The gut has a complex and multifaceted relationship with sport and athletics – much of which is yet to be uncovered by science. However, we do know that a relationship exists and that our good gut bacteria play a role in exercise and sport. Physical activity changes how the body functions and behaves far beyond building up muscle strength. Exercise affects areas such as immune health and stress response, which are also areas that can be supported by a favourable gut microbiome composition.

As more of us get better connected with our health, conversation naturally turns to the ways we can support the body’s wellbeing. The gut, which hosts trillions of bacteria in the gut microbiome, is increasingly becoming an excellent point of focus! Science doesn’t fully understand all the complex relationships just yet, but current evidence shows that the composition of the gut microbiome, which consists of ‘good’ and potentially ‘bad’ bacteria in ever shifting compositions, supports important areas of physical and mental health. We often associate gut bugs with digestion and helping to break down food – and while that’s true – our good gut bacteria are also shown to support areas such as immune health, mood and cognition, and even sleep. If you’re tempted to dust off your bicycle and get out and about, why not learn more about your gut’s relationship with sports and exercise?

The connection between gut health and cycling

The gut has a complex and multifaceted relationship with sport and athletics – much of which is yet to be uncovered by science. However, we do know that a relationship exists and that our good gut bacteria have advantages to the body and the processes involved in exercise and sport. Physical activity changes how the body functions and behaves far beyond building up muscle strength. Exercise affects areas such as immune health and stress response, which are also areas that can be supported by a more favourable gut microbiome composition.

It is believed that physical activity can affect or influence the gut, and vice versa – that better gut health can support athletic health and performance. The full extent of the relationship is not yet clear, but studies that compare the gut microbiome composition of professional athletes to non-athletes shows considerable differences. This finding indicates that physical activity, such as cycling, may encourage certain good gut bacteria to thrive, and that good gut bacteria has an important role to play in top level sports. Cycling puts the body in a very different physical position to other activities such as running, jogging and swimming, which has different considerations in terms of digestive health. This position puts additional pressure on the gastrointestinal tract and may cause discomfort over longer periods of time. Due to this, intestinal gas and bloating can be a particular challenge for cyclists!

Cycling

How can we support the gut while cycling?

While exercise has important benefits for the body and its wellbeing, there are ways we can support better gut health while cycling. As always, a GP or healthcare professional should always be the first port of call on any issues of health and wellbeing, but there are general lifestyle changes we can make to promote better gut health and encourage our good gut bacteria to flourish. This is particularly important when exercising – if you experience gastrointestinal distress during or after exercise, speak to your general practitioner.

Consider the role of fibre in the diet. Studies published on behalf of Public Health England show that just 9%2 of adults in the UK are getting enough fibre in the diet. The reference intake is 30g, which specifically includes 5g of prebiotic fibre. Prebiotic fibre is the preferred fuel source for bifidobacteria, an important good bacterium in the gut. The gut microbiome, of course, has a role to play in digestive health and managing symptoms such as bloating and flatulence which will be of particular interest to cyclists. A dietary approach to nutrition is always preferred, and prebiotic fibre can be found naturally in many different foods, including Jerusalem artichokes, onions, shallots and whole grain oats. Athletic diets tend to focus more on carbohydrates and proteins, but a varied balanced diet is important for maintaining a healthy gut microbiome.

Looking to learn more about the gut microbiome, our good gut bacteria and their connection to sports and athletics? Click here to discover more.

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