There are many ways to improve your performance in the gym, but did you know that a focus on gut health could also be beneficial? People often have their complete attention on physical training, however our gut functioning plays a large role in performance as well.
The internal environment of our body is as important as our external one. During any moment, there are tons of processes going on in your gut which maintain normal digestion, absorption, and overall health. Not only has our internal environment, or microbiome, been associated with physical health, but mental health as well.
It is crucial that you continue reading and learn about the ways you can have a healthy gut, which in turn can and will boost your performance!
How Exercise and Digestion Work Together
1. Energy – Your gut bacteria help with digestion and absorption of food for energy, or put simple: healthy gut = better absorption = more energy. For example, think about a period of time when you overindulged in unhealthy food or alcohol. It usually leaves you feeling tired, unmotivated and lethargic. That’s your gut bacteria responding.
2. Inflammation and Recovery – Gut health has a significant role in inflammation, a good or bad depending on your lifestyle. An unhealthy gut is a sure path towards inflammatory conditions which then affect exercise recovery and performance. If you’re looking to recover and progress faster, pay close attention to your gut health.
3. Hydration – If you indulge in regular exercise or any other physical activity, you already know how vital it is to be properly hydrated. Well, the gut flora is important for hydration. Like nutrients, water and electrolytes are also absorbed through your gut lining. Poor gut health leads to poor absorption, and ultimately poor hydration.
4. Absorption – We know that gut microbiome is responsible for digestion and absorption of food; however your body needs to use those nutrients properly. Everything you eat, all of your supplements, may as well be worthless if the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals absorb poorly in your digestive track. Only a healthy gut flora can prevent this, and actually provide proper absorption.
5. Cognition – There is a close relationship between your gut and brain. Gut bacteria produce neurotransmitters and hormones which control mood, energy, and motivation. This may seem crazy, but 90% of serotonin and 50% of dopamine are produced in the gut! Next time before you reach for that pre-workout or energy drink for that liquid motivation, pay more attention to your gut health. An unhappy gut could be the piece of puzzle that you’re missing.
6. Sleep - It’s a well known fact that sleep is powerfully restorative, and research suggests that a healthier gut is associated with better sleep quality and less fatigue. You will perform so much better physically and mentally after a good night of sleep. A lack of sleep is linked to increase appetite, weight gain and poor strength output.
What Can You Do to Improve Gut Health?
Your goal is to promote the growth of good gut bacteria, preventing overgrowth of the damaging ones. You do that by increasing microbial diversity. Different gut microbes “like” different kinds of foods, both good and bad. The good ones love fiber, specifically plant fiber. So, the more different types of plants you eat, the higher the microbial diversity. If you’re still eating the same vegetables every day, your gut will suffer most likely.
Tips to incorporate:
- Diverse intake of fruits and veggies
You need that high fiber intake, and you can only get that from plant foods. Consume at least 25 grams of fiber per day, focusing on different fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains. Nuts and seeds are also great sources of fiber, and they pack lots of protein as well!
- Include prebiotics
What exactly are prebiotics? They are a type of fiber that passes through the digestive system, stimulating the growth of good gut bacteria. They include fructans and oligosaccharides, which basically “feed” the probiotics. Sources of natural prebiotics are vegetables (garlic, artichoke, beetroot, onions, fennel), legumes (chickpeas, lentils, beans), wholegrains (oats, brown rice, buckwheat).
- Add probiotics
This is a dream combo alongside the fiber you are getting. Although, studies suggest that probiotics are not always necessary, they will help re-populate gut bacteria. Still, it’s up to your diet to keep them alive and thriving.
- Consume fermented foods
They are true powerhouse when it comes to revitalizing your good gut bacteria. Kimchi, sauerkraut, tofu, tempeh, miso, and fermented vegetables are full of diverse probiotics which help your gut microbiome.
- Avoid Alcohol
One of the worst things you can do when healing your gut is to consume alcohol. It’s inflammatory and it feeds the bad gut bacteria. If improving your health and gym performance is something you truly want, then reduce or completely avoid alcohol.
A properly functioning gut can impact your health and athletic performance greatly. Changing your dietary and lifestyle habits can result in significant change, you’ll notice a big difference right away. And with time, your gut microbiome will be renewed completely, strength and performance will sky rocket, and you’ll see amazing results!
Just don’t forget, the key is balance and maintenance of the results you achieve.