Today, athletes are starting to recognize more and more that their fitness gains and their growth in their sport come from more than just logging countless, dedicated hours developing skills. And while there’s no denying the critical value and importance of this time and dedication, there are many factors beyond specific sport training that we know contribute to fitness and performance. Among these factors are sleep, nutrition, and, believe it not, the health of gut.
There are two primary areas of focus on when it comes to fitness: performance + recovery.
So, what if we told you that the health of your gut, and specifically the use of (or lack of) probiotics could impact both how well you perform and how fast you recover? Of late, an increase in research1 is proving just that: the role of gut microbiota matters when it comes to athletes performance and taking a supplemental probiotic has the potential to aid in both performance and recovery.2
The Foundation of Gut Health
Before looking specifically at sport and exercise, let’s start with the basics about what we know about the relationship between the health of your gut and your body.
We have trillions of microbes that live in our gut. These include bacteria, viruses and fungi, which significantly contribute to our general, everyday health and wellbeing.3 When functioning properly, gut microbes offer an array of functions including digestion, vitamin production and immune system support.4 With 80% of our immune system located in our gut, our digestive system is intricately intertwined with other systems of our body.5 If dysbiosis (aka the imbalance of good bacteria to bad bacteria) occurs, it can result in a variety of symptoms and disease including chronic inflammation, eczema, metabolic disorder, obesity and more.6
Many factors can cause an unhappy gut and an out-of-balance microflora. One (that we can’t control) is age, while other’s we can control include environmental factors and diet. Some specific examples that deplete good bacteria are changes in stomach acid, antibiotic use, not consuming enough prebiotics, a lack of diversity in the foods we eat, and stress.
How Exercise Can Cause Dysbiosis In an Athlete
During intense exercise or training, stress and strain are not only put on your muscles but also systematically across the entire body. This stress includes the breakdown of muscle fibres, energy (glycogen) depletion, and mineral / electrolyte imbalance. But what many athletes fail to consider is the stress on their body in the form of oxidative stress, compromised intestinal permeability (leaky gut) and chronic inflammation. It is this intense physiological stress and repetitive strain on the gut that can change the overall composition of our gut microbiota resulting in dysbiosis. This dysbiosis then compromises the body’s immune function and its ability to protect and repair. As a result, recovery starts to take longer, and we become more susceptible to illness, both acute and potentially chronic.7 For athletes, that means compromised ability to push harder and recover faster.
That by no means is an excuse to avoid exercise. In fact, class of research is offering evidence that supports the idea that exercise encourages the presence of good bacteria in our gut. The research even argues that elite athletes have a more diverse microflora, which supports tissue repair, use of energy from diet and cell turnover.8 While these findings are specific to high-functioning elite athletes, they support the idea that when we make an effort to populate and nourish the bacteria in our gut, it in turn, can positively support our body through our exercise efforts.
Could Improving Your Microbiome Help Performance?
It’s relatively well-known that taking protein, in the form of either food or supplement, aids in muscle repair and regrowth, which in turn helps increase strength and boost performance. But both elite and everyday athletes should consider adding a probiotic to their daily routine as well as more and more research is demonstrating that probiotics can be equally effective when it comes to body repair post sport7. When good bacteria are present in optimal amounts, it contributes in a significant way to the body’s ability to absorb nutrients, manage energy expenditure, stay hydrated (and re-hydrate), as well as manage inflammation. This means that probiotic supplementation to both modify and maintain the makeup of the gut flora is key to not only supporting and improving general health and well-being but more specifically, helping manage sport-induced inflammation, energy availability and hydration.
3 Ways to Manage Gut Health As An Athlete
You now see how important it is to maintain your intestinal microbiome but how do you put it into practice? Here are three simple ways you can proactively support and improve the good bacteria existing in your gut.
1. Aim for ample sleep
When our body is already under stress from exercise, ensuring it gets enough rest is vital for proper recovery and to prevent further depletion of our microbiome. Sleep is critical for many processes in our body. It’s our bodies chance to rest and repair our muscles, reorganize our brain, rest our digestive system, and control hormone regulation. Without enough sleep, our body is compromised in its ability to balance appetite, our gut flora becomes off balance, and our immune system is unable to support the needs of the body9.
2. Supplement with a daily probiotic
While it’s possible to get probiotics from fermented foods, supplementing with a high-quality dose of probiotics will ensure that you’re nurturing and replenishing the bacteria in your gut. When it comes to choosing the probiotic that’s right for you, consider the format (drinkable or capsules) that will easily fit into your daily routine.
Choosing Bio-K+ not only gives you the option to choose the flavours and formats (drinkable-dairy, drinkable-vegan or capsules-vegan) that work for you. Since Bio-K+ has clinical trials supporting the finished product, what you get in every bottle is the same strains that are supported by research, so you can feel confident it works.
3. Add prebiotics to your diet
In addition to probiotics, your microbiome also relies on prebiotics, which are foods that contain a specific type of fibre that feeds and nourishes the good bacteria already present in your gut. The specific foods you’ll want to work into your meal rotation include asparagus, onions, bananas, oats, legumes, etc.
While it’s smart for everyone to be mindful of the health of their gut, athletes who begin to pay particular attention to supporting their microbiome and gut health can play a critical piece in taking their performance to the next level. If you’re an athlete, or highly active individual who partakes in vigorous exercise multiple days a week consider nourishing your gut with a supplemental probiotic for the potential of improved performance and better recovery.
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