Optimal Detoxication + Supporting Athletic Goals with Nutrition

All too often, we have wonderful athletic aspirations, and then life—or lifestyle—gets in the way. We aspire to train for a distance, run a course that calls to us, or set a new PR or place. We sign up, put the date in the calendar and start training strategically to reach the goal. As we get deeper into the training cycle and the mileage and workouts begin to add up, the body starts to tell us it’s a little (or a lot) achy, the muscles and joints aren’t recovering as well from day to day, and we’re very fatigued and probably more than a little short-tempered with those that know us best. We don’t quite have injuries, or maybe we do, and we might even shrug the aches and pains off as ‘goes with the training.’

One of the many ways we can support our training is through improved metabolic detoxification.

Detox? You mean like a juice cleanse? Or an eat only salad spree?

Anyone that’s ever rolled their eyes at the idea of a juice cleanse or other “detox diet” knows that our body naturally processes and makes exotoxins—from chemicals, compounds, hormones, poor quality air from all the summer wildfires, and the like—and endotoxins—from junky, damaged cellular debris and bacteria—less harmful, and then eliminates them. Through a series of multiple steps, the harmful waste products are metabolized in the liver and then transferred to the intestines, kidneys, lymphatic system and sweat glands to be excreted.

However, even when we spend a big chunk of our mileage outside or a natural landscape, we now live in a society where our systems are bombarded with a vast amount of pervasive toxins, so much so that our metabolic pathways are often unable to break them down effectively and carry them out of our system. If you live in the Pacific Northwest like me, or generally in the Western US, there’s a good chance your system has been inundated with toxic compounds in the last decade from long stretches of smoky, toxic air — at the very least.

The first glimpse of semi-normal sunshine after weeks of being forced inside, away from falling ash and toxic air pollution in the 2020 Labor Day Fires in Oregon.

When we can’t effectively break down and get rid of toxic compounds, they begin to recirculate into the body and build up in fat tissues, leading to symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, generalized aches or soreness, irritability, headaches, and perhaps decreased athletic performance, among others. There are many ways we can combat these symptoms to improve workout recovery and run with less aches, more energy, and a better attitude.

The process of metabolic detoxification is highly individual in that we each have different toxin exposures due to the environment we live in, everyday living products used, stress, and training load. Next there are individual genetics, which can make this natural process less efficient than ideal, and finally, there’s proper nutrition, consuming and absorbing the nutrients that make detoxification occur more proficiently. This third area is where I’ll focus.


The liver is where the bulk of detoxification occurs. There are three main phases of liver detoxification, happening all the time in your body. The best way to support the phases of liver detoxification nutritionally is in reverse order, meaning we start with making sure phase three is occurring before we focus on phase two, followed by phase one.

But first let’s just overview those phases.

The Detoxification Pathways in a Healthy Liver

Baseline: Toxins are fat soluble. And they are stored in the body in adipose (fat) tissue.

This is the exact same reason fish that are “high on the food chain” have warnings about consuming too much of them. They are large, fatty fish, and they’ve accumulated all the toxins from all the organisms below them in their fat tissues.

As humans, we also are “high on the food chain” and we can consider ourselves good storage vessels for environmental and internally created toxins, just like tuna and swordfish.

Toxins consumed through food are transported from the intestine to the liver. Environmental toxins that we breath in, or that are absorbed through our highly permeable skin, or endotoxins from normal cellular turnover, as well as those that turn over more rapidly from those high mileage or hard training weeks, also end up in the liver (our body’s big filter).

Phase One: In the liver, most toxins are neutralized from fat-soluble to less harmful substances using several nutrients and through a few complex metabolic reactions.

This process produces free radicals which are quenched by antioxidants—in an ideal scenario anyway!

Phase Two: The remainder of the un-neutralized toxins move into phase two of detoxification, which transforms them into water-soluble compounds.

This is also occurring in the liver.

Phase Three: Waste products that are now water soluble are transported to various organs to be excreted in the urine, feces, or sweat.

If we’re not consistently having complete bowel movements, sweating multiple times per week, and urinating, all those ready to be excreted toxins will be circulated back into the body.

Coming Up Next

Nutrition (and your ability to digest your food and actually absorb those nutrients), plays an incredibly essential role in detoxification. In my next article, I’ll share about the nutrients needed in each phase of metabolic detoxification.

If you’re fatigued, achy, have joint pain, or frequent injuries, headaches, etc., your body is very likely not detoxifying well. If you’d like to learn more and get assistance from a professional, I’d love to speak with you in a quick phone consultation!

