Lee: Athletes should listen to their gut

Breakfast parfaits combine fruit, yogurt and granola.

Listen up athletes and weekend grinders: The key to enhancing your performance might be the bacteria in your gut. A December story in the Outside Magazine Twitter feed titled, The Athlete’s Guide to Probiotics, highlighted a project that took stool samples from runners competing in Race Across America, a grueling 140-day nationwide competition.
Here’s an excerpt from the story: “The project’s goal was to study how the race affected the athletes’ microbiota, the trillions of bacteria that live in and on each of us. Microbes play a crucial role in digestion, immune function and even brain chemistry, but only recently have scientists begun to explore how and why they might affect physical performance, too. And vice versa.”
The article went on to highlight a couple of key points: The microbiota of an elite athlete might be vastly different than people who are not so active, and exercise has a direct effect on the variety of a person’s microbes. The article also stated there isn’t a definitive link—yet—that improving your microbiota will turn the average Joe into an Olympic-caliber athlete.
However, it’s well documented that probiotics—good and healthy bacteria—help keep your gut healthy and your immune system strong. In the story, David Pyne, who is a physiologist at the the Australia Institute of Sport, and his colleagues “also found that runners taking lactobacillus fermentum, a probiotic used in supplements, cut incidence of respiratory illness in half during a four-month winter training block.”
Here are some of the best foods to eat for a healthy gut: yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, miso soup, tempeh and soft cheeses such as Gouda. There’s one other component to having healthy bacteria, and it’s this: In order for the good bacteria to thrive in your gut, they’ll need prebiotics, which serve as food for probiotics.
Confused?
Don’t be. Just load up on these prebiotic foods, which include bananas, garlic, onions, leeks, chia seeds, oatmeal, beans, artichokes and honey. With so many easy recipes available online, there is no excuse not to include some or all of the aforementioned foods in your diet.
Yogurt is one of best sources of probiotics, but don’t get the flavored varieties, which are loaded with sugar. Instead, opt for plain Chobani or Fage and sweeten it with bananas, pineapples, apricots, plums or your favorite fruit of choice.
Sauerkraut and kimchi, a Korean fermented vegetable dish, are loaded with immune-boosting vitamins that may help ward off infections. Chia seeds are one of the healthiest foods you can eat, a nutritional powerhouse that is a complete protein because it contains all nine essential amino acids.
There’s a simple way to make chia seeds tasty. Simply combine chia seeds with a milk of your choice, a nut butter and a fruit preserve to make chia seed pudding. Garlic and onions are another must-have in a person’s daily diet. They are a powerful combination that strengthens the immune system, meaning your body has a better chance of fighting off colds or getting them in the first place.
I can’t emphasize enough how healthy eating quells inflammation in the body, jacks up energy levels and helps athletes recover faster, boosting their performance. Why do you think legendary quarterback Tom Brady avoids processed foods and fast food like the plague, and instead goes heavy on avocados, a variety of fruits and vegetables, lean organic meats, whole grains, fish and eats copious amounts of dark, leafy greens that would make Popeye proud?
Because it’s a natural performance enhancer. At age 38, Brady is still at the top of his game. It’s no coincidence. Take care of your body by putting good stuff in it, and you too will reap the benefits.

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