Bacteria are not all bad. Although some bacteria can make us sick (causing food poisoning, strep throat infection, etc.) there are many bacteria living inside of you that work tirelessly to keep you healthy: your gut bacteria. The large intestine (colon) is home to trillions of bacteria, or microbes, both “good” and “bad,” which together make up the gut microbiome. Keeping a healthy gut means maintaining a proper good-to-bad bacteria balance and a diverse microbial community. This is crucial, as the gut supports many bodily functions such as digestion, immunity, hormones, sleep, exercise endurance, and even mental health. In fact, after you learn what foods help maintain a healthy gut below, you can learn why gut health is so important for boxers and athletes alike in our latest article here.
What Happens When Gut Balance Is Disturbed?
Gut dysbiosis is the term used to describe an imbalance in the gut microbiome, which refers to the quantity and diversity of bacteria. Not having enough beneficial bacteria to outnumber the harmful bacteria or not having enough diversification of microbial strains are signs of gut dysbiosis and can negatively affect human health. Evidence suggests that long-term gut dysbiosis is associated with gastrointestinal conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), obesity, cardiovascular disease, allergies, asthma, and celiac disease.
How Nutrition Supports A Healthy Gut
Research suggests that gut dysbiosis can be a result of a poor diet, stress, medications (especially antibiotics), toxins, environmental factors, drugs, and pathogens (virus or bacteria that cause disease). A Western-type diet, which often lacks fiber and includes high quantities of refined carbohydrates, animal protein, and processed foods, has been associated with poor gut health. The good news is there are many foods that support gut health, and boxers should focus on incorporating these into their diets as much as possible for training at their best.
1. Dietary Fiber
When it comes to gut health, dietary fiber gets a five-star rating. Fiber is a type of non-digestible carbohydrate, meaning it is not absorbed by the body, and goes undigested through the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. While on its way, it acts as a bulking agent for the stool, facilitating a smooth transit of food out of the body. There are two types of fiber: soluble fiber and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber is water-soluble, and therefore softens the stool, while insoluble fiber adds roughage and volume to the stool. Both types are essential for proper digestion. Fun fact: Fiber is only found in plant-based foods.
Fruits and vegetables (with the exception of juices, where fiber is removed)
Whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, oats, wheat products, barley, etc.)
Legumes (beans, lentils, chickpeas, soybeans, peas)
Nuts and seeds
Another type of fiber responsible for keeping a healthy gut is prebiotic fiber. In short, prebiotic fiber is food for the good bacteria. When prebiotic fiber reaches the colon, it gets fermented by bacteria, a process that releases health-promoting metabolites known as short-chain fatty acids which support gut health and may protect against disease. By promoting the growth of good bacteria, prebiotic fiber helps maintain an environment that favors beneficial bacteria over pathogenic bacteria. Prebiotic fibers include inulin, fructooligosaccharides, and galactooligosaccharides.
Fruits and vegetables (bananas, apples, garlic, onions, asparagus, leeks, yacon root, jicama, Jerusalem artichokes, chicory root, fennel, and shallots)
Whole grains (oats, barley, wheat bran, and whole wheat)
Legumes (lentils, soybeans, red kidney beans, green peas, and chickpeas)
Nuts and seeds (flax seeds, pistachios, and cashews)
Others: cacao and seaweed
Probiotic supplements and probiotic beverages have become a popular choice for individuals attempting to improve gut health. Unfortunately, the science is not quite conclusive. Many studies have looked at the effects of probiotic supplements in individuals with specific health conditions, but not so much in the general, healthy population. Luckily, there is a more effective and inexpensive way to get your probiotics – fermented foods!
Yogurt (look for “live cultures” in the ingredients list)
A Healthy Gut, A More Powerful You
The relationship between the gut microbiome and health is an emerging and growing field of research. So far, we have learned that the trillions of bacteria residing within us are highly connected to both our mental and physical health. One thing we do know is that a diet rich in fiber is conducive to an environment where beneficial bacteria can thrive and continue to protect us from pathogenic bacteria, regulate our immune system, and support metabolism. Incorporating fiber-rich, prebiotic, and probiotic foods into our diets is a great strategy for supporting gut health, which in turn supports overall health and wellbeing.
As boxers and kickboxers, we know how important it is to knock out our opponents, so when it comes to our nutrition and diet, why should it be any different?
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