The beneficial bacteria residing in your gut are collectively termed gut microbiota. This group of bacteria plays a crucial role in determining what nutrients your body will absorb from the food. Therefore, gut microbes influence immunological functions, brain health, skin, muscle functions and the energy levels. In other words, the gut is very important to your overall health.
Your ability to exercise depends on the energy stores of your body, and your gut microbiota determines the amount of calories and energy that enter your body. So, your gut health is important in deciding the time period and intensity of exercise you can bear. By controlling the amount of calories stored in your body, the gut microbiome directly helps you stay lean.
Since the gut microbiota has so much to do with the functioning and maintenance of your body organs, appropriate steps need to be taken to maintain and improve its diversity.
HOW DOES IMPROVED GUT HEALTH INFLUENCE ATHLETIC PERFORMANCE
- It keeps you lean
Gut bacteria are responsible for the type and amount of nutrients and calories entering your blood, but the diversity of gut microbiota greatly depends on our diet. Hence, when you eat highly processed, high in starch/sugar foods or unhealthy fats, it leads to inflammation. This, in turn, encourages the growth of bad bacteria creating imbalance within the gut. The bad bacteria also triggers the overproduction of insulin, which stops the fat-burning process and starts storing it instead. Switching to healthy foods will reduce inflammation and reset your metabolism, and a good resting metabolic rate will keep you lean.
The ideal body composition is very important when it comes to the performance of athletes. There aren’t many overweight high-level athletes, as sports performance relies on strength and speed.
- Reduce cravings
Gut microbes can have an influence on what you eat too. Researchers have found a relationship between the microbes and the eating behavior of their host by generating cravings for specific foods. A host of the unhealthy gut will reach for a cheeseburger and coke over a simple salad. On the contrary, eating healthy will reverse cravings for junk, and you’ll choose better options. Sticking to a healthy diet plan will also help you avoid digestive problems like obesity and diabetes, which can reduce athletic performance largely.
- Reduce inflammation
Inflammation interferes with athletic performance as it slows down recovery and results in the onset of many chronic diseases. Maintaining a healthy gut, by improving your microbiome balance, reduces systemic inflammation. Furthermore, raised levels of beneficial bacteria will also reduce the impact of repeated stress placed by athletes on their bodies.
- Mental well being
You might be surprised that your gut and brain have a strong connection along the vagus nerve, termed the gut-brain axis. They are capable of sending signals to each other through this bond. Did you know that having an imbalanced gut for a long time can also contribute to mental illness. In many studies, this gut microbiome imbalance is responsible for depression and anxiety symptoms too.Maintaining gut health is essential for professional athletes as it will affect their mind in the following ways:
- Mental clarity
- Cognitive ability
- Pain tolerance
- Boost energy levels
A happy and healthy gut enhances energy levels of the gut which in turn promotes your performance by:
- Improving metabolism
- Sustaining an adequate amount of energy harvested, stored and spent.
- Delaying fatigue through better lactic acid breakdown and controlled redox function.
- Enhancing your molecular energy, i.e. the ATP levels.
Athletes need to have a gut microbiome working at its best if they want to stand a chance in front of their competitors.
- Build strong bones
A balanced gut microbiome promotes the absorption of essential minerals like calcium and magnesium. This will help build bone mass and strength. A properly functioning microbiome will also heal bone injuries during sport-related trauma. Hormonal and immune system regulation is another important function of the gut as it also strengthens the bones.
As per the old myth, drinking enough milk for strong bones is actually not sufficient; instead, you need to eat the right foods beneficial for your gut health.
- Proper nutrient absorption
A healthy gut microbiome is essential for any athlete to get the most out of the food they eat and utilize those nutrients while performing. If one has an imbalanced gut, the microbes keep fighting for survival and don’t have time to extract essential vitamins, proteins and enzymes. The gut microflora assists your digestive tract in processing the food which remains undigested and makes it into the nutrients you need.
- Staying hydrated
Proper gut microbiome functioning is linked to adequate water intake during exercise. The water lost through sweating has to be replenished with fluids taken through the mouth. The maintenance of the gut lining is also affected by hydration level.
- Improve sleep
The dysbiosis of the gut microbiome is associated with poor sleep quality. Your gut microbiome regulates the level of hormones such as cortisol, GABA and serotonin, further maintaining the sleep quality. A hormone, melatonin, essential for the sleep-wake cycle, is also affected by gut health.
Proper sleep is a must for good athletic performance, but many fail to understand the physiology of the gut influencing the sleep-promoting neurotransmitters.
- Release antioxidants
Your body’s antioxidant enzymes are used to stimulate the antioxidant defense system or redox signaling. This system goes hand in hand with the game of athletes to sustain their stamina by helping them to recover in record time. The mechanisms regulated by the antioxidant defense system are:
- Protects against oxidative damage caused by sustained and high-level exercises.
- Prolongs physical fatigue.
- Prevents wear and tear of tissues during exercise.
- Enhances pre-competition workout
One of the best methods to improve your performance in competitions is to focus on enhancing the diversity of your gut microbiome. Eating a healthy diet regularly is the best way to achieve your goal. Therefore, work on refining your athlete’s diet and nutrition and motivating them psychologically.
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