When it comes to boosting performance and getting results from our efforts in the gym, we typically look to our diet, sleep, and supplementation regimen (more specifically, what pre workout we’re using prior to training).
Make no mistake, your diet, sleep hygiene and supplementation protocol all impact your ability to perform at a high level, but there’s also another important factor that’s often neglected -- gut health.
Today, we’ll investigate the relationship between gut health and athletic performance.
Gut Health & Athletic Performance
As we’ve discussed previously, the connection between our bodies and our guts is bi-directional, meaning that our lifestyle choices affect the health and function of our gut, and our gut affects how we think, feel, perform, and recover.
The microbes in our gut influence a host of factors that can impact athletic performance, including:
- Cognitive function
- Stress resilience
- Mental toughness
- Oxidative stress
The gut is also responsible for generating a range of B vitamins, antioxidants, and polyphenols, which aid performance and recovery. Also, don’t forget that the gut microbiome has a substantial impact on immune function, and the healthier your gut is, the less likely you are to have to take time off for illness.
With this in mind, it’s plain to see that athlete looking to improve training and competition outcomes as well as reduce recovery time from training should pay particular attention to gut health.
But, that’s not all, exercise, itself, affects gut health.
Moderate exercise actually improves gut health in a number of ways, such as[1,2]:
- Improving microbiota diversity – This aids communication between the brain and gut
- Beneficially altering the ratio of Bacteroides to Firmicutes bacteria – This supports healthy weight maintenance and decreases risk for obesity-related conditions.
- Stimulating bacteria that aid GI barrier functions – This supports digestive health, nutrient utilization and metabolism
- Activating bacteria activities that bolster human health
Some other research also indicates that butyrate-producing bacteria (e.g. bifidobacteria) have been shown to positively correlate with VO2max and VO2peak. In other words, a healthier gut is linked to better athletic performance.
As with many things in life, though, it is possible to have too much of a good thing, and this extends to the interplay between exercise and gut health,
Excessive exercise, particularly endurance exercise, can lead to gut imbalance (aka dysbiosis).
Intense exercise places considerable stress on both the body and mind, generating lots of free radical, oxidative stress, and inflammation, which can exceed the body’s antioxidant and recovery capabilities.
So, the trick with exercise is to find the right amount. You don’t want to be a complete sloth, nor do you want to be someone who never takes a day off as both can lead to unfavorable changes in the gut microbiome, and therefore suboptimal gut health and function.
By now, you're wondering what you can do, starting now, to improve gut health and athletic performance. As we’ve mentioned countless times, it all starts with the “basics”:
- A healthy diet rich in lean protein, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, etc.
- Quality sleep (7-9 hours) each and every night
- Stress management
- Regular exercise (not too much, not too little)
If you have the basics down, and you’re looking to take things to the next level, you can look towards supplements, such as our Greens & Reds Superfoods PLUS formula, which contains a hand-picked mix of premium trademarked probiotics, prebiotics, and digestive enzymes. Each serving also includes 19 organic fruits and vegetables, supplying valuable polyphenols and antioxidants to support cellular health and GI function.
Probiotics are beneficial gut bacteria that enhance gut health. In fact, some studies find that certain probiotics may support improvements in body composition and lean body mass, help reduce cortisol levels indicating better responses to a physical or mental stressor, and decrease perceived soreness.[2,3]
Prebiotics are fibers that the bacteria in our gut use for fuel. Without sufficient fiber intake, gut bacteria cannot thrive, leading to disruptions in the makeup and function of the gut microbiome. As such, it’s imperative to consume enough quality fiber. 1UP Vegan Greens & Reds Superfoods PLUS includes 2,000mg of prebiotic fiber to sustain and nourish the gut microbiome.
Digestive Enzymes - Play a key role in breaking down the food you eat. These proteins speed up chemical reactions that turn nutrients into substances that your digestive tract can absorb. Digestive Enzymes we use are trademarked DigeZyme®
- Mach, N., & Fuster-Botella, D. (2017). Endurance exercise and gut microbiota: A review. Journal of Sport and Health Science, 6(2), 179–197. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jshs.2016.05.001
- Hughes RL. A Review of the Role of the Gut Microbiome in Personalized Sports Nutrition. Front Nutr. 2020 Jan 10;6:191. doi: 10.3389/fnut.2019.00191. PMID: 31998739; PMCID: PMC6966970.
- Jäger, R., Mohr, A.E., Carpenter, K.C. et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: Probiotics. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 16, 62 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-019-0329-0