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31 August 2022

Gut health and its role in physical health & fitness

Gut health is one of the biggest health trends on social media currently. But how important is your gut for physical health and fitness? Believe it or not, 80% of your immune system is in the gut and the majority of your body’s serotonin stores– so the answer is VERY important. Its one of the most vital, but overlooked organs, its the foundation of everything: aiding digestion; absorbing nutrients; fuelling and maintaining your body. An unhealthy gut inflammation has been linked to depression – let's avoid that.

Your gut microbiome is crucial for your health. Good gut health occurs when you have a balance between the good and bad bacteria and yeast in your digestive system. The gut being imbalanced or stressed, decreases immune system function, and decreases serotonin, making it a challenge to stay healthy and sometimes exercise. With our modern almost ‘lazy’ lifestyle of processed food, quick fix of antibiotics, late nights, and screen time - think how overuse and sore our gut must be. No wonder we bloat, get cramps, and have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Our gut can be the key to our mental and physical health. The struggle of ridding toxins can cause many issues including, chronic fatigue, intensifying chronic illnesses and inflammation throughout your body.

While several factors can contribute to poor gut health, some of the most common include stress, poor nutrition, and long-term use of antibiotics.

Stress comes in many shapes and sizes, I honestly believe no one lives a ‘stress free’ life and it’s probably hardest thing to manage. Stress can be unexpected sometimes. Mental health can cause a loss of appetite and slow digestion. A decreased appetite or changed eating habits can cause a disruption to the gut. Physical gut problems caused by excessive stress can include constipation, diarrhoea, indigestion, and IBS. I find it a trapped cycle… when you’re going through a difficult time that’s thrown your ‘normal life’ sideways. The worst thing is not being able to sh*t!

Without sounding condescending, reducing stress will lower inflammation in the gut and keep you nourished. The worst thing when overwhelmed with emotion is skipping meals. Food is the last thing on everyone’s mind when stressed but maintaining healthy balanced meals will make the world of difference. Using Yoga, Pilates or some Mobility stretches will help add a little bit of movement in the gut, give it a good recovery stretch and a wakey-up when you’re constipated. Sleeping patterns are also vital, sleep influences energy levels, while helping every system in your body recover. Lower your screen time, read 10 pages of a book before bed, and try to sleep.

Exercise increases serotonin but also acts as an emotional punching bag – sometimes the best medicine. Exercise accelerates the process of increasing different kinds of microbial species in our gut, encouraging bacteria to flourish. This is by exercising regulating our blood flow, blood sugars, and reducing inflammation. Exercising provides an imaginary band aid on our sore over used gut. With an emotion outlet and aid in metabolism and digestion, exercising can really help destress and improve quality of sleep. However, there is a line. Over training and lifting excessively heavy weights can shock the body causing an unbalance inside and disturbing the gut with more toxins. It’s all about the balance – be careful to not overload.

Even if you swear by eating healthy have a lovely balanced diet, it’s almost impossible to avoid processed food – which is fine we just need to support our gut. ‘Eat the rainbow’ is a popular term used to mix your supply of fruit and vegetables. A range of colours means digesting a range of different vitamins and minerals. Another goal to aid you gut is 10 plant-based foods a day, plant-based isn’t just vegetables and fruit it includes nuts, beans, lentils, and chickpeas (anything that comes from a plant). By adding these to your meals you include high fibre to aid your digestions and decrease inflammation.

Super foods, like ginger and lemon shots act as natural antioxidants. Ginger mixed with lemon in the morning has the ability to sooth digestive issues and enhance immune function – this will decrease bloating and reduce cramping. It also acts as a natural anti-inflammatory which can aid chronic illnesses such as arthritis, inflammatory gut, and asthma. Ginger itself increases the breakdown of fats and inhibits intestinal fat absorption by controlling appetite. With all these powers this really is a super food.

Supplements? Many sports scientist agree to a "natural food first" approach. However, with an overused gut a boost in vitamins and minerals might be what you just need. L-glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in the body, it compromises more than 50% of the body’s free amino acid pool which occupies an important position among nutritional metabolisms. L-glutamine plays a role in survival of gut microbes and immune cell function. Glutamine is in high demands during periods of stress either from illness, disease, or lifestyle stress. It’s suggested that people suffer constant depleted stores when they suffer from chronic illnesses like asthma, chronic fatigue, mental health, and endometrioses. Once glutamine stores are depleted, the intestinal linings are left even more vulnerable to cumulative damage. Replenishing glutamine stores prevents harmful bacteria or toxins entering your body through the gut, it will also improve recovery after exercise.

The final factor to poor gut health is controversially anti-biotics. Anti-biotics are unavoidable, we need them to clear infections successfully. However, when they clear all the bad bacteria they strip your gut of the good bacteria, that weakens the gut barrier. Supplementing on pro-biotics is very important, they are living microorganisms that restores the natural balance of bacteria in your gut. The good bacteria allow a faster, less painful digestion and boosts our immune system.

Gut health is the answer to many people’s stresses, everyone deserves to eat a bowl of pasta without cramping, bloating or being in pain. Boosting your gut health will help with immunity and mental health. Please if you are experiencing serious discomfort that affects your day-to-day life activities to seek support from GP or nutritionist.

Happy gut, happy life!

Perna S, Alalwan TA, Alaali Z, Alnashaba T, Gasparri C, Infantino V, Hammad L, Riva A, Petrangolini G, Allegrini P, Rondanelli M. The role of glutamine in the complex interaction between gut microbiota and health: a narrative review. International journal of molecular sciences. 2019 Oct 22;20(20):5232.

Deters BJ, Saleem M. The role of glutamine in supporting gut health and neuropsychiatric factors. Food Science and Human Wellness. 2021 Mar 1;10(2):149-54.

Etheridge CJ, Derbyshire E. Herbal infusions and health: A review of findings from human studies, mechanisms and future research directions. Nutrition & Food Science. 2020 Jan 16.

Miles MP. Probiotics and gut health in athletes. Current Nutrition Reports. 2020 Sep;9(3):129-36.

Written by Megan Westrope.

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