Gut Check Time. What is the Gut Microbiome and How Can it Help You?

August 16, 2022 by
Photo Credit: Frank Nguyen
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With all these fancy new supplements, recovery protocols, and nuances in the sport of CrossFit one of the most underlooked aspects of nutrition for performance is your gut microbiome. If nutrition isn’t in your career title, I don’t know how you could figure any of this out. 

Let’s break it down and make it easier to digest – pun intended. 

What does your gut microbia do for you exactly?

Simms (2021) suggests:

  • Regulates hormones (estrogen, thyroid stimulating hormone, serotonin, and stress hormones)
  • Maintains healthy metabolism
  • Helps control and dictate body composition

So you may have heard about the bacteria that lives in your gut, but there are actually two types of bacterias that reside there and they determine how much energy we absorb from our dietary intake. Firmicutes absorb more energy and bacteroidetes absorb less energy. Finding a healthy balance between the two is important to keeping inflammation and your metabolism in check!

Helpful tips for a healthy gut:

1. Not forgetting your micronutrients: According to the Food & Chemical Toxicology, they state “Optimizing nutrition intake is a key component for supporting athletic performance and supporting adaptation to training.” Although, I’m sure you’re a pro tracking macros it’s easy to forget about your micros (vitamins and minerals). Everyone gets so hyped about the “meat and potatoes” of our meals, that we tend to forget about the fruits and vegetables. Although macronutrients are very important, if we don’t remember our micronutrients, we could be doing a disservice to our efforts. 

Bonus tips to help with getting more micronutrients in:

  • Fill up half your plate with vegetables
  • Eat your vegetables first, then the reminder of food types
  • When at an event or out to eat, order a small salad to start first, eat the entire salad first, then proceed to the rest
  • Start with getting your carbohydrate intake in from fruits and vegetables (apples, potatoes), then slowing adding in more complex carbs (rice, breads, etc)
  • Add your favorites spices and seasonings
  • Cook multiple vegetables on one baking sheet as a helpful time saver in meal prepping

2. Pre- and probiotic foods:

  • Probiotic – Naturally contain bacteria to help populate gut microbiome (fermented foods). Examples include plain yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi.
  • Prebiotic – Have a fiber that feeds the beneficial bacteria. Examples include asparagus, apples, garlic, oatmeal, legumes.

3. Keep ultra-processed foods at a minimum: When you start incorporating this tip please remember to not think of certain food types as “good” or “bad”. Ultra-processed foods don’t typically aid in promoting a healthy gut, so simply be mindful to keep consumption of this food type to less than most, if able. 

4. Reduce excessive alcohol consumption: Although moderation of red wine can improve gut health, excessiveness in alcohol may be more harmful than good. Ya’ll don’t need to be turning ALL the way up, ALL of the time!

5. Consume ~25-35g of fiber daily: The required amount will be dependent on the person. The things that influence your required amount are your sex, total daily calorie intake, GI tolerance, and digestion frequency. There may be some trial in error in finding the sweet spot for you, but typically if you go too low or too high with this nutrient, you may experience the same physical symptoms of discomfort (bloating, gas, diaherra, constipation, etc). To learn more about the basics of fiber, here’s Precision Nutrition’s Encyclopedia of Food – Fiber Guide.

But why does a healthy gut matter for performance?

Simms (2021) suggests:

  1. Boosts your metabolism – your ability to turn food into fuel and optimize your training efforts
  2. Energy availability during exercise increases – having more fuel in your tank to get you to go and reach new intensities
  3. Aids in recovery – the ability to restore and repair so you can come back the next day and do just as good, if not better

Since being at Training Think Tank and working personally with CrossFit Games athlete Alexis Raptis, one of the first priorities we targeted was finding her sweet spot of fiber intake. She was experiencing some stomach issues around training sessions. 

For athletes, it can be challenging to keep foods as healthy as possible without going over on fiber goals. However, the last thing we want for an athlete is to be having any type of GI distress at all, let alone during or around training or competition times. Through some experimenting and a little “food Tetris” in MyFitnessPal, Raptis was able to find that sweet spot for her fiber intake, reducing those stomach issues all together. 

Your gut health doesn’t have to be perfect, but let’s try to make it better.

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