Strength coaches know that the key to peak performance for athletes lies in properly managing multiple systems, both physiological and psychological. But one of the least explored components of training management is gastrointestinal (GI) health. By unlocking the power of the gut-brain axis and optimizing gut health, strength coaches can maximize their athlete's performance through improved absorption, production, metabolism, and digestion. This article provides a deeper understanding of gastrointestinal physiology so you can take your athletes' performance to the next level.
How The Gut-Brain Axis Impacts Performance
The gut-brain axis is the term given to the communication that takes place between the gastrointestinal tract and the brain.1 This communication is important for athletes because it helps to regulate stress and anxiety levels, as well as energy metabolism and appetite.2 When the gut-brain axis functions properly, athletes perform at their best. When gut health is compromised, it can lead to poor performance and injury.3
There are several ways that the gut-brain axis can affect athletes' performance. First, the gut-brain axis regulates stress and anxiety levels.3 Athletes who are stressed or anxious often experience reduced performance. A well-functioning gut-brain axis reduces stress and anxiety by releasing hormones like serotonin and dopamine. These hormones calm the mind and improve mood.
Second, the gut-brain axis regulates energy metabolism and appetite.3 When athletes eat properly and have balanced energy intake, they perform better. The gut-brain axis regulates appetite by releasing hormones like ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin signals the body to eat more food while leptin signals the body to stop eating.
Finally, the gut-brain axis influences the immune system.3 When the immune system is functioning properly, athletes stay healthy and injury free. On the other hand, a depleted immune system leads to illness and injuries. The gut-brain axis regulates the immune system by releasing hormones like cortisol and cytokines. Cortisol suppresses the immune system, while cytokines stimulate it.
How Gut Health Impacts Nutrient Status
GI health is essential for the absorption, production, metabolism, and digestion of food.4 In a healthy gut, the GI tract is lined with villi, which increase the surface area available for nutrient absorption. The more nutrients absorbed, the greater level of protein synthesis for muscle repair and recovery.
Other important aspects of a healthy gut include the stomach that secretes acids and enzymes to digest food. The pancreas secretes enzymes that break down carbohydrates, proteins, and lipids. The small intestine absorbs nutrients into the bloodstream. The large intestine absorbs water and electrolytes from the digested food. All of these elements work together to give your body the nutrients necessary for peak performance.
Tips To Optimize Gut Health
Optimizing gut health for athletic performance is not as difficult as you may think. In fact, there are a few key tips that can make a big difference.
Maintain A Balanced Diet
Planning meals around high-quality protein with healthy fats is a great way to optimize gut health, blood sugar, and hormones. Include fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, while avoiding processed foods and sugary drinks.
Have A Hydration Plan
Drink plenty of water, especially if you're active. We recommend a minimum of 0.6 oz. multiplied by your body weight in pounds. You could increase this to to 0.7 oz. X bodyweight on workout days.
Get Regular Exercise
Regular exercise keeps the digestive system healthy and functioning properly. It also increases blood flow and circulation, which improves nutrient absorption.
Get Adequate Sleep
Lack of sleep can interfere with the digestive system and lead to problems like constipation or diarrhea. Getting enough rest allows the body to recover from physical activity and rebuild muscles. Sleep is the body’s time for regeneration and restoration. Shoot for a minimum of 7 hours starting around 9:30-10:00pm.
The key to unlocking your athletic potential lies in a place few coaches think to look. By optimizing your gut health, you can maximize performance and improve your overall well being.