9 Ways Gut Health Impacts Your Performance - Trusted Diet Plan
Training at the highest levels necessitates a multifactorial fail-safe method that includes proper training, a trusted diet plan, and other lifestyle adjustments.
Most athletes think that training hard is the most important part of the strategy for achieving peak performance. Training at the highest levels necessitates a multifactorial fail-safe method that includes proper training, a personalized nutrition plan , and other lifestyle adjustments. Each factor is a piece of a puzzle, and if one is missing - well, you can imagine what happens.
According to numerous scientific reports, the microbiota is one of the crucial factors that affects human health. It is an essential part of a complex network of interactions between the gastrointestinal system, immune system, and the brain. If any external or internal factor alters this equilibrium, it will inevitably have repercussions on your overall health and, therefore, on your athletic performance too.
The gut microbiome has a significant impact on our physiology and a tremendous effect on performance. These microbes that live inside and on the surface of our bodies protect us in many ways. They carry out metabolic and nutritional activities, protect us from pathogens, and stimulate our immune system.
Let's take a look at nine ways a healthy gut can influence your performance and help you stay at your peak longer.
1. Bone health
When it comes to enhancing athletic performance, bone health is probably not one of the first things that come to your mind. But we need to underline that bone health is an essential factor for athletic performance. Short-term risks like injuries or long-term risks like osteoporosis are not worth chancing.
Gut microbiota refers to all microorganisms that colonize our gut, while gut microbiome refers to the collection of their genetic material.
Gut microbiome provides information to generate enzymes involved in the production of metabolites such as short-chain fatty acids, branched-chain fatty acids, vitamins, etc.
Their production is impossible without a substrate like prebiotics in the form of non-digestible fermentable foods (fiber).
How does gut health promote bone health?
• Regular fiber and probiotic supplement intake will enhance the gut microbiome, increase the production of short-chain fatty acids, and, therefore, increase the metabolic activity of the bones.
• Researchers reported that short-chain fatty acids seem to prevent inflammation-induced bone loss.
• A healthy gut promotes nutrient absorption. Intestinal calcium and magnesium absorption is an essential process for maintaining optimal levels of these minerals and strengthening bone health.
2. Healthy redox status
Gut microbes or the so-called good bacteria help us maintain a healthy redox status.
But what does it mean? It means having a proper-working antioxidant defense system that effectively neutralizes the excess of free radicals.
The gastrointestinal tract is home to a series of metabolic reactions that include free radicals among the final products. An uncontrolled formation of these metabolites causes oxidative stress, one of the most critical pathogenic mechanisms for many acute and chronic conditions.
During athletic training, the production of these metabolites increases. So, your body needs to be efficient in managing the redox balance to maintain a high-performance level and promote recovery.
Recent research highlights the intestinal microbiota's involvement in physical exercise, which is directly associated with mitochondria. The role of intestinal bacteria in neutralizing toxic substances and regulating oxidative stress is crucial.
3. Gastrointestinal symptoms
Physical activity has a beneficial effect on gut health as it can enhance the number of good bacteria. Still, harsh and long-lasting physical activity can alter the intestinal microbiota and damage the intestinal barrier. Hence, as an endurance athlete, you should focus not only on your training programs but also on your gut health.
Achieving eubiosis or balanced gut microbiota should be a fixed part of every nutrition and training program. Dysbiosis will alter your state of general well-being with apparent consequences on the athletic performance.
Healthy gut microbiota can prevent many gastrointestinal conditions that could make your training session or a competition a real nightmare.
Many endurance athletes, especially long-distance runners, experience gastrointestinal disorders during or shortly after training or competition.
What are the factors that cause gastrointestinal distress in athletes?
1. Mechanical (impact-related traumas from cycling or running, etc.)
2. Nutritional (too much high-fiber foods, dehydration, etc.
3. Physiological (stress, anxiety, etc.)
Maintaining your gut health can reduce and, in some cases, prevent the symptoms of gastrointestinal distress caused by these three factors.
