Gut issues can strike anyone at any time, but if you are really into your fitness it can be a tricky problem to deal with. Often, exercising can exacerbate ‘tummy troubles’, making them worse. Which is pretty hard work when your career or livelihood depends on keeping fit. As I’ve found from my own work on my diet, it can play a huge part in how you feel and how you’re able to train.
Battling IBS during a seven-year career in professional rugby, Christian Lewis-Pratt certainly knows what it is like having to try and ignore an illness and just ‘get on with it’. Despite being in great physical shape, his IBS often flared up before matches and was difficult to manage.
When he left the sport, Christian learned to focus on his gut health, and now feels much more in control of his wellbeing. He says without addressing illness “you will never know what it is like to be the optimal version of yourself”. He now works as a health coach and is dedicated to inspiring others to feeling better and reaching their optimal health.
His approach is to create long-term behaviours that aren’t just about going to the gym, but are also about self-awareness and energy levels, as well as diet. His passion for the subject, and experience in working through health issues is very clear.
I asked Christian some questions about his health and approach to improving it – have a read and hopefully you’ll feel as inspired as I did when I chatted to him!
Christian, your willingness to talk and be honest about having IBS is really great. How long have you suffered?
It is difficult to determine when my digestive issues began because for so long I just saw my symptoms as normal. I decided to stop ignoring them and to begin acknowledging my problems almost three years ago. Being open about it is two-fold. One, you must be honest and open with yourself first, to be able to make the steps to heal and change. Digestive issues can lead to both mental and physical health issues. You are literally putting yourself at risk by not being open to yourself about it. Two, being open encourages others to do so too. Do not underestimate the power of that.
What impact did IBS have on your sporting career?
Professional sport is a highly pressured environment. Even training creates high stressors on your adrenal levels, the effects of which can affect your digestive health. For someone like myself, who already had gut health issues, the added stress would at times become detrimental to performance, particularly the mental side of my game. I had multiple moments in changing rooms when I would rush to the toilet for the nth time prior to kick off sparing no thought for tactics or mental prep. I battled stomach cramps in training on multiple occasions. I also vividly remember standing in a tunnel prior to a cup quarter final with only one concern – can I finish this match without running to the bathroom?…fortunately I did…and we won!
It sounds really tough. How did you manage it?
In the early years of my career I survived on Immodium. I would take pills prior to every game. Then I decided enough was enough and sought the help of my team doctor and nutritionist. I kept very accurate and graphic food diaries. I took medication. I went to specialists. I had invasive examinations. However, nothing was found and nothing fixed the root issue. Eventually I took it upon myself to study the gut and go about fixing my issues myself. I changed my diet. It wasn’t that I had been eating unhealthily but I had been eating a diet that didn’t work for me. I also began addressing mental factors too. I then started playing around with probiotics.
You say that you only feel as if you’ve got a handle on your IBS since leaving rugby – what changed and what do you attribute it to?
Without doubt my gut health is the best it has ever been. I get confused as to whether or not I am still in the IBS squad. I feel as though my gut health is superior to many people who aren’t even in that squad in the first place, but then again I also believe that the number of people with undiagnosed gut issues is staggering. Plus, I’m not ashamed to be part of that squad!
I attribute the majority of the improvement to the food that I eat, or don’t eat. Second to that I would say being genuinely happy about what it is I am doing with my career plays a role. The gut-brain axis is incredibly strong. I struggled to be fully satisfied playing rugby. Yes I achieved awesome things that I am proud of but it was never enough for me. I wish it had been. I wish I had had the maturity I do now at a younger age. But then again in a way I am happy I didn’t, for it has led to me doing and feeling what I do now. People often think of health being what their body is capable of. It is much more than that. Lastly I believe that having an effective probiotic gives my system the push it needs to keep things working efficiently. Starting the day with a cup of Symprove (a liquid multi-strain bacteria supplement) also just makes sense! I always tell people that we are not what we eat; we are what we digest.
I take Symprove myself every day to support my gut health. I found it really reduced my bloating and tummy upsets – I’m hooked!
You’ve credited Symprove with ‘saving people’s stomachs’! What makes you say that?
Haha! I have indeed. I say that because I have met some of people who feel that way and I have seen the reports and reviews from others. I don’t know whether I can attribute Symprove for entirely saving my stomach but it would definitely get the award for supporting actor!
One of your focuses in your business is ‘the gut’. Can you tell us why you feel it’s such an important aspect of overall health?
The gut-brain axis is so powerful. Your gut can literally dictate your mood, your emotions, and your day. I’ve been there. You can’t be at your most efficient and your most productive if you are not well. I believe the reason for much of the illness and the stress that you see amongst people is down to what is happening in their stomachs. The reason I believe so strongly in that is because I come from a background where efficiency and performance is everything. At the centre of that are the correct fueling and the utilization of that fuel.
There are a lot of people out there advising on health and fitness. How do you feel you can successfully comment on health, fitness and diet?
The obvious answer would be firstly that I have played international rugby, and secondly been through my own health issues. However the truth is I juggle with this question a lot. The internet is stacked with content. It is already difficult enough to navigate your way through the rubbish. Do we really need Christian throwing his hat in the ring? But then I go back to my reasons for doing so. To help others. I never profess to be the most educated person online, the best read or the best creator. I am far from. However I am always honest. I never comment on topics that I don’t have a grasp on and I always write and create with my goal in mind; to entertain, educate and encourage others to make positive changes in their lifestyle in order to be at their optimal.
Thank you for your honesty, it is so inspiring. What would you say are your mantras?
I have many but the three that I aim to live by are:
Better today than I was yesterday, better tomorrow than I am today.
Without a goal you cannot score.
Success without fulfillment is the biggest failure of all.
As you touch on earlier, it can feel as though we are constantly being hit with information overload, how do you advise shifting through that and working out what is reliable?
I have actually written a blog called ‘information overload’ but I wouldn’t dare plug that in this interview (!)…I always say look for honesty. Obviously you want to find the person with the best information too, but for me that is only important if that person is practising what they preach. I don’t trust people who advise/tell one thing and do another. I would also say don’t hop around. Find a few people you enjoy and you trust and look to them for guidance. If you then decide you need something else, move on. Otherwise you will spend your entire time bunny-hopping around so much content and taking very little action.