everything we’ve talked about and then they’re going to hyper focus, I’m going to hyper focus on some supplement and not focus on the stuff.
They should maybe want to talk one supplement super quick and kind of get your thoughts on this. But I think that the answer is it may depend on your part. I need a gut test to really know where you are at this. So, we ask questions a lot like probiotics, prebiotic things in that realm. Right. I take a probiotic every day that simply because one, I was a C-section baby, so stacked the deck in my favor a little bit too,
Megan Hall: What do you take, do you mind me asking?
James Cerbie: I take Design for Health probiotic Synergy.
Megan Hall: OK, that’s a good one.
James Cerbie: It’s the one I’ve had the best results with. I’ve taken like three or four different ones. That’s the only one that I get a noticeable change in difference in digestion, etc. But I’ve also had gut testing, so I know that I tend to lean on the side of an insufficiency, dysbiosis. I tend to not have enough. I’m not the overgrowth person. Right. So, I’ll turn this over to you because I think it may be hard to really give a recommendation without a gut test.
But and this prebiotic probiotic realm, how should people be approaching this?
Megan Hall: Yeah, so yes and no as far as the stool test and what that would tell you or not tell you. So I think it’s all test comes into play, like you said, like it can kind of give you an idea of where you stand on that dysbiosis, a spectrum if it’s more of the overgrowth of insufficiency and definitely tell you if there was like another pathogen going on. But in general, when it comes to probiotics, I think that there’s a couple of things that that you can do even without testing.
So, there are a handful of probiotics that have been studied extensively in the literature. So that would be things like florastor, which is a saccharomyces BELLATI strain. Lactobacillus Romanus. GG is another one, visbiome, which was previously VSL number three. So, if you can go into the literature and kind of see what those specific probiotics have been helpful for, again, we’re talking averages, we’re talking randomized control studies. Sometimes it just takes what you did, which is experimenting with a couple and seeing which one gives you the best result.
But sometimes if you can take a specific probiotic that’s been studied for a specific thing, for example, diarrhea or really stool’s Saccharomyces Boulardii or the florastor or for example, seems to be really beneficial for people who get traveler’s diarrhea. So, if you’re going traveling, if you’re going to another country, that might be something beneficial to take. But basically, if you can mix and match or if you can be as specific as possible with the strains, I think that’s really, really helpful.
A lot of the probiotics out there, just commercially, they don’t even give you the actual strain at the end of the probiotic. They’ll say back for bacterium longer and then that’s it. They won’t have the extra little numbers and letters at the end. So, what you’re looking for are those numbers and letters at the end. That doesn’t mean that if a probiotic doesn’t have those specific strains, that it can’t be beneficial, but it means that you can’t be as targeted as far as you know, going into PubMed and looking at what it’s been studied for.
So, I think probiotics can be helpful. I don’t think, though, the be all end all, it might take some just general experimentation on your heart to find the right one for you. And then as far as prebiotics, some probiotics will come with a little bit of prebiotic in them, which is great as fine as long as you tolerate this. Probiotics in general, when it comes to prebiotics, I prefer to keep people to get those from the food that they’re eating.
So that’s when it comes to those the variety of vegetables, the variety of plant fibers, all of those things like garlic, onions, apples, carrots, leafy greens. Delicious. Yes, all of those things, they come with the prebiotic fiber, but they also come with the micronutrients that are important for other things. So when possible, I would prefer people to get the fiber from their diet versus like a supplemental prebiotic fiber. There are a couple of them that can be helpful.
But I think in general, people also respond better digestive to having food in its natural form versus going off and doing these massive doses of potato starch or insulin, which can cause some digestive distress.
James Cerbie: Yeah, I will generally defer to whatever nature cooked up. Yeah, I usually just think that it would affect what’s taking place over time. Nature is run more studies and more experiments than we could ever run in our lifetimes. So, if it survives over the course of evolution in time, I would probably go there first before you go to something that we cooked up in a lab, especially in food, because I just personally still feel so much. There’s a lot we don’t understand.
I still think when we’re looking at food like it’s not just vitamins and minerals, there’s so much more going on there that we just don’t understand. You like the phytonutrient and how all of that get packaged together, right? Like just taking fiber by itself probably isn’t the same as getting it with a plant and everything else that comes with it. It’s the total package, just the integration. And that’s those are my two cents. But.
Megan Hall: I think of food as almost a complex, there’s a complex set of vitamins, minerals, nutrients, water, different fibers, different vital nutrients, different macronutrients, and trying to tease apart which part is beneficial I think is almost a moot point.
James Cerbie: So, I think they’re together for a reason like they are the way they are for some reason. So. Exactly. Well, thank you so much. This is excellent.
Megan Hall: Of course. My pleasure.
James Cerbie: So glad you got to come on. You got to chat about this fight to come and do this again. And we can talk about something else in the future. But for anybody listening to this who has really enjoyed hearing you or particularly to reach out and ask for help in this realm, what’s the best way for them to get in touch with you?
Megan Hall: Probably I would refer them to the Nourish, Balance, Thrive webpage. And we have a podcast over there that I’ve been on a handful of times. Chris Kelly does most of the podcast, but it’s fun podcast you’ve been on. It’s been on yours. And if you want to reach out as far as maybe getting some help with your health or other things that are going on under the hood, you know, we do a lot of additional testing like blood work.
Then you can schedule I think there’s a button on that front page where you can schedule a 15-minute free consultation and I can talk to you about what we have to offer and how we might help you with your goals.
James Cerbie: Beautiful. Excellent. Well, thank you again, everybody listening. Have a fantastic week and we’ll talk to you next Monday.
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