Trillions of microorganisms are calling your body home.
Commonly known as the microbiome, these microorganisms weigh more than your brain and are almost as important.
This population of “good bacteria” is linked to everything from the function of your immune system to your gastrointestinal health.
The microbiome is so vital to survival that it’s often referred to as the “forgotten organ. ”
In this article, I’ll explain some of the ways running impacts your gut health—and vice versa—then share a few tips on how to ensure proper gut health.
What is Gut Bacteria?
Humans are, in essence, walking, talking, breathing bacteria colonies.
Right now, your body is home to around 100 trillion microbes, including bacteria, fungi, viruses, and protozoa—and roughly 5,000 species of them—the majority in the large intestine.
A healthy microbiome weighs roughly one to three percent of your body mass, and in quantity, bacteria outnumber your own body cells by roughly 10 to 1.
Their genes also outnumber ours by over 100 to 1.
That’s a lot!
Collectively, these microbes make up your microbiome.
The Benefits For Runners
Microbes not only improve your body’s ability to digest food but they also provide key nutrients and enzymes.
Your microbiome can impact your blood glucose level and interfere with the way your body stores fat, as well as how your body reacts to hormones signaling satiety and hunger.
The microbiome also protects your body against pathogens, trains your immune system, and regulates your hormones.
But how does having a healthy gut biome affect your running?
The answer is actually quite a lot.
A lot of research has examined the impact of exercise on the gut microbiome.
More and more evidence has suggested that regular aerobic training benefits the microbiome, which in turn benefits overall fitness and health levels.
There’s plenty of recent research suggesting that many of the benefits of exercise may boil down to alterations in the structure and function of the gut biome.
Let’s briefly mention some of the most popular papers.
This research has reported that elite athletes have a unique microbiome that could be partly responsible for their stellar performance.
One review of the link between exercise and the gut microbiome looked at both longitudinal and cross-sectional studies, assessing the impact of exercise on gut bacteria.
The conclusion was that subjects who engaged in aerobic training for a substantial period enjoyed greater gut diversity than those who skipped the exercise.
However, once they stopped training, their microbiomes relapsed to what they’d been at the start of the experiment.
There is also some research that looked specifically at the impact of running on the gut biome.
One study of marathon runners has brought more light on the link between certain types of gut microbes and running performance.
This is what happened. The researchers took stool samples for 15 elite marathoners a week fore and after the Boston marathon.
Next, the researchers compared the microbes samples with stool samples of 10 sedentary subjects.
Wyss Institute at Harvard University
The researcher was able to find one specific microbe, known as Veillonella, in the marathon runners’ samples,
and they revealed that these microbes could metabolize lactate acids much faster.
That’s not the whole story. What the researchers did next was very interesting. They fed these bacteria to a group of mix and looked at how far they could run compared to a control group.
The “enhanced” mice could run for a drastically longer time compared to the control group.
Just remember that this is a very small experiment involving mice, not humans, and there’s no guarantee that the outcomes would have been similar if it were applied to humans.
The science is still in the woods about whether a sedentary individual would have the same response.
Study found that athletes who had a probiotic supplement for a month could work out longer before fatiguing—37 minutes vs. 33 minutes—than those who took a placebo.
Researchers out of the University College Cork in Ireland reported that the gut microbiome of elite rugby players was drastically more diverse than that of non-athletes.
Not that only, some research was also able to identify variances in the structure of the athletes’ microbiomes sorted by type of sport.
To conclude, there’s no denying that exercise can alter the gut microbiome independent of diet, as the research has shown repeatedly.
This is key; as I’ve already stated, a highly diverse microbiome is linked to higher resistance to disease, better immunity, and a lower rate of obesity.
I can go on and on, but you get the picture.
Another review of 33 studies with athletes reported that the gut biome plays a huge role in controlling inflammatory responses and oxidative stress, as well as improving energy use and metabolism during endurance training.
Another but less reliable study, published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, examines the impact of gut microbes on exercise performance in mice.
The researchers concluded that the mice with normal gut biome performed better in a time-to-exhaustion swimming test, whereas the group with no gut bacteria performed the worst.
The researchers also proposed that metabolism and antioxidant response might be the reasons for the discrepancy in performance
I can go on and on about the impact of the gut biome, but that’s another topic.
For today, let’s just settle on the fact that having a diverse microbiome is good for you, period.
How to Improve Your Probiotics Intake
Here are a few guidelines to help you improve your gut biome diversity to ensure optimum health.
Eat A Wide Range of Foods
The best way to improve the diversity of your gut microns is to consume a wide range of foods rich in prebiotics, fiber, and polyphenols.
This helps your “good” gut microbes grow by providing them with the needed fuel.
Your microbiome is also like a diverse diet, so if you always eat the same foods, try diversifying your basket.
Eating a diverse diet means lots of vegetables, fruit, whole grains like rye, brown rice, whole meal wheat, and oats, as well as pulses, beans, and tofu.
Focus on Prebiotics
Although having a diverse diet helps, making sure your diet includes plenty of prebiotics can take your intake to the next levels.
Prebiotics consist of dietary fiber that feeds the good microbes in your gut. Prebiotics act like a fertilizer that helps the “good” bacteria to grow.
In essence, prebiotics refers to foods made up of indigestible fiber. This fiber is what microbes feast on the most.
Eating more of these will increase the proportion of ”good” microbes in your gut.
Some top sources include fibrous vegetables and fruits as well as whole grains, nuts, pulses, and seeds.
Be careful if you’re prone to IBS, as you might have to lower your fiber intake without fermentable carbs. Consult a dietitian if you got any issues.
Try Fermented Foods
Want to take your prebiotic intake to the next level? Try fermented food.
That’s why a diet high in fermented foods can improve the diversity of gut microbes and limit molecular signs of inflammation, according to research by the Stanford School of Medicine.
Some of the best-fermented foods include
- Kefir (a fermented milk drink)
- Kimchi (fermented Chinese cabbage)
- Kombucha (fermented tea)
- Some yogurt
- Sourdough bread
- Tempeh (Indonesian fermented soya beans)
- Unpasteurized cheese
- Fermented vegetables
Take A Supplement
Though supplements may seem like the easiest way to load on your probiotics, nothing beats getting your gut microbes from natural sources. Natural foods pack in loads of health-boosting bacteria both in terms of digestibility and absorption.
But if you have certain allergies or are on a special diet, then consider taking a prebiotic supplement that contains fermentable fiber, such as galactooligosaccharides.
Do you want to pop a pill?
Supplements may seem an easy way to boost your probiotic intake if you’re not getting enough through food. This helps ensure that the live cultures are still active and the most beneficial. (Most natural sources of probiotics aren’t labelled with CFUs,
but foods such as yoghurt and sauerkraut can have higher concentrations per serving of the good bacteria than supplements do.)
Research out of the British Journal of Sports Medicine reported that distance runners who consumed probiotic supplements for a month reported around half the number of days of respiratory symptoms compared to a control group.
There you have it!
If the topic of probiotics has picked your interest, then today’s post should get you started on the right foot. The rest is just details.
Please feel free to leave your comments and questions in the section below.
Thank you for dropping by.