Because the natural probiotic bacteria that reside within your gut are responsible for so many life-supporting actions, a healthy gut is a great way to become a faster, more efficient, and overall happier runner.
Here are six ways healthy gut bacteria can support your fitness and athletic performance:
1. A healthy gut strengthens and supports your immune system.
Running and rigorous exercise can be good for your body. But as you likely know, endurance sports and overtraining can temporarily weaken the immune system, leaving you feeling under the weather after an intense training session or long-distance run.
Because 80 percent of the immune system resides in the gut—and our gut microbes help to modulate our immune function—a healthy and diverse number of beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract can help athletes avoid common gastrointestinal and upper respiratory illnesses and infections that can derail training.
2. Your gut can boost your natural energy levels and endurance.
By producing enzymes and aiding in digestion, the beneficial bacteria in a healthy gut help you absorb all the valuable nutrients from the foods you eat, giving you maximized, natural energy for your daily workouts.
Some probiotic bacteria also make short-chain fatty acids that act as another source of energy for your active body. And when it comes to endurance, probiotics play an important part in your training regimen. In one research trial, four weeks of supplementation with probiotics increased the amount of time it took runners to fatigue while exercising in heat.
All in all, an abundance of good bacteria in the digestive tract makes it easier to naturally power through your workout so you can kiss sugary energy boosters goodbye.
3. A healthy gut will help with some of those not-so-great running side effects.
Runners who train and race at a high intensity can experience gastrointestinal issues like cramps, bloating, gas, nausea, and diarrhea—many of which can be attributed to an unhealthy gut environment. In many cases, toxins and undesirable particles slip through the thin gut barrier and into the bloodstream, creating all kinds of issues.
A balanced gut microbiome with the right bacterial strains can help to reinforce your intestinal barrier to block out any molecules that can negatively affect your health, digestion, and running.
4. Healthy gut bacteria promotes strong bones and joints and reduces inflammation.
Strong bones and joints are crucial for high-impact running, and the healthy bacteria in the gut can produce vitamins and enzymes that help with mineral absorption and calcium metabolism.
By regulating the immune system and producing short-chain fatty acids, our beneficial gut microbes also work to quell inflammation that can result from muscle repair after a hard workout. This means quicker recovery time and less pain for you!
5. A healthy gut is crucial for healthy mental and emotional function.
So much of our health depends on our emotional balance, and everything from the change of seasons to the chronic stress often present in our modern lives (although partially relieved by exercise) can make it difficult to think and feel clearly—and this can impede your training.
Fortunately, probiotics can communicate with your brain to keep you on an even keel mentally so you can focus on your next run. Several brain chemicals and hormones, like serotonin and cortisol, are either produced or regulated by the bacteria in your gut, so keeping your friendly gut microbes in good supply can keep your mental clarity and emotions in check.
6. A healthy gut will help you get the quality sleep you need.
A good night's sleep is exactly what you need after all your hard training. And by regulating neurotransmitters, a plentiful number of probiotic bacteria in the gut can help you get a good night's sleep so you can both feel and run your best every day.
So, how do you support your gut health for long-term wellness and vitality?
Take a high-quality probiotic supplement.
The only way to achieve a balanced microbiome and replenish the good bacteria that may have been depleted is to take a daily probiotic formula that can effectively keep the good guys in control. Look for a multistrain formula that guarantees to deliver the bacteria live deep into your gut, where they can set up shop and work to keep you healthy.
Include probiotic food sources.
Several fermented food sources—like kimchee, sauerkraut, kefir, and kombucha—are rich in probiotics and are a great complement to a daily probiotic supplement.
Nourish your beneficial microbes.
Now that you are working so hard to replenish the probiotics in your gut, you need to give them what they need to thrive. Prebiotics are indigestible fibers that nourish all those friendly bacteria—they are to probiotics what fertilizer is to a garden. The best way to get more prebiotics to your microbial friends is to focus on a diet high in whole, plant-based foods. Great sources include oats, apples, bananas, Jerusalem artichoke, garlic, and onions.
Stay away from detractors.
Unfortunately, so many things in our modern lifestyles can deplete the good flora meant to keep us healthy and active. Stress, common medications, antibiotics (both as medicine and in our food supply), antibacterial cleaners, chlorinated water, and overzealous hygiene habits can all do a number on your microbiome. Whenever possible, choose whole, organic foods and natural products and cleaners that won't negatively affect your beneficial bacteria.
No matter how many miles you log as a runner, if you are passionate about running, you will do nearly anything to keep your streak going strong. And taking care of all the microscopic friends in your gut may be the single most important step you can take to support your running practice and help you live your happiest and healthiest days.