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Gut health and fitness: How your microbiome affects you physically

In recent years we have made huge leaps in our understanding of the importance of gut health. Our gut primarily serves the purpose of aiding digestion and breaking down the food we eat into its individual nutrients. But our gut is also responsible for far more than just digestion. In our last blog on gut health, we examined how the gut can also affect our mental and physical health, but I wanted to take this further and look at how gut health affects our ability to move and get physically fit. In this week’s blog, I’d like us to examine how a healthy gut can help you lose weight, move more and get healthy. 

Gut Health, muscle repair and growth

The microbiome in our gut plays a crucial role in the breakdown and absorption of nutrients essential for muscle repair and growth, and the production of energy during exercise. For this reason, it’s important to understand how to maintain a healthy microbiome and how this may affect you physically. Certain bacteria in our guts are particularly good at breaking down complex carbohydrates and resistant starches into short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). These SCFAs serve as an additional energy source for the body, particularly during prolonged exercise, by enhancing mitochondrial function. 

When you’re working out, your muscles need energy to keep going. They get this energy from tiny structures inside the muscle cells called mitochondria. Think of mitochondria as the powerhouses of your muscles. They absorb nutrients from the food we eat and turn them into energy that your muscles can use to move and perform during exercise. Good gut health ensures that you make the most of the nutrients you absorb in food and that your body doesn’t waste energy by not breaking these carbohydrates down inefficiently. 

Immune function and recovery

Our gut plays a vital role in how our immune system functions. We have millions of different microbes in our guts that all play slightly different roles. Certain beneficial microbes help strengthen our immune system by producing compounds that enhance immune function and how efficiently our bodies deal with harmful bacteria and infections. 

 

Now, when it comes to working out, having a strong immune system is essential for recovery. Exercise puts stress on your body, and your immune system helps repair the damage and fight off any germs that might try to take advantage of your weakened state. When your immune system is functioning optimally, it can respond quickly to the stress of exercise, reducing inflammation and promoting muscle repair. This means you’re less likely to get sidelined by illness or injury, and you can bounce back faster from tough workouts.

Your gut and your brain 

One of the biggest factors for many people when trying to exercise or get healthy is finding motivation. Finding motivation may feel like a mental hurdle, but taking a healthy approach to gut health may offer a simple and practical way to get you ready to exercise. Inside your gut, there are tiny organisms that make special chemicals called neurotransmitters. These chemicals, like serotonin and dopamine, can affect how you think, feel, and handle stress. When your gut is healthy, it helps produce the right balance of these chemicals, which can keep your mood stable and your mind sharp. Your gut and your brain are always chatting with each other through something called the gut-brain axis. It’s like a two-way street where messages travel between your gut and your brain. When your gut is happy and balanced, this communication system works smoothly, helping you stay calm, focused, and ready to tackle challenges, including tough workouts.

Optimising your gut for your body

Maintaining a healthy gut is key to supporting your body, health and physical abilities. A mixed and nutritious diet is key to maintaining good gut health. By providing our gut with a range of foods we can increase the variety of microbes and the ratio of beneficial bacteria to harmful bacteria. Probiotics and probiotics offer some of the fastest ways to promote growth and diversity in your gut health. Prebiotics are types of dietary fibres that serve as fuel for beneficial gut bacteria, promoting their growth and activity. Including prebiotic-rich foods in your diet can help support a diverse and thriving gut microbiome. Examples of prebiotic foods include:

  • Vegetables: Artichokes, garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, and chicory root are rich sources of prebiotic fibres such as inulin and fructooligosaccharides (FOS).
  • Fruits: Bananas, apples, berries, and kiwi contain soluble fibres that nourish gut bacteria and contribute to microbial diversity.
  • Whole Grains: Oats, barley, quinoa, and whole wheat provide insoluble fibres that support digestive health and promote the growth of beneficial bacteria.

Probiotics are live microorganisms that confer health benefits when consumed in adequate amounts. Incorporating probiotic-rich foods into your diet can help introduce beneficial bacteria to the gut microbiome. Examples of probiotic foods include:

  • Yogurt: Plain unsweetened yoghurt is full of bacterial cultures that are great for gut health.
  • Kefir: A fermented dairy drink rich in probiotics, kefir contains a diverse array of beneficial bacteria and yeasts that can contribute to gut health.
  • Fermented Vegetables: Sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, and other fermented vegetables are excellent sources of probiotics and can enhance microbial diversity in the gut.

A diverse diet

Alongside prebiotics and probiotics, we can introduce a range of fresh foods into our diet to help support our gut health. Consuming a diverse range of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes provides essential nutrients and promotes microbial diversity in the gut. Aim to include a variety of colourful plant-based foods in your meals to ensure a broad spectrum of nutrients and phytochemicals that support overall health and gut function.  Incorporating sources of healthy fats, such as avocados, nuts, seeds, olive oil, and fatty fish, into your diet can help maintain gut barrier integrity and support anti-inflammatory pathways. Omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish like salmon and mackerel have been shown to promote gut health and reduce inflammation, contributing to improved exercise recovery and performance.

Conclusion

Maintaining a healthy gut is important not just for your physical health but for your ability to make the most out of what your body can do. For anyone who is trying to move more and get healthy, small dietary changes that are beneficial to your gut health can be one of the most efficient ways you can prepare for exercise. Nurturing a healthy gut microbiome through mindful nutrition and lifestyle practices is a foundational step towards achieving optimal physical performance, resilience, and overall well-being.

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