4/24/15

A healthy immune system starts in the gut







(picture source here)

As athletes, proper gut health is imperative for digestion and a healthy immune system keeps the body well. So what do the two have in common?

As athletes, we know that in order to boost performance we need to train hard. We aim for a balanced training plan that places a significant amount of training stress on the body to elicit performance gains but adequate rest to keep the body in good health.

When an athlete trains too much (intensity or volume), the immune system is suppressed. Often, the athlete will feel he/she needs a few extra days of rest to recover from a dampened immune system but  most of the time, it's not that easy to just rest, get more sleep and feel "normal" again. 
Many athletes train too much relative to their ability to fuel properly support that added training stress, like getting enough sleep, warming up and cooling down properly, getting stronger with strength training, using sport nutrition properly and eating a healthy diet. Plus, if the athlete is also experiences stress from family, work, unhealthy lifestyle habits, poor sleep, etc.  the immune system is completely compromised.

So for athletes who have been in this situation where the raining load is too much for the body or individual lifestyle, you may be surprised to know that these athletes often experience a host of GI issues in training, racing and throughout the day. These athletes often seek extreme modifications in the diet, often to the point of elimination sport nutrition before, during and after workouts or avoiding healthy foods. But in reality, it's not always the diet that is causing the unhappy gut feelings - remember, the immune system is a critical component of gut health!

The GI tract contains around 70% of the immune system. 
A healthy gut affects how we digest and process/metabolize nutrients so you can imagine the importance of keeping your gut in good health. I'm sure you have had a day when your tummy felt off and it's not a comfortable feeling. If it happens when you are training or racing, it can be extremely challenge to train/race to your full potential. The microbes in the gut certainly affect how you feel and if you suffer from a disease like IBS, allergies or autoimmune diseases, you may find it difficult to defend against foreign invaders and find yourself more run-down, sick or exhausted than those who have a healthy (or perhaps healthier) gut. 

Researchers continue to study the complexity of the gut but what we do know is that there are foods that protect the gut and immune system. Because the gut communicates with the immune system and brain, by eating a diet rich in gut-happy foods, you can enhance the immune system health and train/race with a happy digestive system.
 Additional, with gut healthy foods, you have a greater chance of boosting performance as the body will be in optimal health when you place intentional training stress on it in training/racing. 

Most athletes associate yogurt with probiotics, which are live bacteria that can improve your gut health. Sure you can take a supplement if you don't like yogurt or eat dairy but I highly recommend choosing real food as the body identifies best with food from Mother Earth. 

Here are a few probiotic-rich foods for a happy tummy: 

Yogurt
Kefir
Sauerkraut
Dark chocolate (yep!) 
Microalgea - spirulina, chorella, and blue-green algae
Miso
Tempeh
Kimchi
Kombucha tea
Fermented cheese - gouda, cheddar, swiss