Whether playing sports at a competitive level or simply exercising as part of a get-fit regime, there is increasing evidence of the gut’s role in supporting physical activity. The key lies in the gut microbiome, the community of trillions of bacteria that inhabit the gut. ‘Good’ gut bacteria don’t just help with digestion, they have additional benefits to physical and mental health. Naturally, we aim to have more of the good gut bacteria, and less of the potentially ‘bad’ bacteria, since this balance or composition can help to support many processes throughout the body. Achieving a favourable balance in the gut microbiome is achieved primarily through a healthy, balanced diet, with particular attention paid to important nutrients, such as fibre.

Prebiotic fibre and sports

Since our gut microbiome is understood to have a connection with athletic health and performance, we of course want to encourage the good gut bacteria to flourish, which is where prebiotic fibre comes in. Prebiotic or dietary fibre is non-digestible fibre that is the preferred fuel source of bifidobacteria, an important good bacteria found in the gut. In the UK, only a small percentage of adults are consuming enough fibre, according to studies published on behalf of Public Health England. Prebiotics are always fibre – but not all fibre is prebiotic! It can be found in some foods such as onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus and bananas, and while a diet-first approach is usually preferred, some individuals may find it more difficult to increase their intake of these foods.

There are many simple ways for people to increase their fibre intake through simple dietary changes. Examples include fruit and vegetables as part of every meal, including snacks, and opting for wholegrain carbohydrates and nutrient-rich foods.

Fruit & Vegetables

Handy snacks that tend to be richer in fibre include:

  • Oat cakes with peanut butter
  • Fruit smoothies with milk and banana
  • Baked beans with wholemeal toast
  • Rye crispbread with low fat cheese and grapes
  • Vegetable sticks and houmous
  • Unsalted nuts & seeds
  • Malt loaf

The role of gut bacteria in athletic performance

The gut microbiome is understood to support the physical processes involved when exercising in a number of ways. Likewise, physical exercise and activity is known to have an effect on the composition of the gut microbiome, so there is a link. However, the full mechanics at play are not yet fully understood. Endurance exercises, such as running, may result in adaptations to the body that can play a role in how the body responds to future activity far beyond just building muscle mass or cutting body fat. It is understood to support areas such as immune health and stress response, and while these adaptations can influence the gut microbiome, the gut microbiome can also influence how the body responds to exercise in the first place.

While the extent of the relationship between gut health and sport is not yet fully understood, studies indicate that more sporting demographics, such as high-level athletes, have a noticeably different bacterial composition to more sedentary individuals. For example, when compared to non-athletes, Marathon runners have been found to have a greater abundance of Veillonella, a probiotic bacterium, after running. Veillonella is associated with the breakdown of lactic acid, a chemical produced by the body that causes muscle fatigue or discomfort – the familiar burning sensation after a hard workout!

Marathon Runners

Other types of good gut bacteria support in areas such as the breakdown of food into important nutrients and the body’s response to exercise. How the gut microbiome interacts with mental health is particularly important for athletes. The two-way relationship between the gut and brain is known as the ‘gut-brain axis’, read more about it here. Good gut bacteria are also connected with sleep health and, as any athlete will attest, a restful night’s sleep is an essential part of sporting performance! With a stronger understanding of how prebiotic fibre feeds good gut bacteria, alongside a growing collection of studies that connect good gut bacteria with sport and athletics, could prebiotic supplements form part of an exercise routine? Good gut bacteria support the body in several important ways, which means nourishing it and encouraging its growth are important. While a healthy and varied diet should be the first port of call, prebiotic supplements might also be an option to help to increase the intake of this nutrient and give the good bacteria in the gut a helping hand.

In summary, there is an important connection between the health of the gut and our ability to exercise or play sports. Good gut bacteria are able to support bodily functions and processes that matter to athletes, and in reverse, physical activity can alter the composition of the gut microbiome. Looking to learn more about the connection between physical health, mental wellbeing and the gut? You’ll find plenty of resources and articles available on Bimuno.com. Click here to discover more.

Looking to learn more about the connection between physical health, mental wellbeing and the gut? You’ll find plenty of resources and articles available on our website.

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