Gut health has been a hot topic in the fitness community recently and rightfully so. As we learn more and more about the body we are seeing how much of an impact our gut has on our health and fitness. This is bad news for Americans because we as a whole have much poorer gut health than people living in other parts of the world. Due to a diet full of high processed food, highly stressful life styles, and a high usage rate of antibiotics, we as a society have done serious damage to our guts. As a result we have set ourselves up for a lot more sickness and lower quality of life. In this article I want to talk about how are gut affects the rest of our body, how it gets messed up, and what we can do about it.
So how does our gut affect our overall health? Our gut is made up of trillions of microbes that we call microbiota. The more that we learn about these microbiota we more that we see how much of an impact that these have on many areas of our health and fitness. These so called "good bacteria" can affect your weight, your mood, your long term health, your immune system, and many other areas. It has recently been coined the forgotten organ because it has not been previously realized how important this microbiota is to our overall health. The more "good bacteria" that we have in our gut, the more likely we are to be healthy. On the flip side, the fewer "good bacteria" that we have, the more likely we are to be sick. The modern western lifestyle has proved detrimental to our gut bacteria, as the average American has close to half as many microbes in their gut as does an average South American or Asian. This has led to a prevalence in western society of asthma, allergies, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, inflammatory bowel diseases, obesity, and many other issues. Some symptoms that you might see include trouble digesting food (bloated and gassy), chronically tired, trouble waking in the morning and/or sleeping at night, low energy levels, decreased performance in the gym, poorer memory, and many others. The more we learn about our guts the more we see what an impact it has on our health.
Now that we know how the gut works lets discuss how our guts have gotten in such bad shape. As I mentioned previously the gut of an average American looks drastically different than that of someone living in South America or Asia. How did it get this way? There is not just one reason, but several that have all contributed to this problem. The modern diet full of highly processed foods has caused tremendous damage to our guts. Our body can not digest these foods as well as real food which causes inflammation in our gut. When we rely largely on these we also miss out on foods that can help the good bacteria flourish, which we will get into a little later. The lack of fiber and vegetables in our diet leaves our good bacteria starved for fuel. The prevalent use of antibiotics kills not only the bad bacteria in our body but the good bacteria in our gut as well. This can leave us with way fewer good bacteria in our gut than we had before the round of antibiotics. The high stress lifestyle that we live can leave us constantly in fight or flight mode, causing us to rely on adrenaline to get through the day instead of the proper fuel from good food that our body craves. There are many other factors that have led to this problem and I would encourage you to learn more about this topic by researching online because correcting this can have a great benefit to your health.
Ok now we know that our gut health needs some work. So what do we do to fix it? Our goal when thinking about our gut health is to increase the number of good bacteria in our gut. The more good bacteria that we have the better chance we will have of fighting off an invader that can make us sick, the better our body will run, the better our metabolism will run, the better we will feel, etc. Gut health has been something that I have really focused on the last six months and I have seen tremendous improvements in my allergies, my mood, my cognitive abilities, my performance in the gym, my sleep and my ability to wake up in the morning, and many other facets in life. The first step would be to cut down on processed foods and replace them with high fiber foods that help the gut flourish, like fruits and vegetables. By adding these to every meal you will be constantly feeding your good bacteria. Another way is to add a daily probiotic. You want to add as many strands as possible and vary your brand every time you take one so that you populate your gut with as many different strands of bacteria as you can. Always monitor how the probiotic makes you feel-if it causes your stomach to be upset for a few days then ditch it and try another one. Every person reacts to each probiotic strand differently. Another thing to do is to try to limit your antibiotic use to only when you really need it, and follow up every antibiotic treatment with a probiotic regiment that will help to repopulate your gut. Adding fermented foods, such as greek yogurt or fermented vegetables (like pickles) can also help your gut. I would also recommend to start paying attention to the foods you eat and how they affect you. If they leave you bloated or gassy then your body is having trouble digesting it and it is causing inflammation in your gut. You can also do a food allergy test to determine what foods you don't digest well and cut them out of your diet. Finally, I would encourage you to do more research on the gut and gut health. By learning more about it you can learn how your gut affects many aspects of your life and how you can make it better. I would recommend starting with The Good Gut by Justin and Erica Sonnenburg.
I hope that I have shown you how crucial gut health is. If you have lived a life full of processed foods and antibiotic use then you can probably relate to some of these symptoms. The good news is that this can be fixed over time and if you devote some time and effort to it then you can start to see some major improvements. If you have any further questions please don't hesitate to reach out to me. Focusing on my gut health has greatly impacted my overall health and performance in the gym and I know that it can help anyone who is willing to put in the effort to make a change.