Gut Flora: a Necessary Protection for Athletes

13th June 2019
Gut flora is a natural barrier against infections and diseases, but we often don't care for it the way we should and we undervalue it. Discover all the benefits that gut flora has for your body.

Whenever we think about bacteria, we may have something negative in mind. However, there are microorganisms that are good for our bodies as well. Gut flora is a clear example of this, that’s why we must maintain its balance. We’ll tell you all about it in this article.

What is gut flora?

As a first measure, it’s important to get to know this group of microorganisms that live in the digestive system. Their main function is to absorb and synthesize the nutrients that enter your body with the food you eat.

But that’s not all. Gut flora -also know as gastrointestinal microbiotahelps with digestion, acts as a barrier against harmful bacteria that cause infections and diseases, and allows a correct waste removal through stools.

Woman with a heart over her belly to simbolize the care for her gut flora

Gut flora and sports: how are they related?

Since our intestinal health is closely related to the immune system (because the microorganisms prevent decayed food from staying in our body) we can say that our gut flora should be in perfect condition if we want to do sports.

Experts have confirmed that an unbalance in the gut flora increases the risk of injury and certain diseases, especially during periods with a lot of training or right after a competition.

Some people say that a demanding sports routine can ‘attack’ the gut flora since it prevents the proper absorption of nutrients and causes inflammation in the digestive tract. However, this isn’t always true. Unbalances can appear when people experience a lot of stress (due to cell oxidation), but there are other factors that must be involved for this to happen. Diet is one of those factors.

An important role

The role that our gut flora plays in the body is too important to go unnoticed. This is especially true for athletes, as it helps them synthesize vitamin K, which is present in yogurt, egg yolks or fish oil. We can find large amounts of this vitamin in the intestine.

Why is this nutrient important? Because it contributes with blood clotting and keeps the bone system strong and healthy.

In addition to this, gut flora works on B vitamins, which participate in the production of energy (through the carbohydrates we eat). Our body needs these vitamins to train and compete. As if this wasn’t enough, these vitamins create and stabilize the percentage of red blood cells in our body.

On the other hand, the gut flora is essential for the absorption of other nutrients that athletes need: zinc, magnesium, calcium, and iron. These minerals usually remain “stuck” in the fiber we don’t digest and subsequently expel in the stool.

Thanks to the bacteria, we can make the most out of the nutrients in the food we eat every day. These microorganisms are in charge of metabolizing the fiber and releasing the other components that our body needs.

Woman eating a bowl of fiber rich foods to restore her gut flora

How to improve your gut flora

Now that you know all the tasks that your gut flora is in charge of, it’s time to learn how to keep it in the best condition all the time. This way, you’ll work as a team, leading you to more strength and vitality to perform your gym or outdoor routine.

1. Say goodbye to stress

2. Reduce your consumption of antibiotics

3. Pay attention to certain food intolerances (lactose intolerance for example)

4. Eat a balanced diet (with the right amounts of fiber, protein, and minerals)

5. Increase the consumption of ‘prebiotic’ foods such as garlic, asparagus, bananas, onions, and artichokes

6. Eat ‘probiotic’ foods every day, such as yogurt, kephir or miso

Woman eating yogurt to improve her gut flora

Some symptoms that may point to your gut flora being damaged or in low levels are:

  • Slow and heavy digestion
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Skin breakouts (especially facial acne)
  • Belly bloating
  • Gas

Keep in mind that we lose gut flora as time goes by. The best way to restore it is by eating the right amount of fiber: at least ten ounces every day. How can you achieve that? With three raw fruits and two plates of vegetables per day. It’s really not that hard!

Eckburg, P. B., Bik, E. M., Bernstein, C. N., Purdom, E., Dethlefsen, L., Sargent, M., … Relman, D. A. (2005). Microbiology: Diversity of the human intestinal microbial flora. Science. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1110591