Gut health probably isn’t the first thing youth athletes think of when they think of ways they can train harder or perform better. But good gut health is key to good performance and quicker recovery in many different ways. We take a look at what exactly we mean by gut health and how youth athletes can improve theirs to boost performance.
What is Gut Health
When we talk about the gut, we mean all of the different parts of the body where food is digested and absorbed. It starts at the top of the body with the mouth and includes all of the organs where digestion takes place too, like the stomach and intestines to name a few.
The gut is home to thousands of different microbes which are all of the different bacteria, yeasts, fungi and viruses that live in your stomach and intestines. Don’t worry, it’s not as scary as it sounds! These microbes are what help our body to function normally and the more ‘good’ ones we have, the better our health and performance will be.
When you eat, not only does it feed and fuel your body, but it fuels these microbes living inside your gut too . The more varied your diet is, the more varied your gut microbes will be. The more varied the microbes are, the more resistant you will be to illness and the better your digestive system will be at getting all of the nutrients out of foods. This means more energy for exercise, and more nutrients for recovery.
Good Gut Health = Good Performance
Not only is the gut where nutrients and water are absorbed from food and drink, keeping you fuelled and hydrated. But it also plays a key role in keeping your energy levels up , helping you recover quicker  and it's central to the immune system to help fight off illness and infection.
This means that the gut is essential to youth athletes to;
- To turn food in to fuel
- Provide the body with energy
- Reduce muscle soreness and improve recovery
- And to keep them fit and healthy and in the game
When you think about all of these different roles the gut plays, it's easy to see how important a healthy gut is to athletes.
Healthy Gut = Healthy Body
Sounds great, right? So how can we make our gut health better and get more of the ‘good bacteria’ we need?
Foods for Good Gut Health
The best way to keep your gut healthy is to eat lots of different healthy foods. This means eating:
- Plenty of different fruit and veg each day
- Foods high in fibre like lentils, peas, beans and whole grains
- Foods high in polyphenols like dark chocolate and berries
- Fermented foods like fermented soya beans, kombucha and kefir
- Probiotic foods like live yoghurts or Yakult drinks
And avoid processed foods as they’re high in the ‘bad’ microbes and can stop the ‘good’ ones from doing their job.
So just remember, next time you’re feeling exhausted after a session, stiff and sore the next day or have stomach pains during a game, it could be all down to your gut health and the millions of microbes living inside there. Remember to fuel them well so they boost your performance!
- Cronin O, O'Sullivan O, Barton W, et al Gut microbiota: implications for sports and exercise medicine British Journal of Sports Medicine 2017;51:700-701.
- Mach, N. and Fuster-Botella, D. (2017) Endurance exercise and gut microbiota: A review. Journal of Sport and Health Science, 6(2), pp. 179-197.
- Pessione E. (2012). Lactic acid bacteria contribution to gut microbiota complexity: lights and shadows. Frontiers in cellular and infection microbiology, 2, 86. https://doi.org/10.3389/fcimb.2012.00086