Four Types of Digestion – Which Do You Have?

What’s considered “normal” in our modern culture doesn’t necessarily mean it’s healthy or optimal. 

As a pathway to optimal health and performance, optimal digestion is one of my main focuses as a clinical nutritionist. Why? 

Because the fire element in the body is responsible for all forms of transformation internally – digestion, absorption, assimilation, creation of digestive enzymes, maintaining balanced body temperature and metabolism, providing energy, supporting regular and balanced elimination, deep sleep, mental clarity, stability, and groundedness, cellular communication, and zest for life

Among many others. 

In nearly all cases, the root cause of weight gain or stagnation, inflammation, muscle and joint pain, fatigue, anxiety and depression, hormone imbalances and monthly or menopausal symptoms, are all rooted in the condition of the digestive system’s ability to optimally transform food into a healthy body and mind. 

So with that as a preface, there are four main types of digestion. Which you currently experience?

Irregular or Erratic Digestion:

  • This digestive pattern swings from very fast to very slow, with both ravenous hunger and lack of appetite, depending on the day or time of day. 
  • There is both sluggish and rapid digestion;  for example constipation to diarrhea, and/or being quick to hunger, and quick to satisfy, with the ability to only eat very small meals before feeling full, but perhaps a tendency to overeat. 
  • May have a tendency to easily skip meals or forget to eat. 
  • Hunger can be quite delayed after waking in the morning. 
  • Symptoms such as gas, bloating, heaviness, rumbling or gurgling in the tummy or lower bowel.
  • Fatigue throughout the day or week, or crashes of energy after meals or feeling immediately cold after meals. 
  • Frequently experiencing anxiety, fear, indecisiveness, or scattered thoughts.

Slow Digestion:

  • This digestive pattern is marked by its sluggishness. Undigested food has a tendency to sit in the GI for too long, and hunger isn’t often present. 
  • Hunger can be quite delayed after waking in the morning, and you may have the tendency to skip breakfast or have only coffee for breakfast (not so great for blood sugar balance!) 
  • May have a tendency to easily skip meals or feel like you can only eat small meals at a time, and quickly feel full and heavy. 
  • May eat out of habit or have a tendency to eat emotionally. 
  • Symptoms such as heaviness, fatigue, excess weight, slow elimination trending towards constipation, nausea, low appetite with perhaps some overeating, excess saliva, coughing, respiratory problems, and/or low mood. 

Fast Digestion:

  • This digestive pattern is fast and sharp. Food is often digested very quickly. The fire is on too high! 
  • Hunger can come rapidly after eating; You might eat a full meal and feel ready for another 30 minutes to two hours later, instead of the four to six hours that occurs with optimal digestion.
  • Because the fire is turned up, there is a tendency towards having a low weight, even though you can eat a lot. 
  • Elimination trends towards loose stools and diarrhea. 
  • You never miss a meal, become “hangry” easily, and may snack frequently between meals.
  • Symptoms such as excess dryness in the throat, mouth or lips, reflux and heartburn, anemia, and/or low energy.
  • Skin Irritations such as eczema, psoriasis, rashes, hives, or acne.
  • Frequent irritability, frustration, short temper or being extremely hard on yourself.

Balanced Digestion – The optimal state of digestion

  • Hunger is experienced routinely, about 30 minutes to 1 hour prior to each of the day’s three meals, in anticipation of food. 
  • A healthy appetite; being ready for a morning meal by 7-9 am, feeling hungry again 3-6 hours later and at steady 3-6 hour intervals throughout the day. 
  • Steady energy throughout the day with no fatigue or big drops in energy after eating or mid-afternoon, or difficulty waking up or getting going 30 minutes after waking.
  • One to three bowel movements daily, which pass easily and are formed like a banana
    • no visible food, mucus, fatty film, or off colors
  • Clear skin, free of acne, itchy, inflammation, and rashes
  • Focused mind and inspired thinking
  • Your athletic performance is reflective of your training
  • Balanced hormones and menstrual cycle (if a menstruating female) with no PMS or menopausal symptoms

Which Type of Digestion Do You Have?  

The ability to take food and break it down into nutrients, and assimilate it into the body to be used as energy is the basis for building healthy body tissue (and thus a healthy body!)

The goal for each of us is balanced digestion, and the stable mood, and smooth and efficient symptoms that come with it. This is possible for everyone. 

When we are ready to embrace positive adjustments in our diet and lifestyle, we can see long-standing patterns shift, hormones and weight balance, sleep patterns become deeper and restorative, and acceptance, zest for life, and optimal performance return. 

