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7 Ways Your Athletic Performance Depends On Your Gut Health

7 Ways Your Athletic Performance Depends On Your Gut Health

Your gut health and gut bacteria are secretly influencing your athletic performance, physical prowess, and recovery for high-intensity workouts.

Your body is not just yours. Your colon is home to trillions of hard-working bacteria who tirelessly attempt to keep your health in perfect condition. It’s an ecosystem called the gut microbiome and its composition, as well as its diversity, are influenced by factors such as food, stress and even exercise.

That’s right exercise has many benefits for your gut like increasing movements through the digestive system and getting your blood pumping. It’s a two-way street though because these microorganisms can influence your athletic performance, too.

Table of contents

In this article, we’ll look at some of the ways your gut bacteria can affect your athletic performance, and how this microbial ecosystem uses your activity levels to boost the production of vital nutrients and speed up your metabolism.

1. Nutrients, gut bacteria and athletic performance

Brain health, gut health and athletic performance are all linked (by Ted ED)

The tiny organisms in your gut play a major role in your exercise performance from keeping your energy levels up to helping you to recover after a workout.

Gut microbes are important for the production of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) and essential nutrients that are needed for many vital functions within the human body. Exercising increases your metabolic activity which also means the body requires more energy to meet the demands placed upon it.

If you’re an avid exerciser, then having a healthy intestinal environment will only bring benefits. Eating the foods that your gut microbes love, particularly fibre, can increase your carb metabolism and increase SCFA production resulting in greater muscle turnover and better general health

Exercise also increases the production of butyrate which has many functions and supports the health of the digestive system. One of its major roles is as an energy source for the cells that line your gut. All in all, butyrate has the ability to combat inflammation, keep your gut barrier strong, and prevent illness.

TIP☝The only way to know what’s in your gut microbiome is to take an Atlas Microbiome Test and discover your bacteria’s health status.

2. Lactate and muscle recovery

Exercise is an important part of staying healthy but, when you work out, your muscles produce a by-product called lactic acid. A build-up of lactic acid can temporarily result in sore and painful muscles. However, a type of gut bacteria called Veillonella atypica loves lactate and may improve exercise capacity.

This microbe is renowned for its lactate fermentation ability and transforms it into the short-chain fatty acids, propionate and acetate. Studies in mice have shown that giving them a strain of Veillonella from marathon runners actually increases their running time to exhaustion.

Because this gut microbe is found in elite athletes but not in sedentary people there is potential for it to become a performance-enhancing probiotic. That would make it particularly beneficial for people who are unable to achieve effective results when exercising like those with metabolic diseases such as obesity and type 2 diabetes.

FACT☝Probiotics are examples of foods and supplements containing a source of live bacteria which has many beneficial effects on the body.

3. Gut health and athletic performance

Your gut microbes may be responsible for breaking down fibre but for athletes, the gut microbiome also greatly affects both how well they perform and recover. While the gut can do great things for exercise, being active also has numerous benefits for the gut microbiome.

A diverse gut microbiome is important to human health. That’s because it influences many factors including nutrition, immunity and even your mental wellbeing. There are many microbial species living in the gut that help to keep your body running smoothly.

Beneficial effects of gut bacteria

nutrient and SCFA production regulate gut motility regulate weight
prevent inflammation supports immune function dietary fibre metabolism

The great thing about exercise is it has numerous benefits for your gut but the key is to not overdo it. It’s important to find that balance because overtraining, poor recovery times and the wrong nutrition can do more harm than good, both for your training and your microbiota.

3. Exercise and microbiome diversity

Exercise is associated with increasing the abundance of bacteria which maintain a healthy intestinal environment. An abundant and diverse gut microbiome leads to a greater number of short-chain fatty acids being produced and better carbohydrate metabolism.

Exercise also increases the abundance of butyrate producers as well as an old favourite, Akkermansia muciniphila. This microbe is found in high numbers amongst athletes and is associated with a lower risk of metabolic disease.

The long and short of it is, exercise improves many factors associated with both physical performance and overall health. It does this mainly by enriching the microbial diversity of the intestinal environment.

REMEMBER☝You can check your predisposition to athletic performance as well as find out how diverse your gut microbiome is with the Atlas Biomed Tests.

