What do you know about your bacteria? If the thought hasn’t even crossed your mind, you may be missing out on one of the most critical components of your health… and even your athletic performance.
Most people think of themselves as simply “human,” without paying much attention to the vast populations of other living organisms they carry around every second of their lives.
The “microbiome,” the diverse bacterial population that lives on your skin, and most importantly in your digestive system, significantly influence how the body operates. In fact, microbial genes outnumber human genes by 100:1!
Just think about that for a second to let that sink in…
While we could delve into all the many effects the microbiome is proving to have on your health, that is the subject for a different post (and maybe a series of posts – there have been several dense books written about the subject!), let’s focus on how your gut population may be affecting your athletic performance, and what you can do to improve it.
New studies have shown that the gut populations of elite athletes differ DRAMATICALLY from those living sedentary lifestyles, which give them significant benefits, such as:
- efficiently getting energy from food,
- using fat for fuel when carbohydrate reserves have drained,
- improving metabolism to stay lean,
- building muscle,
- reducing inflammation,
- and eliminating chemicals that cause fatigue and soreness.
So what can we do to improve our gut population to help us get to the level of these elite athletes? It starts with the food you eat over time, but there’s something else you can do that may give you some of the benefits immediately as well.
As far as food is concerned, STEP 1 would be to eat TONS of fiber-rich foods. No, not fiber supplements (those don’t really work). Foods that contain tons of fiber and resistant starch – aka prebiotics – which is essentially the “food” for the healthy bacteria to feast on. Foods rich in fiber include:
- vegetables such as artichokes and celery (and frankly any vegetable you can get your hands on)
- whole and sprouted grains
- legumes (beans, lentils, peas)
- fruits (apples, bananas, pears, etc.)
- tubers and root vegetables (sweet potatoes, yams, potatoes, yucca, parsnips, sunchokes etc.)
You may be already doing some of that, but increasing your consumption of fiber-rich food will certainly help your gut population.
STEP 2, which you may not be doing, is consuming fermented and probiotic-rich foods. These contain “live cultures,” aka living organisms that act as “personal trainers” of sorts to your gut population, helping the good microbes get stronger and more diverse. These foods include:
- fermented veggies (fermented beets are especially good)
- natto (a fermented soy product, not for the weak of heart)
- cultured yogurts and kefirs (we recommend non-dairy yogurts such as Coconut Cult and Kite Hill Foods)
- whole grain sourdough breads
STEP 3 is a bit of a shortcut. Studies show that one of the main benefits of a healthy gut population is the production of large amounts of “molecular hydrogen,” aka H2. So even if your gut population still needs work, drinking hydrogen-infused water can give you some of the major benefits (energy metabolism, reduction in inflammation, etc.) that an optimal microbiome may be able to provide. While not a substitute for including the above foods in your diet, we strongly suggest you do both, as even individuals with healthy gut flora have benefitted tremendously from supplementation with H2.