How to Digest Food Faster and How the Digestive System Works
When you’re munching on an afternoon snack or consuming a fresh salad at dinnertime, chances are you’re blissfully unaware of the complex mechanisms going on inside your body. After consuming food, your digestive system kicks into action, converting the carbohydrates, fat and protein into energy and resources to fuel the brain, heart, lungs and muscles….
When you’re munching on an afternoon snack or consuming a fresh salad at dinnertime, chances are you’re blissfully unaware of the complex mechanisms going on inside your body. After consuming food, your digestive system kicks into action, converting the carbohydrates, fat and protein into energy and resources to fuel the brain, heart, lungs and muscles. But how does it all work? And are there ways to make it work better? The answer is yes!
Enhancing gut performance all comes down to getting to know the digestive system and learning how it does what it does on a micro level. Once you understand how the body puts food to good use, you can learn how to hack it to your advantage. For example, you can train your body to digest food faster to optimize nutrition, which leads to better performance in the gym and an overall healthier lifestyle. In this article, we’ll help you do just that!
Improved digestion can help you eliminate discomfort related to the gut on a day-to-day basis. That’s a huge win if you’re one of the 40 percent of adults who suffer from a functional gastrointestinal disorder, such as heartburn, acid reflux, constipation, bloating or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). In this guide, we’ll go over digestive system basics, as well as some tips on how to speed up digestion so you feel your absolute best every single day.
How the Digestive System Works
If your body is a well-oiled factory, think of food as the raw materials it needs to keep it running smoothly. Your digestive system is like the machinery and workers that transform those raw materials into energy, tissues and compounds that keep you alive. This all happens within your mouth, throat, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine (colon), rectum and anus. Together, these body parts are known as the gastrointestinal tract.
How does it work, exactly? To put it simply, the digestive system converts the energy stored in our food — specifically, the carbohydrates, fat and protein within everything we eat — into productive energy that feeds our muscles, heart, brain and more. The body does this by breaking down food into its most basic forms with the help of physical mechanisms like propulsion, as well as natural digestive enzymes within the digestive system.
Here’s a breakdown of the main processes the digestive system uses to get this done.
- Ingestion — Ingestion, also known as eating, is arguably the most enjoyable part of the digestive process. At this stage, food is chewed and mixed in the mouth, where saliva and chemicals help break it down and prepare it for the next step (propulsion). While most of the chemical breakdown happens further down in the digestive tract, enzymes in your saliva begin the early phases of breaking down the carbohydrates and lipids (fats) in your food at this stage. This is done with the help of enzymes such as amylase and lipase.
- Propulsion — In order to get food to where it needs to be — ultimately, the stomach — the pharynx and esophagus use gravity and propulsion to move it along the gastrointestinal tract. The pharynx propels food from your mouth to your esophagus, while the esophagus keeps it moving along to the stomach. This occurs with the help of involuntary contractions and relaxations of the muscles, movements known as peristalsis. At the same time, these organs help keep the passageways lubricated so food moves at the right pace.
- Mechanical Breakdown — Once in the stomach, food matter mixes with gastric juices and begins the chemical breakdown of proteins. At the same time, it absorbs fat-soluble substances and triggers the production of key compounds, including protein-digesting enzymes and the intrinsic factor required for the absorption of vitamin B12 and other nutrients.
- Chemical Digestion — Now the body is employing an array of enzymes to help further process food. Enzymes are simply proteins that speed up chemical reactions, breaking down larger molecules into more basic forms which can be absorbed by the cells. These chemical reactions help break down the macromolecules into your food into smaller monomers that cells can use to build their own compounds and absorb energy and nutrients.
- Absorption — Next, your food (actually, at this point it’s a substance that no longer resembles food at all, called chyme) mixes with more gastric juices to help propel food through the small intestine at a rate slow enough to allow absorption of nutrients into cells. The small intestine helps absorb the broken-down carbs, proteins, fats and nucleic acids, delivering key vitamins, minerals and water, which will eventually be sent to the rest of the body.
- Defecation — Once in the large intestine (colon), food residue is broken down even further while residual electrolytes, vitamins and water are absorbed. Finally, feces is propelled toward the rectum and eliminated in the bathroom as waste. The digestive process is now complete.
Benefits of Faster Digestion
How fast you digest food depends on a variety of factors, including your age, gender and diet. Metabolism and digestive issues can also play a role in how quickly or slowly your gut mechanisms move. On average, it takes about 36 hours for food to make the journey from ingestion to defecation. While speed varies greatly from person to person, food typically passes into your small intestine in about six to eight hours.
The body needs some time to absorb the necessary nutrients, but slow digestion — otherwise known as a lazy bowel — can lead to complications like hard stools, painful trips to the bathroom, bloating and discomfort. Slow transit constipation (STC) can also cause complications such as hemorrhoids. That’s why you might want to consider making a few changes to speed up the process.
