In an interesting article, “Exercise-induced stress behavior, gut-microbiota-brain axis and diet: a systematic review for athletes” recently published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition – Alison Clarke, talks about a suspected relationship that I have wondered for some time – and that is, endurance exercise impact on gut health and its systemic implications.
Think about it, the typical endurance athlete consistently has his/her body subjected to exercise sessions lasting anywhere from two to eight hours, at a time. During this time,
- blood supply is shunted away from the gut, and redirected towards the working muscles, creating a relative hypoxic (low oxygenation) state of the gastrointestinal cells,
- dramatic increase in inflammatory triggers (cytokines etc.) from intense physical exercise,
- diet of high simple-carb (gels, sugar bars/drinks) low fiber and little-no probiotic foods, resulting in imbalanced gut bacterial populations as well as mucous-membrane issues – giving rise to very common bloating, pain, cramping, nausea during training and racing.
When you take all this into account, you start to see the link between endurance exercise and gut health. But this is only the start of the problem. In her study conclusions, the author calls out this exacerbated inflammation of the gut in athletes, resulting in altered ratios of gut bacterial populations – giving rise to alterations in hormones and inflammatory triggers – that are likely to be directly related to the athletes’ mental state (anxieties, depression) and as a result, under-performance.
So as endurance athletes, obviously we can’t escape the extended periods of exercise training – but it does prompt us to relook at our training (and general) foods, and what choices we could make to reduce the negative impact on our gut-health. This all supports why we have blended the ingredients in our SFuels bars, to not just train the body to burn fat, but also to fuel the longevity of our ultra-endurance lifestyle.