An y regular gym-goer knows that what they eat has a direct impact on how they perform in the sports arena, but, recently, scientists have uncovered a new meaning to ‘eating for performance’. The food that fit people feed the microbes living in their digestive system could hold the key to greater athleticism. And it’s not only what they eat, but also how excessively they train, whether they relax regularly, and how well they sleep. A sports-honed gut is being touted as the ‘athletic microbiome’ and a greater understanding of it could supercharge your performance.
What if a Healthy Tum Could Make You Run Faster Jump Higher and Exercise Harder? It Might be Time to Hone Your Microbiome Photo Gallery
Beneficial bacteria Chances are you’ve already heard of the microbiome, but what exactly is it? Experts refer to it as the ‘internal ecosystem of micro-organisms (called microbiota) that make up the human body’. The gut has many microbiota, including bacteria, fungi and viruses, and this microbiota can perform an array of functions that keep us healthy. In the past decade, the field of microbiome research has proliferated, but we are only just understanding how it could impact on sports performance. ‘A healthy gut microbiome could help to reduce inflammation, increase your energy levels, improve mental strength, shape your body composition, strengthen your bones, increase nutrient absorption and use, and even up hydration levels,’ says Claire Barnes, nutritional therapist for Bio-Kult (bio-kult.com).
What’s more, your diet and lifestyle could help foster a fitter tum. Sporty systems What does this mean for fit types? Interestingly, researchers are realising that an athlete’s microbial makeup may differ from that of everyday people. ‘In a project involving Boston Marathon runners, scientists discovered a spike in levels of a bacterium that breaks down lactic acid (produced by muscles during exercise),’ explains Barnes. Another study on 35 cyclists, called the Athlete Microbiome Project by Dr Lauren Petersen, shows that athletes may have a greater prevalence of the prevotell bacteria than non-athletes. In fact, the harder the cyclists trained, the higher levels of this type of bacteria was found. ‘Scientists are trying to discover whether there are strains of bacteria that are more prevalent in the athletes’ guts, and this could potentially lead to developing a live bacteria supplement which could provide a competitive advantage,’ adds Barnes.
Indeed, the Boston Marathon research shows that prevotella bacteria uses lactic acid as its food source, and supplementation of this bacteria could perhaps be used to reduce lactic acid build-up and therefore reduce recovery times. Impressive, isn’t it? Digestive diversity However, experts are quick to note that we don’t know whether bacteria are responsible for the changes in athletic performance or vice versa. ‘While these studies are interesting, they may not provide the whole picture,’ warns Barnes. ‘Given that a healthy microbiome can have many influences within the body, I believe the main health marker will be maintaining the diversity of the gut microbiome.
Dr Ashton Harper, medical advisor at Bio-Kult adds: ‘It is thought that a diverse bacterial gut environment provides heightened protection from ingested pathogens (or bad bugs) and unfavourable community structures capable of causing inflammation, diarrhoea symptoms and possibly even headaches and depression – all which would obviously impair training and athletic performance. A recent review of probiotics in athletes found that they were effective in preventing respiratory and gastrointestinal illness, and, in one study, significantly increased run time to fatigue.’ These are all promising findings, so read the panel (right) to improve your microbial diversity today!
5 WAYS TO IMPROVE YOUR ATHLETIC MICROBIOME
Follow these tips from Dr Marc Bubbs
1| DON’T OVERTRAIN
If you get your training plan wrong and push into harmful overreaching syndrome due to too much volume or intensity (or both), a dramatic rise in pro-inflammatory cytokines and macrophages occurs in a dose-response relationship. At a deeper genetic level, your genome accumulates mutations that will compromise the efficiency of aerobic energy production. It is established that harmful overreaching or overtraining is associated with the rapid onset of fatigue, and the inability to maintain speed and intensity of effort.
2| MODERATE SPORTS DRINKS
Endurance athletes consume a lot of simple sugars when training and during competition, but over the long term this takes a heavy toll on the gut. Too many simple sugars feed renegade ‘bad’ gut bacteria, leading to inflammation and elevated levels of oxygen in the gut lumen, triggering the growth of E.coli, Klebsiella spp. and proteus.
3| EAT A VARIED DIET
Eat a wide array of different types of foods from all colours of the rainbow – regardless if they’re carbs, veggies, leafy greens, fruits, beans, legumes or animal proteins – to support gut microbiota diversity. 4| GROW YOUR OWN Soil is also important. Where your food grows plays a massive role in shaping your gut microbiome. But modern industrialised farming practices have stripped the soil of many of its beneficial micro-organisms at the expense of our health. To get more ‘dirt’ in your diet, pick up leafy greens at a farmers’ market, or grow some in your garden.
5| ENJOY FERMENTED FOODS
Fermented foods are rich in the bacillus strain [of bacteria]. This anaerobic bacteria ferments foods and, in doing so, extracts energy from indigestible fibres and resistance starches. Common fermented foods include yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, natto, miso and kombucha.
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