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Gut Microbiome Vs Performance By The Runner

A runner’s nutritional requirements vary from a common man irrespective of the level of performance they are undergoing. While you are training, you need to be on a special diet and rest as much as possible to ease your performance to the desired level. Your gut health plays a vital role in achieving your goals as you are living with trillions of microbes and bacteria in the large intestine of your body that performs various functions such as digestion, absorption, and overall metabolism. Besides these, they help in balancing the blood glucose level and hormones signaling for hunger and satiety. They also fight against pathogens and boost your immune system.

Many researchers have revealed that it’s not our genes that respond to different foods in our body but the gut flora that lies in the intestine controls different functions associated with metabolism. Hence a proper balance of gut flora in runners can enhance their performance.

What is the role of Gut bacteria in improving your performance?

Each one’s gut flora is unique, just like our fingerprint. By birth, we get our mother’s gut flora and as we grow it has been influenced by many factors like diet, exercise, lifestyle, stress, medication, and exposure to environmental factors like dirt and animals. Research conducted in 2007 has concluded the role of the gut microbiome in managing oxidative stress, energy expenditure, inflammatory responses, hydration and metabolism during vigorous exercises. Doing exercise in the long term can bring in diversity in the beneficial gut flora thereby having a positive effect on digestion, immunity, chronic disease risk and mood. 

Marathoners often complain of gastrointestinal problems. They experience loose bowels most of the time. Vigorous exercises and training can worsen this condition which is because while exercising, the working muscles demand more blood flow.  The tissues in and around the stomach receive less blood to carry out proper metabolism as you continuously feed yourself with fluids and food while digestion is occurring at a low level. The article, What’s Leaky Gut and How Do You Fix It?, explains that leaky gut is actually your small intestine absorbing things like toxins and bacteria. Let us understand more about the leaky gut syndrome and how it can affect your running.

Leaky gut syndrome medically termed as intestinal hyperpermeability is a condition in which the mucosal barrier of the gut becomes less effective thereby allowing the unwanted molecules to leak from the GI tract to the bloodstream that can adversely affect the performance.  In this condition, the intestinal mucosal membrane becomes more permeable allowing the toxins and unwanted bacteria to invade into the bloodstream. 

Having a leaky gut can cause many other health problems like inflammation, joint pain, malabsorption, impaired thyroid function, other digestive issues, and endotoxemia. Leaky gut symptoms start with fatigue associated with chronic electrolyte imbalance and more visible symptoms like nausea, vomiting, cramps, and diarrhea. Over the years, studies have revealed that healthy gut flora has a positive impact on the immune system.  The inflammation and energy supply will benefit the runners in both the short and long run. With improved immunity, they are less susceptible to respiratory infections and GI problems.

How to boost your gut flora to fix leaky gut?

To improve the diversity in the gut microbiome and fix leaky gut the below-mentioned guidelines can be followed religiously.

 Include variety: Bringing diversity in the diet is the smartest way to create diversity in gut flora. Most of the runners follow fad diets, thus cut down on the variety to be offered to the gut flora. Enjoying a wide range of foods is a good start to bring in diversity to the microbiome. Eat plenty of seasonal foods and experiment on new foods and flavors that can bring diversity.


 Prefer unprocessed food: Processed foods and ready to eat meals are not favorable to our gut. Refined and white carbohydrates such as rice, bread, and pasta are of less nutritional value and offer much lesser benefits than whole grains to the microbiome. Artificial sweeteners, sugars, preservatives, and salt conquer beneficial microbes. Including real food for fuel will be of great advantage for runners in achieving overall health and performance.


 Prefer foods that can feed your gut: Whatever you eat should not only feed you but also your gut flora. Make sure to include prebiotics to feast your microbes. They are indigestible fiber found in fruits, vegetables, pulses, whole grains, nuts and seeds that act as fertilizers to enhance the growth of your friendly bacteria.


 Include fermented food: Fermented foods are a rich source of live bacteria and yeast that survive in the digestive system and increase the inhabitants and activities of the gut microbiome. Examples for probiotics are yogurt, pickles, fermented vegetables, unpasteurized cheese and red wine that offers health benefits. Apart from these, there are several microbe formulas and supplements that add diversity to the gut flora. Everybody can benefit from consuming a probiotic though one formula does not fit all as everybody has a different microbiome. 

Your body takes extra time to recover between exercises when suffering from leaky gut. In such instances, a less intense exercise such as swimming or yoga is recommended until your gut heals. A good amount of rest and proper nutrition and an anti-inflammatory diet can support your body. You may also use supplements that can reduce inflammation, calms down the intestinal mucous membrane, maintain regularity of bowel and decrease the permeability of the intestinal membrane. 

Consistent intake of nutritionally rich food and supplements can support gut health. To enhance proper digestion, low intensity stretching movements that aid in gut peristalsis can help. Also drinking plenty of water and high fiber foods can help remove waste from the GI tract. Consume the same volume and calories while training as well as at the time of the event. Practicing the same routine before the event is important in achieving the goal. Apart from this, figure out and schedule the meal timings and snacks before, during and after a high-intensity workout to ensure the performance at the desired level.

It is found to be mutually beneficial as running can boost microbiome and boosting your microbiome can improve your habituation to running.


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