Why fixing your gut health could be the key to a better workout

Why fixing your gut health could be the key to a better workout

Did you know that poor gut health might be holding back your fitness goals? In this blog, we explain how supporting gut health can transform athletic performance.
Caitlin Hall
by Caitlin Hall
Dr Caitlin Hall, APD, PhD Chief Dietitian and Head of Clinical Research

If you’re struggling to raise your fitness game - or if you’ve hit the dreaded plateau - it might feel like you’ve tried every trick in the book to kick-start your progress. But have you considered that it might be poor gut health that’s holding you back? In this blog, we explain how and why fixing your gut health could transform your athletic performance.

 

What do we mean by 'gut health'?

The human gastrointestinal tract (GI) is home to approximately 100 trillion microbes, which actually exceeds the total number of cells that make up the human body. These microbes are known collectively as the ‘gut microbiome’ and they play a vital role, not only in digestion, but also in maintaining brain function, immunity and energy production. Each individual has a unique microbiome composition that can be influenced by factors like antibiotic use, as well as lifestyle, and dietary habits. 


Good gut health occurs when you have a diverse and large population of bacteria in your digestive system. Diet is one of the key determinants of the types of good bacteria in our gut and directly affects the production of Short Chain Fatty Acids (SCFAs). These are very small molecules that are produced by our gut bacteria from the nutrients in our food (particularly fibre). SCFAs play an important role in maintaining a healthy gut lining, as well as regulating inflammation and preventing potentially harmful substances from entering the bloodstream.


3 reasons why your gut bacteria might be disrupted

Most bacteria reside in our gut in harmony, this is known as a ‘symbiotic relationship’ where we provide them with an environment conducive to life, and in return, they produce important molecules to regulate processes in our bodies. However, if a decline of some potentially useful microbes in the gut occurs, our gut becomes in a state of ‘dysbiosis’, and this can have consequences on our physical and mental health. 

Common symptoms of an unhealthy gut include bloating and constipation, but brain fog, headaches, fatigue, trouble sleeping and issues with cravings or low moods are also critical indicators of a microbiome in dysbiosis.

There are a number of factors that may affect the composition of the gut microbiome and damage its health:

 

🌱 A low-fibre diet 

On average, the recommended intake of fibre for a typical adult is 30g each day, but recent research shows that 90% of us fail to consume the recommended intake, with the average person only getting about 18g each day.

When we don’t eat enough prebiotic fibre - that’s a type of fibre found in several common foods, including parsnips, kale, chicory root, garlic, barley and pulses - our gut bacteria are left without their favourite fuel. This means that their activity is reduced, and the benefits they deliver to our body’s health are also reduced.  

 

😥 Psychological stress

Stress can physically affect our gastrointestinal system and the bacterial inhabitants within it. When a stressful situation is encountered, the body elevates its production of cortisol - a hormone that causes numerous changes throughout the body, including in the gut. 

Due to the ongoing lively communication between the gut and the brain, autonomic and circulatory systems also carry distress signals to the gut, which direct blood and energy away from the intestines and towards the limbs. The result causes what’s known as a ‘leaky gut’, where the gut lining becomes more permeable. When this happens, bacteria and undigested food can move more easily into the bloodstream, which can lead to damaging chronic inflammation. Combine this with stress-related muscle spasms, and it can be a recipe for gut distress.

 

🍷 Too much alcohol 

Approximately 2 billion people worldwide drink alcohol on a daily basis, and while the occasional glass of your favourite tipple should be enjoyed, it’s important to be mindful of its effect on our gut health. 

Too much alcohol consumption causes overgrowth of our microbiota, putting it once again into a state of dysbiosis and causing symptoms like bloating, gas and abdominal pain. Not only can alcohol throw your gut out of balance, but it can also kill some types of healthy gut bacteria. This isn’t surprising, considering alcohol is incorporated in disinfectants like hand sanitiser and mouthwash.

One of the important roles of our gastrointestinal system is to produce digestive enzymes. In excess, alcohol can inhibit the production of these enzymes, meaning it becomes more difficult for your body to break down, digest, and absorb nutrients from your food.


How your gut health impacts your gym performance

We know well that, among both athletes and regular gym-goers, nutrition plays a key role in supporting training, performance, and post-exercise recovery. However, emerging evidence shows that the gut microbiota also has an important part in contributing to physical performance. So, by taking active steps to modify the composition of gut microbiota, we can increase our levels of fitness. This is because a healthy gut will display high levels of metabolic activity (chemical changes that take place in a cell or an organism to produce energy), which aids the digestion of nutrients. During high-intensity exercise, this helps to supply muscles with enough fuel, and also promotes faster recovery. In recent research, a healthy gut with bacteria called ‘Veillonella’ has also been shown to improve exercise performance by reducing levels of lactate - allowing athletes to exercise harder, for longer. 

The association between gut bacteria and exercise is also bidirectional. When we exercise, the ratio of ‘good’ gut bacteria to ‘bad’ gut bacteria is increased, as well as the microbiome’s ability to produce SCFAs.This means that exercise actively improves microbiome diversity, which in turn increases exercise performance - win, win? 


Simple steps to heal your gut and improve fitness

Now that we've established exactly what a healthy gut is, and how maintaining a diverse microbiome can improve physical fitness, let’s dive into some top science-backed ways to help support your gut. 

 

🍔 Reduce highly-processed foods

While no food should ever be completely restricted from your diet (remember, everything in moderation), trying to reduce your intake of highly-processed foods will promote a more diverse and rich microbiome. In many societies, food that is high in unhealthy fats, artificial sweeteners and sugar is easily and cheaply accessible. However, it is also associated with a number of health concerns including obesity, colon cancer, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes. With little nutritional value, these ‘junk’ foods also don’t provide gut bacteria with the prebiotic fibre they need to produce SCFAs. Try picking one or two ‘treat’ days - or perhaps the weekend, where you can still enjoy some of your favourite indulgent foods, but on a less regular basis. 

 

🥝 Increase dietary fibre

Increasing your dietary fibre intake by ‘eating the rainbow is another important way to improve your gut health. Diets rich in plant-based foods help to ensure that you’re consuming sufficient prebiotic fibres, which support a more diverse microbiota composition and will help boost athletic performance. As well as fruit and vegetables, foods such as lentils, oats, and fermented foods like sauerkraut and kefir, are fantastic sources of prebiotic fibre. An alternative route is to consider a prebiotic supplement, such as myota’s specialised fibre mixes, which make incorporating your daily fibre needs as quick and simple as popping one scoop into your morning smoothie. 

 

🧘‍♀️ Reduce stress

Lastly, reducing your daily stress levels and getting in enough sleep are sure ways to help heal your gut. By activating the state of ‘rest and digest’ through calming practices like yoga, meditation and even low-intensity exercise, gut inflammation is reduced and the microbiota will produce more SCFAs. As a result, your gut will be optimised for the energy production needed when you do enter the gym, or engage in more high-intensity exercise. 

It’s important to remember that when it comes to fitness, not every workout will be your best and athletic performance is dependent on a whole number of different factors. However, taking active steps to improve your gut health is a great way to not only increase your energy levels in the gym, but also improve your digestive function at the same time. 

 

Which myota blend is best for exercise and fitness?

We recommend the Metabolic booster blend, designed to improve gut health and optimise athletic performance by producing SCFAs. Purchase your booster here.