4. Hydration and fluid loss

Running is influnced by gut health and athletic performance by Alexander Redl for Unsplash.
Running is influnced by gut health and athletic performance

Physical activity is thirsty work, your body loses water through sweating and breathing, leaving you at a greater risk of dehydration, especially during periods of prolonged exercise. Water is essential for life and even promotes a healthy gut.

Interestingly, the gut microbiome is also involved in maintaining good hydration during exercise. In other words, it helps the body to use water effectively. Dehydration weakens exercise performance and so it is vital to keep water levels balanced.

Studies have found that gut microbes contribute to your hydration status by influencing the transport of electrolytes such as sodium and potassium through the gut lining. The transport of water and mucosal hydration contributes to the normal functioning of the intestinal barrier.

FACT☝Electrolytes are minerals including sodium, potassium and chloride that have an electric charge and help fluid balance.

5. Deadly exhaustion

High-intensity exercise puts enormous strain on the body and, if performed at an elite level or in hot conditions, can increase the risk of exertional heat stroke, where the body’s core temperature exceeds 40.5C. Trust us, it's a serious condition.

Exertional heatstroke can also lead to endotoxemia, in which the gut barrier becomes weak and allows toxins to enter the bloodstream causing an inflammatory response. In severe cases, this can be deadly. Gastrointestinal symptoms can be an early warning sign of exertional heatstroke. Look out for:

  • confusion
  • irritability
  • increased body temperature (>40.5C)
  • shivering
  • abdominal cramps
  • vomiting
  • diarrhoea

Some research shows that poor intestinal integrity can be a precursor to exertional heatstroke and that diet could play a significant role in its prevention. For example, eating a diet rich in plant-based foods is strengthens the gut barrier and improve microbial diversity.

6. Probiotics for athletic prowess

Exercise increases the body's energy demands, accelerates metabolism, and requires more nutrients to meet these new demands. Yet, factors like poor nutrition and overtraining can negatively impact various aspects of your health including the gut.

However, probiotics are useful for supporting gut health. These foods contain a live source of healthy bacteria help support the immune system, especially during HIIT (high-intensity interval training), keeping the gut microbiome healthy.

In athletes, there is some evidence to suggest that probiotics may help improve performance, health and recovery times. Probiotics help to diversify the gut microbiome and, in doing so, can help to prevent illness which could negatively impact training and performance.

Examples of probiotic foods

  • kimchi
  • yoghurt
  • lacto-fermented pickles
  • milk kefir
  • sauerkraut
  • water kefir
  • yoghurt

7. Sleep for physical recovery

Gut health and athletic training go hand-in-hand by Gentrit Sylejmani for Unsplash.
Gut health and athletic training go hand-in-hand

Inflammation and obesity can cause sleep disturbances like sleep apnoea and fatigue which can be worrying and exhausting, but some studies have shown that exercise modulates the gut microbiome in a way that helps to improve sleep quality.

The gut microbiome is important for regulating hormones such as serotonin, GABA and cortisol, all of which can affect your sleep/wake cycle and your ability to nod off. More recent research also shows that people with a more diverse gut microbiome actually get better sleep.

Good sleep and feeling adequately rested are essential for performing at your best whether you’re a beginner or a pro. But it’s also important to remember that good gut health, adequate sleep and performance are all interlinked, so taking care of them all will ensure you reach your goals (or maybe even score them).

Just remember this

  • Gut health athletic training is linked because your gut microflora produces essential nutrients your body needs during exercise.
  • A lactate-fermenting microbe V. atypica found in elite athletes helps with endurance and recovery.
  • Exercise promotes weight loss, gut barrier integrity, microbiome diversity and nutrient production.
  • Gut microbes, electrolytes and plenty of water help you stay hydrated when you're working out.
  • A healthy gut is key to reducing the risk of exertional heatstroke and endotoxemia, which are very serious conditions.
  • Probiotics could help improve performance and recovery in athletes.
  • Sleep, gut health, energy and performance are all interlinked, so giving all of them attention is important.
Leanne Edermaniger
Leanne Edermaniger Science writer who enjoys laughing which is scientifically proven to help you live longer.
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