Additionally, improving and speeding up digestion can help you reach your fitness and performance goals. For example, if you follow a keto, paleo or low-carb diet, you may not be getting enough fiber, which could slow your digestion and cause discomfort and a delay in nutrient delivery. However, taking fat-burning supplements with digestive enzymes can help improve digestion and boost enzymes that produce energy production to help counteract the problem.
Faster nutritional absorption may also mean faster muscle recovery, which can help you get back into the gym faster, even if you’re feeling especially sore from a hard-hitting workout yesterday.
Tips for Digesting Food Faster
Luckily, there are some simple things you can do to give your digestive tract a much-needed kick in the gut, so to speak. Making small tweaks to your diet and introducing hard-working digestive supplements into your daily routine can do wonders. If you suffer from chronic constipation, painful trips to the bathroom, nausea or bloating, you may want to try these hacks for helping to speed up the digestive process.
Take Digestive Supplements — Dietary supplements are an excellent way to boost performance and overall health without changing your diet. This is ideal if you follow a low-carb, paleo, keto or low-calorie diet and don’t want to correct the issue through diet alone. There is a huge variety of digestive supplements on the market to help you combat slow digestion. Here are some of the best:
- Digestive Enzymes — You already know that enzymes play a huge role in speeding along the digestive process, helping to break down carbohydrates, fat and protein so the body can absorb their nutrients. Integrating gluten digestive enzymes can help support digestive issues relating to gut-irritating foods that contain casein, found in wheat and dairy. You may also want to take a proteolytic enzyme supplement to increase protein absorption.
- HCL Supplements — Regularly taking an HCL supplement can help keep your stomach acid at healthy levels to ensure that it properly — and quickly — breaks down food throughout the gastrointestinal tract. This will also help improve the absorption of minerals, vitamin B12 and amino acids while boosting gut movement and improving digestion.
- Fiber Supplements — You already know fiber is essential to digestion. If a lazy bowel is your issue, you’re probably in need of an insoluble fiber supplement. This type of fiber increases the bulk of stool while also helping to promote movement through the gut, which can speed things up and prevent hard, painful stools and constipation. Unfortunately, insoluble fiber is plentiful in the carbs you may limit from your diet, so supplementation can help.
Optimize Your Diet — Regardless of if you’re taking dietary supplements or not, you need to think about how your diet affects your gut.
- Add Insoluble Fiber — Introducing foods with ample insoluble fiber is a great way to help food pass through your system more quickly. Insoluble fiber is found in vegetables, beans, wheat bran and whole grains.
- Watch Your Soluble Fiber Intake — You may also want to think about cutting back on some soluble fiber. This type of fiber is important — it helps lower glucose levels and blood cholesterol — but tends to slow down digestion. It’s found in some fruits and veggies, oat bran, barley, nuts and seeds.
- Avoid Processed and Fatty Foods — We all know the urgent feeling that creeps up after a particularly high-fat meal or a stop through the drive-thru. But no matter how fast they may move, excessive amounts of salt, sugar, saturated fats and artificial additives are not good for you. With little to no fiber, processed and fast foods are hard for your body to digest, and they tend to speed through the gastrointestinal tract without much nutritional absorption at all. It’s best to skip the processed and junk foods.
- Drink Lots of Water — You already know that water is key to overall health, but it’s especially important to the digestive tract. Without water, food wouldn’t have the moisture it needs to freely move through the digestive system. Make sure to get your recommended daily intake of water each day.
Get Plenty of Exercise — Have you ever noticed that your full belly tends to settle faster when you take a long walk around the block after dinner? That’s not a coincidence. The experts say that exercising after eating can help improve intestinal movement, not to mention lower the glycemic index and increase blood flow. Just make sure to take it slow after a big meal, as hitting it too hard after eating can lead to nausea and can even delay digestion by pulling circulation away from the digestive tract. Slow and steady wins the gut race!
Prioritize Your Mental Health — Did you know that your mental health plays a massive role in your digestive health? People who suffer from chronic stress or anxiety are more likely to suffer from slow digestion because the intestines won’t properly contract to move food along when they are under a lot of stress. What’s more, stress and anxiety can cause poor diet and lifestyle choices, which could worsen constipation.
Slow Down and Eat Slowly — It sounds counterintuitive, but eating more slowly can speed up digestion. In part, this is because it helps you eat less. When you eat less, your digestive tract is less likely to get bogged down, which will prevent it from doing its job efficiently. Eating slowly also helps you better chew your food, which can help prepare it to be totally broken down throughout the rest of the gastrointestinal tract. Make sure to slow down and chew your food thoroughly for better digestion.
The digestive system is a complex mechanism that performs hundreds of unique jobs, most of which we don’t even notice. Keeping it in tip-top shape and ensuring that it performs at its best will help you optimize your diet so you can feel better and reach your performance goals faster. BiOptimizers is here to help you hack your gut health for the better with premium digestive supplements that make the process simple.