Categories SNA Faculty
The subject of gut health seems to be everywhere lately and we are just beginning to understand this complex relationship between the friendly and not-so-friendly organisms that live in our intestinal system.
One area of study getting some attention is the role of exercise in maintaining proper function of the gastrointestinal track.
Exercise for most people generally has a positive effect for proper intestinal function. It helps maintain the muscles that line the gastrointestinal tract, which will aid the movement of food through the system. This can help with constipation by improving the transit time of food moving through the large intestine. This limits the amount of water that can be absorbed from the stool into the body, preventing hard-to-pass, dry stools. Aerobic exercise also accelerates the heart rate and increases breathing which will help to stimulate peristalsis, the natural muscle contractions of the gastrointestinal system, making the movement of material more efficient.
But just like everything else, there can be too much of a good thing when it comes to exercise. Endurance and high-performance athletes often suffer from gastrointestinal (GI) issues. One reason is that the intense exercise raises the core body temperature which interferes with the function of the intestinal wall lining by setting off a number of inflammatory responses from the immune system. Excessive amounts of training, which is defined as training hard for several hours a day, frequently through the week, creates a lot of stress on the body and does not leave enough time for the body to recover.
It gets more complicated for gut health, mainly because of the good bacteria involved in regulating the body’s inflammatory response both in the intestinal tract and the body. Good bacteria along with specific phytonutrients such as polyphenols, found in green tea, red wine and red, blue, and purple fruits and vegetables also keep gap junctions between the cells in the intestinal wall lining closed. If the junctions open, a condition known as intestinal permeability or leaky gut occurs, allowing large molecules to pass into the bloodstream which can cause a host of issues including an increase of food allergies. The good bacteria also aid our ability to digest our food and de-activate potential toxins found in foods.
Most people, and this includes athletes, do not have enough good bacteria. There a number of reasons for this including frequent antibiotic use, stress, poor nutrition, birth control pills, corticosteroids, drug use such as aspirin, ibuprofen and NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) and lack of prebiotic and probiotic foods to help maintain healthy levels.
A recent study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, conducted a double blind, placebo, randomized controlled trial on the effects of probiotics on markers of leaky gut, oxidation and inflammation, at rest and after intense exercise for 90 minutes. Participants were either given a probiotic supplement or placebo and were all measured at the beginning and then again, after 14 weeks, for inflammatory markers and markers for leaky gut. The inflammatory maker did not show a significant difference, the markers for leaky gut which went up after intense exercise at the beginning in all participants, were significantly lower in the athletes in the probiotic group after 14 weeks.
Although the study did not show a significant increase in inflammatory makers in either group before or after a workout, the length of the workout was only 90 minutes and intense athletes workout for much longer periods of time. Studies have found that probiotics do reduce inflammation in the gut and the body and also promote anti-inflammatory products. So, as athletes increase their workout time, maintaining their levels of good bacteria will be helpful.
Here are a few tips:
- Eat fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, even wine and unpasteurized beer count
- Eat prebiotics foods such as garlic, onions, apple, bananas, wheat, potatoes, dairy products and the two champs of the prebiotic category: Jerusalem artichokes and chicory
- Eat glutamine rich foods such as cabbage, kale, legumes, lentils, dairy products, beets and parsley
- Eat plenty of rich antioxidants foods such as blueberries and other berries, green tea, purple sweet potatoes, tomatoes, cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower.
- Get plenty of sleep. The body repairs itself while we sleep. Also, practising deep breathing and relaxation exercises especially before bed will help promote a better quality sleep
- Take probiotics and consider supplementing with glutamine, if necessary
All these steps will help reduce the stress on the body and the improve gut health for all athletes. And even if you are not an athlete, these suggestions are good for anyone with digestive issues or to help prevent them.
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