How to improve your gut health – and why it matters to runners

the gut microbiome
How can I improve my gut health?Getty Images

The gut microbiome is a huge talking point in nutrition circles. And with good reason, as there’s a strong link between the status of our gut microbiome and our mental and physical health. The bacteria in the gut microbiome have several functions, including synthesising some vitamins, short-chain fatty acids and neurotransmitters, all vital for optimal health.

No two people have the same gut microbiome, but this doesn’t mean one person is necessarily healthier than another.

Why is diversity in the gut microbiome important?

The more microbial diversity a person has, the greater the health benefits. These include
a strong immune system, improved mental health and better sports performance. Many factors influence the stability of the gut’s ecosystem, such as physiology, genetics, lifestyle, exercise and dietary composition. The system is sensitive, so stress, the use of antibiotics, dietary changes and certain illnesses can have a negative impact. Knowing this and being mindful with your approach can ensure an optimal environment for your gut, health and sports performance.

How can I improve my gut health?

A high-fibre diet that is rich in colourful fruit, vegetables, wholegrains and legumes is central to increasing bacterial diversity in our gut. Certain intestinal bacteria can digest high-fibre foods, which stimulates their growth, thereby improving the composition
of the microbiome.

This can be further enhanced by consuming fermented foods, such as yoghurt, sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir, kimchi, miso and tempeh. Including more of these foods in your diet enhances the function of the microbiome by reducing the amount of disease-causing bacteria lurking in the intestines.

Can running improve my gut health?

There are many benefits to being physically active, but it’s also important to know
this doesn’t necessarily mean everyone has to take up extreme sports challenges and exercise at a high intensity. In fact, when it comes to our gut biome, science shows us that regular low-intensity activities such as walking, yoga and Pilates may be more beneficial than the tougher, sweatier stuff. These exercises decrease the amount of time it takes food to pass through the digestives system, which offers protective properties against some diseases.

Indeed, vigorous endurance exercise may work against the development and maintenance of a healthy gut microbiome, especially if you restrict energy availability at the same time as training hard. Research has shown that restricting food while exercising hard can result in a decreased production of beneficial gut bacteria.

Supplemental income

Probiotics are microorganisms, usually bacteria, that provide a specific health benefit.
They support gut health by changing the composition of the microbiome and supporting metabolism. While a probiotic supplement can be consumed daily, probiotics have been found to be most effective in restoring the microbiome to a healthy state after it has been compromised. The drawback is that most probiotics are destroyed by stomach acids. Sometimes, our digestive system works too well.

Renee McGregor is a leading sports dietitian with over 20 years’ experience. Visit for more

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