The Link Between Gut Health & Peak Performance
If you haven’t heard about the microbiome yet, you may as well be living under a rock! The gut microbiome is made up of trillions of microorganisms, mainly bacteria, that live in your intestinal tract. The ecosystem includes bacteria which are both beneficial (probiotic) and pathogenic, but naturally when balanced, there is plenty more good bacteria then bad. Unfortunately, when the balance is thrown off in favour of the pathogenic bacteria, problems begin to arise throughout the entire body. It’s an absolute must to get the highly complex community of organisms functioning well if you want to optimize for overall health and wellbeing, including making gains in your athletic performance and recovery!
To start, we know that the microbes within our gut play a role in metabolism and how we break down macros, store fat and balance blood sugar. We’ve also heard the gut described as the ‘second brain’ and know the microbiome influences mental health and the stress response including depression and anxiety. Further, beyond the uncomfortable symptoms commonly associated with poor digestion (gas, bloating, constipation etc.), a major issue resulting from an unhealthy gut is inflammation. This is often caused by a condition known as “leaky gut”, where small holes in the inner gut lining allow food particles and substances through. This passing of unwanted substances then leads to an inflammatory immune response and potentially to a myriad of unwanted symptoms in the body, leaving it near impossible to perform your best.
The good news? If your poor digestion is throwing you off your game there are several ways to get ahead of it. Read on to learn about the role your digestive health plays in your overall performance, and, more importantly how you can harness the power of it to reach your personal best.
We know that eating food provides the body with fuel, and that good fuel has an overall positive impact on our bodies. But, what’s not as obvious is that we are so much more than “what we eat”. We are in fact, “what we eat and absorb”. At the most basic bevel, if your gut microbiome is comprised, the likelihood that you are not breaking down and absorbing all of the nutrients is high. Another layer to this energy equation involves the fact that healthy bacteria within the gut actually manufacture B-vitamins that are required for many functions in the body, including energy. On top of this, energy levels are highly affected by blood sugar balance, which is directly linked to the activation of pathways that increase insulin resistance, as a result of inflammation in the gut!  So, what does all of this mean? Without a healthy gut microbiome, when necessary nutrients aren’t available, or there is too much inflammation in the body, your ability to become fully energized to meet your athletic performance goals may be highly compromised!
Immunity & Inflammation
Another area where athletic performance and gut health intersect involves the role of inflammation. Inflammation, which slows recovery and is at the base of all disease, is directly associated with a condition in the gut known as “dysbiosis”. Dysbiosis is the result of bacterial imbalance, and as noted above, this can lead to a syndrome known as “leaky gut”. In this case, a compromised intestinal lining sets off alarm bells in the immune system resulting in several undesirable health problems. It should also be noted that ~ 70-80% of the body’s overall immune system lives in the gut, with the health of the microbiome playing a huge role in illness and recovery. Thus, athletes, who by nature of engaging in heavy exercise, cause stress and inflammation to the body should aim to harness the benefits of a balanced gut as a means to reduce overall body-wide inflammation .
You’ve likely heard your gut being called the second brain. It’s true you can listen to your gut to learn more and understand your ‘inner knowing’, but there is in fact and actual nerve called the Vagus nerve that connects your brain to your digestive system. This connection, and the health of the gut microbes play a huge role in your mental health and wellbeing, including your risk of experiencing anxiety and depression. It goes without saying that you can’t crush your training goals if you’re not feeling on top of your mental game.
Steps To Improve Your Gut For Better Performance
Now that we’ve covered off on the many reasons you’ll want to get your microbiome health on point in order to reach your peak performance, follow these steps to make it happen:
- Remove inflammatory foods out of your diet. These could include sugar, alcohol and processed foods, but may also include foods like wheat, dairy, nightshades or other foods you have sensitivities to. Reducing the use of antibiotics, unless absolutely necessary is also critical.
- If you’re feeling digestive symptoms in your body, deal with those by speaking with a healthcare professional or Reflex pro to get a recommendation for what can help. Depending on your symptoms, several supplements exist that can help you to replace the nutrients for healthy digestion. Digestive enzymes (Allmax Digestive Enzymes & Lorna Vanderhaeghe DigestSmart), and fibre (North Coast Naturals Daily Cleanse) are just a few of the many healing products available.
- Once you’ve taken care of the acute symptoms and normalized the digestive function, it’s necessary to begin healing the lining of the intestinal tract in order to avoid any further damage leading to inflammation. Restorative nutrients may include L-glutamine (PVL Glutamine), Omega3 ( Progressive OmegEssential), Vitamin D (Beyond Yourself Vitamin D3), and the naturally occurring amino acids found in bone broth.
- Following this step, re-incoulating the gut with probiotics will occur as a result of supplementation (Progressive’s HCP Probiotic), along with choosing to include a diet filled with naturally occurring prebiotic foods (garlic, onions, bananas, apples, oats, asparagus) and probiotic rich foods (tempeh, kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, kombucha, fermented vegetables).
- Lastly, be sure to take a holistic approach and stay hydrated, rest, and manage stress levels as you move towards achieving your personal best.
Gut health can sometimes feel like an afterthought as it doesn’t always connect to performance in obvious ways. However, as we learn more and more about the health of the gut we’re beginning to see how untrue this is. As your gut plays a huge role in overall health of so many systems in the body, it’s imperative to understand how you can improve your microbiome using food, nutrients and lifestyle if you want to achieve your peak performance! How do you take care of your gut? Let us know! Tag us on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter. We are #ReflexNation.