Many elite athletes are encouraged to consume large amounts of simple carbohydrates and proteins and low amounts of fat and fiber in their budget healthy meal plan . But why? To provide a faster energy source while avoiding potential digestive issues like bloating caused by high-fiber foods.
But on the other hand, eating less fiber is not the right choice for your gut microbiota. So, you might think now, what is the best thing to do? The answer is quite simple - rely on professionals who know how to create a winning nutrition plan to fuel your performance.
4. Sleep quality
There is a close bi-directional relationship between sleep and microbiota. The alterations in the sleep-wake cycle affect the balance of good bacteria in the gut, influencing their metabolic activity. At the same time, gut microbes are responsible for producing neurotransmitters that regulate the sleep-wake cycle.
Around 80% of serotonin, which is the precursor of melatonin, is produced by gut bacteria. Low levels of this neurotransmitter can cause sleep disturbances and therefore affect your athletic performance negatively. Gut microbiota is also responsible for producing gamma-aminobutyric acid, another neurotransmitter that promotes good sleep quality.
Every endurance athlete should know that a good night's sleep is the holy grail for performance and recovery enhancement. We already wrote about nutrition that enhances your sleep-wake cycle, take a look at it, and don't forget to feed those good bacteria that help you cut the finish line.
5. Hydration status
Alterations in hydration state impair endurance performance, and the consequences of hypohydration can happen quite suddenly. Endurance athletes are at significant risk for hypohydration, principally because of increased fluid losses from sweating due to prolonged and intensive exercise sessions. In some cases, it can be due to inadequate rehydration between the sessions if the training frequency is high. It is not only hypohydration that is incompatible with optimal athletic performance; hyperhydration can cause significant difficulties too.
But how does gut health impact hydration status?
The microbiota indirectly impacts the athlete's hydration status, influencing mucus production, and solutes transport.
A healthy gut will allow adequate water reabsorption and solute transport, resulting in better hydration for the athlete.
6. Immune system
The gut microbiome is closely related to the immune system. It is a bi-directional relationship that favors both parties.
The gut microbiome is crucial for the development of the immune system from birth.
Impact of gut health on the immune system
Gut microbiota acts as a barrier against pathogens that could colonize our gut and cause severe health conditions. But it also participates in the production of molecules that regulate immune responses.
The intestinal mucosa is the largest surface of your body in contact with microbes and antigens. Your gut microbiota is in close interaction with mucosa and its defense systems; hence it is easy to conclude that good bacteria are crucial for the development of your immune system.
They train your immune system thanks to the continuous interaction, as the need to adapt to the presence of good microbes and molecules is constant. But your immune system also needs to react quickly in case of abnormal growth of microbiota itself or the presence of pathogens.
During and after your hard training, you are subject to an inflammatory response in a dose-dependent manner. Although your body can adapt quickly to specific training loads over time, for example, in the case of oxidative stress, a sudden increase in workload can harm your immune system.
Numerous factors can cause a reduction in the effectiveness of your immune system, especially before competitions. This could expose you to a greater risk of catching upper respiratory tract infections. For example, before your first Ironman triathlon, the stress and anxiety of your first competition, travel stress, environmental factors, maybe a jet leg too, can all cause a reduction of activation of your immune system.
Another example is mechanical or nutritional factors that could cause symptoms during the competition or an intense training session.
Like an increase in intestinal permeability, which can lead to the passage of pathogens and endotoxins from the intestinal epithelium to the bloodstream causing systemic inflammation and infections.
Exercise-induced oxidative stress, leukocyte infiltration, and the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines cause a wide array of inflammation symptoms.
As previously stated, the passage of pathogens, toxins, or partially digested proteins from the intestine to the bloodstream can cause severe inflammatory reactions. This type of response can be caused by internal and external factors, such as an incorrect diet, antibiotic therapies, or oxidative stress.
