Protein, Carbs & Fat, Check – But What About Fibre?
Chances are, you have an above average understanding of nutrition, and you eat well. You know how to count calories, count macro nutrients, and plan your meals accordingly. However, when focus is put entirely into protein, carbs, and fat, some other very important nutrients can get left out. In this particular instance, I am referring to dietary fibre (or “fiber” for the American audience).
What is Dietary Fibre?
Technically speaking, dietary fibre are types of carbohydrates. However, they do not act in the same way as the carbohydrates that we normally think of. This is because unlike regular carbohydrates, these contain complex bonds that cannot be broken by our human digestive machinery. Dietary fibre can be divided into two major categories, soluble fibre and insoluble fibre.
Soluble fibre can be found within the cells of plants. Some examples include gums, mucilage, and pectins. Good sources include vegetables, fruits, oats, psyllium, and beans. Although we cannot digest these compounds directly, the microbes within our large intestines are able to make use of this type of fibre and can convert them into a whole range of useful products that are beneficial to our overall health.
Found in plant cell walls, examples of insoluble fibre include cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin. Good sources of these compounds include the skin and bran of fruits, seeds, whole grains, and vegetables. Insoluble fibre is difficult to digest, even by our gut microbes, and pass through largely undigested. This may sound pointless, but it adds bulk to our stools to prevent constipation and possibly even colon cancer.
Benefits of Dietary Fibre
Now that we know what fibre is, let’s take a closer look at the specific benefits of consuming dietary fibre.
Dietary fibre has been found to be effective as a weight loss aid. There are a few different theories as to the way this works. The most obvious one is that despite being quite bulky, fibre does not actually provide a lot of calories. This means that it can help to keep you satisfied even though you are eating fewer calories. Additionaly, it has been postulated that fibre may actually inhibit the absorption of calorie containing nutrients in the small intestine. Although these two properties may be detrimental to bodybuilders during the bulking phase, they can be very helpful in the cutting phase, and of course for anyone else simply looking to shed a few kilos.
Dietary fibre adds bulk to stools and makes them softer. This means that they are able to pass quickly through the digestive system, preventing constipation, increasing the ease of defecation by preventing straining, and hence preventing haemorrhoids. The rapid transit of faeces also may reduce the likelihood of colon cancer. This is because toxins and other cancer causing agents also pass through much quicker and have less time to cause damage.
Bodybuilders often regard insulin as a highly anabolic hormone and increasing insulin sensitivity may have benefits for muscle building. There is evidence to suggest that the consumption of dietary fibre can help to increase insulin sensitivity. However, it is also known that fibre slows glucose absorption and blunts insulin spikes. With this knowledge at hand, it would be wise not to consume fibre at times where insulin spikes are wanted. This includes immediately post workout, as well as times when creatine is taken. Instead, fibre should be reserved for other times of the day.
Maintaining heart health means a longer life with more time to do what we want to do. Consuming healthy amounts of fibre can also help to improve cardiovascular health. This is because soluble fibre is known to bind with bile acids (which are made from cholesterol). This may reduce the levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) and total cholesterol in our blood, which are significant risk factors for heart disease. This is particularly important for the older bodybuilders out there, but even the younger ones should really start to build good habits as early as possible.
Side Effects of Dietary Fibre
It should be mentioned that although fibre has many benefits, care should be taken when increasing the amount of fibre in your diet. Some people do not tolerate large, rapid increases in fibre intake, and may experience gastrointestinal upset. Symptoms include flatulence, constipation, or diarrhoea. It is therefore recommended that fibre intake is increased gradually over a period of a few weeks until you hit your target values. In addition to this, excess fibre intake can also be problematic. Other than gastrointestinal distress, it may result in the malabsorption of other nutrients, particularly micronutrients.
Recommended Fibre Intake
Now that you know the benefits of a diet rich in fibre, you may be curious as to what the recommended fibre intake is. The American Institute of Medicine recommends that for adult men, 38 g fibre is to be consumed per day, while the figure is 25 g for adult women. Quite shockingly, this figure is often not reached by the majority of people living in the developed world because of the consumption of overly process foods, and simply because they overlook fibre as a valuable component of their diet. Knowing this, it may be a good idea to start counting your fibre along with your other macronutrients.