Regular exercise has been associated with alterations in the diversity and abundance of gut microbes. Studies indicate that individuals engaging in physical activity exhibit a more diverse and resilient gut microbiome compared to sedentary counterparts.
On the flip side, negative gastro symptoms are common amongst those who exercise frequently, especially during training for an event and competing. These symptoms can range from abdominal pain and cramping, belching, bloating, nausea, heartburn, flatulence, urge to defecate, bowel movements, diarrhoea and vomiting (de Oliveira et al., 2014). There are some fun nicknames for extreme frequency or discomfort such as ‘runners trot’ or ‘runners diarrhoea’. The bottom line is that these symptoms can negatively impact performance and just make you feel uncomfortable.
It’s generally agreed that these types of symptoms are most common in runners, as the food gets shaken inside your intestines as you run. Read more about runner’s nutrition here. Additionally, food or drinks used during exercise can cause irritation to your gut, such as consuming a drink that is too concentrated in carbohydrates.
Below are three common questions that I get from clients around exercise and the gut.
How can I reduce these gastro symptoms during exercising?
Here’s 5 tips:
- Having a little food before a morning run can help move things along to enable you to empty your bowels before you set out.
- Experiment with training at different times of the day.
- Reduce your intake of high fibre and gas producing foods the day before and day of an event or longer training session.
- Ensure you’re fully hydrated before exercising. Dehydration can also exacerbate your gut discomfort.
- Dilute your sports drinks further, as some find this easier to digest.
It may take some trial and error but you will be able to find what’s best for you!
How can I support my gut health when exercising frequently?
The number one thing to do is ensure that you have an adequate diet. This can vary from person to person based on age, body size, activity level and individual metabolism. Regular and intense exercise increases the requirements for a number of vitamins and minerals.
Although, consuming a good diet isn’t enough. It’s important to ensure that your gut is working well to extract the nutrients from the food consumed. Good gut health is needed to increase the bioavailability of nutrients from food consumed. This will also help to minimise the impacts of gastro-intestinal symptoms. Check out my 4 week gut health programme, called Power Up Your Gut, to improve your gut health.
The takeaway here is to ensure you have a nutritionally balanced diet and your gut is in optimum condition.
When increasing my training, I find that I get sick more often. Why is this?
Intense exercise can put strain on the body, leading to lowered immunity due to the reduced effectiveness of immune cell functions (many of which have direct links to the gut). This results in higher levels of sickness.
A study carried out by researchers at the Australian Institute of Sport found that probiotic supplements can drastically reduce the length of illness for upper respiratory tract infections (URTI) in elite long distance runners (Cox et al., 2008).
This is attributed to there being higher levels of interferon (immune cells that fight viruses). Evidence indicates that the gut microbiota can either promote or suppress interferon signalling, depending on the specific virus and setting (Wirusanti et al., 2022). This suggests that having a healthy gut microbiota is key for producing higher levels of a type of immune cell that fights viruses.
Further, a review of randomised control trials (the gold standard for studies) concluded that probiotics are effective for preventing URTIs and reducing antibiotic use compared with placebo (Hao. et al., 2011). Antibiotics often play a negative role in gut health as they kill all the bacteria (good and bad).
A bespoke meal plan can help you balance your increased nutritional needs to match your training and boost your immunity at the same time.
Are you training for an event and looking for some personalised nutrition support? Drop me an email on email@example.com to find out how I can help you.