For example, the passage of partially digested proteins, recognized by our immune defense system as potentially harmful, activates the antibody response, which, if persistent, can lead to the development of allergies, intolerances, autoimmune or degenerative diseases.
According to research, if you don't consume enough fiber, your gut microbiota can cause inflammation because the bacteria in the absence of fiber attack the intestinal mucus. Mucus also acts as a protective barrier against microbes, and, when they come into direct contact with the intestinal cells, they cause inflammation.
High-fiber foods stimulate bacteria to produce chemical compounds useful to the body, such as butyrate, which, according to researchers, can protect us effectively against inflammation.
8. Nutrient absorption
To enhance your athletic performance, you need nutrients in a trusted diet plan - macro and micronutrients that support all physiological functions, not only to perform better but also to recover faster.
The good bacteria that populate the intestine are essential for synthesizing vitamins like K, B₁, B₉, and B₁₂, minerals, and other essential nutrients.
If these bacteria are in excess, or there is a presence of harmful bacteria, the digestive process slows down - consequently, the body's ability to absorb nutrients decreases.
You will get absolutely no benefits from eating healthy if your body does not absorb the nutrients you consume. The eventual deficit in essential nutrients will negatively impact your performance and recovery.
Just think of magnesium deficiency that can induce your muscles to contract too much and cause muscle spasms. Or a group B vitamins deficiency. For example, vitamin B₁₂ is crucial for the process of red blood cell formation, which are responsible for delivering oxygen to muscle tissues. So its deficiency can result in poor athletic performance and pronounced fatigue.
9. Mental health
Another essential factor, influenced by your gut health, can significantly impact your athletic performance - the mental and cognitive component. Intestinal health affects mental health, and vice versa, our mind can have a dramatic impact on gut microbiota.
Intestine practically acts as a vast sensory organ, continually sending information to the brain through neurotransmitters, like serotonin.
But what is the connection between serotonin and exercise?
To date, diverse mechanisms have been proposed to explain the mood disorders caused by exercise, fatigue, and insomnia in athletes. One possible mechanism is a group of metabolic changes in the muscles that ultimately lead to muscle exhaustion and changes in the central nervous system - like the reduction in serotonin. In the central nervous system, serotonin performs numerous functions like regulating mood, sleep, cognitive functions, body temperature, etc. That is why enhancing your gut microbiota can improve your mood and mental health.
By sustaining your mental strength and positive thinking, you will be able to feel less stressed before and during the competition, and the tiny voice in your head that suggests it's enough to cross the line will be a long lost memory.
Train your mental strength, put your goals high, and don't look back!
Tips to improve gut health
• Probiotics and prebiotics will support healthy gut microbiota. Live fermented foods like dairy products are an excellent source of natural probiotics. Click here to read more about prebiotics and probiotics.
• You should avoid processed food, as its consumption can cause gut microbiota dysbiosis, leading to poor performance and prolonged recovery.
• Non-nutritive artificial sweeteners like saccharin and sucralose seem to alter metabolic pathways linked to glucose tolerance and dysbiosis in humans. More studies are needed to clarify the connection between nutritive sweeteners like stevia and gut microbiota.
• Limit sugar intake as it negatively affects your gut microbiota. It is a primary food for harmful bacteria, promoting its growth.
• Stay hydrated. But remember to avoid sugary drinks full of empty calories and low on nutrients.
• Don't abuse antibiotics. Although they are essential in treating a wide range of infections, it is necessary to remember that antibiotics can only treat bacterial infections. Taking probiotics in conjunction with antibiotic therapy is very important since these drugs act both on harmful and good bacteria, causing microbiota dysbiosis.
• Limit your coffee and alcohol intake. It can enhance dehydration and alter your sleep-wake cycle.
• Give priority to foods rich in micronutrients.
• Sleep well to give your organism a chance to recover and function at its best.
• Take care of your brain - positive mental health is the key to success.
… and remember
Eat Smarter | Train Better | Race Faster