Posted 2 weeks ago

Are you eating enough fibre?

Over the years, I have realised that one of the most commonly shared traits amongst new clients is that they have very little green vegetables or fibre in their diet. In fact, in some cases their diet might be completely devoid of anything green at all. Whilst intuitively we all know this is far from optimal, I wanted to use this article to discuss the importance of green vegetables in physique development and bodybuilding.

Fibre is the name given to large complex carbohydrates that are found in plant-based foods. Although it cannot be broken down or absorbed by the body (and as such, doesn’t have calories per se), it is incredibly important to have an adequate fibre intake in the diet. Many issues can arise over time or even acutely when fibre intake is inadequate, which I will discuss in turn below.

Digestion
Discussing bowel movements largely remains a taboo subject, leading many to ignore clear signs of sub-optimal digestive health. Questions about the number of times you go to the toilet a day, the consistency of your bowels, and asking whether they are loose / pelt-like / normal are absolutely essential to understand your gut health. If you have never asked yourself these questions or are unsure about the state of your bowels, I’d encourage you to check the Bristol stool chart for a visual analysis.

One of the most commonly observed signs of a diet low or devoid of fibre is that digestion seems tends to be very slow. This might mean that the individual is unable to pass stools daily, may experience a lot of gas/bloating, and then when they do go to the toilet, they may feel like they never get a full “clear out”.

If your goal is to build as much muscle as you can, having slow and inefficient digestion is something you want to avoid at all costs. Our goal should be to get as many nutrients as possible from the food we eat, to help us recover from the training we are doing. If we find we are backed up for a day or more, we most certainly aren’t getting the most out of the food we eat, and as such, our recovery will undoubtedly be sub-optimal.

On another note, going into training feeling particularly uncomfortable or bloated will more than likely impact negatively on performance. It will distract you during sets and if you are wearing a weightlifting belt, it will make you feel extremely uncomfortable.

With this in mind, by ensuring our fibre intake is adequate, we can be quite certain that we won’t have as many problems getting to the toilet and passing bowels. Fibre bulks up stools, making them softer and easier to pass through the digestive tract. I typically recommend clients to aim for at least 30g of fibre a day, solely coming from earth vegetables such as broccoli, spinach and asparagus. From experience, this has been enough to help clients pass stools daily, an improvement from 2-3 bowel movements a week before.

Microbiome
The microbiome is classified as the genetic material of all the microbes – bacteria, fungi, protozoa and viruses – that live on and inside the human body. Many of these microbes are found in the gut and are crucial to our health. They help us digest food, are essential to the immune system, and are linked with a wide array of health issues, spanning from mental to physical health.

These microbes don’t feed off carbs, proteins and fats the way we do; instead, they feed off fibre. They can digest is to produce short chain fatty acids, which can then be absorbed into our circulation, and positively affect metabolic regulation. Therefore, by consuming fibre you are literally feeding the trillions of microbes that live inside the gut, allow them to thrive which will keep us in good health.

As you feed these microbes, they will increase in numbers, and the more variety and number we have in our gut, the thicker the “mucus wall” of our gut will be, which will create a better barrier between our body and our busy bacteria population. Whilst the mucus barrier lowers inflammation throughout the body, the bacteria aids in digestion, creating a dual benefit.

Your microbiome can change by the season, by the week, or even by the meal and if you eat a large array of fresh fruits, grains, and vegetables, your gut health will reflect that. Therefore, to ensure optimal gut health and digestion, try to eat a variety of these across the month, choosing what is in season, lowering processed food and including fibre in each meal across the day.

Hunger/Satiety
One thing we must take into consideration is that fibre can fill our stomach and doesn’t contain many calories at all. Have you ever spoken to someone who has gotten themselves in incredible shape who hasn’t eaten their greens? If you have, then they are few and far in between.

Hunger is something most people will try to curb when dieting to extremely low levels of body fat. It is inevitable though that you will be hungry for the majority of the day. Therefore, being strategic and volumizing your meals can help vastly reduce this.

Let’s use a real example: you’re scheduled to eat 5 meals across the day, one every three hours.

Scenario 1: you opt for a protein bar because you want something easy. You have finished it within 30 seconds, it has done nothing to your hunger, and you still have another 2 hours 59 minutes and 30 seconds until your next meal.

Scenario 2: you opt for chicken and a large portion of broccoli and spinach. The meal itself takes you 10-15 minutes to finish and afterwards you no longer feel any hunger pain or pangs.

Which scenario would you rather find yourself in when dieting? Which one do you think will help with dietary adherence? You guessed it, scenario 2. If you go for meat/meat alternative and green veg for about 3 of your 5 meals across the day, I can speak from experience when I say you will more than likely stick to your diet and be less likely to overeat and have a successful dieting phase.

Fluid balance
This is not a topic that many will have much knowledge about, but one that is crucial when looking at optimising muscle contraction, cellular hydration, maintaining blood pressure and health.

Let’s try and keep this simple: we have what’s called the sodium/potassium (Na/K) pump within the body. This is in charge of transporting sodium/potassium and water in and out of cells against their concentration gradients. Water will always passively follow sodium. If we consider the typical westernised diet, which is high in sodium and low in potassium, what do we see? Typically, a lot of fluid retention and high blood pressure. This is mainly because the sodium/potassium pump is influencing water uptake into cells due to the mineral imbalance.

Why does this matter and what does it have to do with fibre intake? Well, what if I told you that green vegetables such as broccoli and spinach contained potassium in good quantities, meaning they can support the Na/K pump proper function? It is therefore clear that increasing your fibre intake can ultimately lead to lower blood pressure, longer life expectancy, improved muscle contraction and performance in the gym and ultimately, better results.

Colon cancer
A systematic review of 25 studies concluded that a high intake of dietary fibre, in particular cereal fibre and whole grains, was associated with a reduced risk of colorectal cancer. [1] In the United Kingdom bowel cancer is the 4th most common cancer and second biggest killer with 42,000 being diagnosed each year.[2]

By simply eating more fibre in your diet (30g daily target total) you could live longer and have a decreased risk of cancer. When you think about it logically and with the abundance of fibre you see in the aisle in the supermarket, it seems silly not to include these in your daily food intake.

In conclusion, it would be wise to include a high amount of fibre into your diet to help support digestion and the microbiome of your gut. In a dieting phase, fibre can reduce hunger and improve dietary adherence. One of the areas often overlooked in maintaining fluid balance through the Na/K pump is that of influencing it (or supporting it) through a higher fibre intake, as it is usually high in potassium. Lastly, a diet high in fibre can significantly reduce mortality, reduce risk of colon cancer and ultimately make you live for longer.

Vaughan Wilson Bsc Hons

[1] https://www.bmj.com/content/343/bmj.d6617

[2] https://www.bowelcanceruk.org.uk/about-bowel-cancer/bowel-cancer/