Did you find your digestion isn’t working optimally based on your symptoms? If you’d like to learn more about how you can fix it, I’d love to speak with you in a quick phone consultation! Or learn more about your digestion in some of my other articles on the topic of optimal digestion and gut health. 

Iron Deficiency + The Athlete: Part II

If you recognize the food on the left side of the plate above as red lentils (a red lentil soup), then you may also know it to be a rich source of the mineral iron. 

I’ve written about iron in detail before, but a recent research paper on  impaired iron and endurance athletes reminded me that I need to periodically review this topic. 

Nearly all of my female clients in the past few years have come to me with iron deficiency, iron-deficiency non anemia, or iron-deficiency anemia. This has been true whether they are endurance athletes or not. And whether they’re highly active or not.

Here’s a refresher on the difference between those three:

Stage 1: Iron Deficiency: Iron stores in the bone marrow, liver, and spleen are depleted, indicated by ferritin values less than 35 ng/mL, Hemoglobin values > 11.5 g/dL and transferrin saturation >16%

Stage 2: Iron-Deficient Non-Anemia: Red blood cell production decreases as the iron supply to the bone marrow is reduced, indicated by ferritin values less than 20 ng/mL, Hemoglobin >11.5 g/dL, and transferrin saturation < 16%

Stage 3: Iron Deficiency Anemia: Hemoglobin production falls, resulting in anemia, indicated by ferritin values less than 12 ng/mL, Hemoglobin <11.5 g/dL, transferrin saturation less than 16%. 

While iron deficiency may be much more likely in women, it’s not a female-only issue. 

It used to be that when there were signs, symptoms, and laboratory results indicating deficiency of a nutrient, I did just the typical nutritionist thing of recommending eating more foods rich in that nutrient, increasing bioavailable co-factors in the diet, adjusting timing of nutrient intake so absorption increases, and according to the circumstances, recommending varying amounts of supplementation. 

Generally, that’s a pretty good and standard game plan.  But to a certain extent in many cases, it was band-aiding the real issue. Or at least not getting all the way there. 

Why is nutrient absorption impaired in the first place?  Did the individual merely need to increase nutrient intake and we’d solve the problem? Was it just an issue of increased demand or not eating foods rich in that nutrient?

What I started finding was that even with continued intake of iron-rich foods, or in some cases high-dose supplementation, we’d still have low levels of iron (and often of other nutrients).

So what’s happening here? 

It wasn’t until I had continued professional training on gut health and malabsorption that I began having some personal aha moments. 

When I began addressing the issue of nutrient deficiency from the standpoint of improving the person’s digestion and absorption and calming the nervous system (which is so incredibly entwined with gut health), absorption of iron and many other nutrients drastically improved. 

We were finally treating the issue. 

Which is to say, that still doesn’t mean it’s easy. Figuring out which puzzle piece or perhaps multiple puzzle pieces of the GI system are impairing absorption of nutrients and digestibility of food can take some time and it can take some persistence. But it’s so worth addressing. 

Here are some factors that might be causing impaired absorption of dietary and supplementary iron and/or increased need.  Check all that apply for you. The more that apply, the more likely absorption and/or intake of iron will need addressed.

  • Female of menstruating years 
  • Endurance athlete
  • Digestive Symptoms – Pain, Bloating, Gas, Loose Bowel Movements, Undigested Food in Stool, etc.
  • Have low stomach acid (quite common and most people are completely unaware)
  • Follow a vegetarian, vegan, or plant-based dietary pattern
  • Omnivore who avoids red meat
  • Fast eater or eats while distracted or stressed
  • Low estrogen or testosterone levels
  • Supplemental intake of other minerals at the same time as iron, not-including nutrient cofactors when consuming iron rich foods or supplements, and/or consuming foods and beverages that prevent absorption at meals rich in iron
  • Taking prescription medication(s) – depending on the medication if may impact nutrient absorption or change physiology so there’s an increased need
  • Lack of knowledge about how to eat a balanced diet or poorly planned dietary pattern
  • INFLAMMATION! – Particularly inflammation of the gut (may be asymptomatic or not obvious)

Want to Know More?

If you’d like a refresher on iron, check out my first article on this topic.

Need help with iron or absorption of other nutrients? Within my nutrition practice, I specialize in endurance athletes and digestive imbalances. If you’ve struggled with chronically low iron or poor absorption of other nutrients, I encourage you to reach out to me for more personalized support.