Having a healthy gut microbiome is critical for your general health and optimising performance. Providing your microbiome with adequate prebiotics will allow bacteria to thrive, encouraging them to support the digestive, immune, and CNS systems of the body and reduce the risk of disease.
One important factor to consider as an athlete is optimising digestion to make the most of the foods you consume. The bacteria in your gut help you digest carbohydrates, the most efficient energy source during exercise. They also produce postbiotic substances, such as short-chain fatty acids, that can be utilised for additional energy production . If the microbiome is healthy, you can essentially get more energy out of your diet, optimising your output when it comes to exercise.
When you undergo intense exercise, the rate of blood flow increases around the body to demanding organs such as the skeletal muscles. As a result, the digestive system may experience inadequate blood flow, as other organs are prioritised. This can lead to inflammation and irritation of the gastrointestinal tract (one of the main reasons for ultra-endurance runners to pull out of a race before finishing) . If the gut microbiome is healthy, it will optimise systems that prevent this inflammation, reducing discomfort and allowing you to perform without interruption.
Intense exercise can also increase the permeability of your intestinal lining and diminish the thickness of gut mucus . Under normal circumstances, these structures allow important metabolites to be absorbed whilst keeping harmful bacteria and toxins from entering the bloodstream. If compromised, your body will become more susceptible to infections and inflammation . As some bacteria provide the energy source for gut cells and aid in mucus production, their function can reduce these effects. This will allow you to perform optimally during intense exercise without suffering the potential repercussions on your digestive and immune systems.