How Gut Health Impacts Athletic Performance

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Many athletes are determined to optimize their performance and recovery, starting by building a foundation of wellness. While there is a general focus on nutrition and supplementation for maintaining a healthy lifestyle, it’s vital for performance athletes to reflect on the relationship between gut health and athletic performance.

Often referred to as the second brain, the gut plays a role in metabolic, cardiovascular, cognitive, immune, and respiratory functions. Since elite performers place such high demands on their bodies, prioritizing athlete gut health can enhance overall wellness while reducing the physical setbacks that restrict peak performance.

In this article, we will discuss the connection between gut health and athletic performance, alongside the steps athletes can take to fuel their microbiome correctly.

The Athlete Lifestyle and Gut Microbiota

Shelby Rogers is jump roping while focusing on gut health and athletic performance

There are many factors that lead to fluctuations in gut microbiota, including diet, training, competition, travel, and poor sleep. Since athletes check off most of these categories, their gut health can endure more volatility than the everyday individual, especially during heavy training or long competition seasons.

Athletes rely on their bodies on a daily basis, leading to a high degree of internal and external pressure. Environmental changes can have a direct impact on microbiome health, especially if this is accompanied by chronic stress.

Frequent exposure to stress can lead to microbiome dysbiosis or an imbalance of microbiota. In some cases, stress can slow gastric emptying, the process of food passing through the stomach. In this case, it takes longer for essential nutrients to reach the small intestine, increasing the risk of bad bacterial overgrowth.

On average, 30% of athletes experience some degree of gut disturbances. Due to intensive exercise and harsh climates, many athletes are susceptible to increased gut permeability which can lead to further gastric upset.

A man is riding a bike at sunset showcasing the role of gut health and athletic performance

Additionally, 70-80% of the immune system is found in the gut, so a weakened microbiome can lead to immune depression, disrupting training and performance. Overall, athletes are vulnerable to acute illness, and the gut is the primary pathway for these symptoms to unravel.

The microbiome has a domino effect on all body systems and processes, including digestion, nutrient absorption, brain, immune and cardiac health. By supporting the gut with a probiotic, athletes ensure that all additional health and wellness habits are maximized for optimal benefits. The gut is a central puzzle piece to the entire body. Similarly, a probiotic is the missing piece to a well-rounded wellness routine for athletes.

Athlete Training, Physiological Stressors, and Gut Microbiota

a diagram of the human microbiome

While exercise is beneficial for the body, it can also induce a variety of physiological stressors. Elite athletes typically perform at a higher intensity, frequency, and growth margin than the average person. These physical demands don’t go unnoticed by the body, especially at the gut level.

A 2010 study by Physiological References revealed that contracting muscles produce oxidants, or reactive molecules, from multiple cellular locations in the body. Research shows athletes are at a high risk of cellular damage due to exercise-induced oxidative stress.

Often this damage is unavoidable and may be caused by strenuous exercise, heat stress, blood redistribution away from the gut, and mechanical damage. When blood is redistributed away from the gut, it harms the gut lining and cellular stamina. This can lead to intestinal permeability, small intestine damage, and deterioration of the gut barrier.

a photo of shelby rogers drinking her Lyvecap probiotics from a white Lyvecap bottle as she focusing on gut health and athletic performance.

If the gastrointestinal barrier is compromised, this could lead to general unwellness. Since the symptoms won’t always arise at the gut level, it can take athletes a long time to discover that the microbiome is responsible for their side effects.

Athletes are at high-risk for gut disturbances, predominantly due to these physical and physiological stressors. A daily probiotic can help stabilize the gut, giving it the sustenance it needs to survive and fight off oxidative stress. As an athlete’s career progresses, it’s increasingly important to take proactive steps to maintain their health and lifestyle demands.

Athletic Immune Health, Respiratory Health, and Gut Microbiota

Villyan Bijev plays soccer on the soccer field

As mentioned earlier, 70% of the body’s immune system resides in the gut, making microbiome health a strong player in immunology. The physical stressors we’ve discussed in this article can compromise the immune system and deplete performance ability.

A 2015 study investigated the occurrence of illness in athletes four weeks before the 2015 FINA World Championships. Conclusively, there were 312 reported illnesses, with 17% reporting that they lost time training for the competition. Over 34% of these illnesses were respiratory-related, 24% GI tract related, and 45% were caused by infection. Over half of the athletes revealed decreased performance and competition preparation.

This study further reveals the connection between gut health and athletic performance, especially since the gut is linked to immune, gastrointestinal, respiratory health, and infection prevention.  For example, the Lyvecap formulation is clinically proven to increase oxygen for the body during high-performance training. This is made possible by reducing oxygen consumption at the gut level. Resultantly, the heart, muscles, and essential organs can receive oxygen quickly.

This process aids in not only performance but also efficient recovery. When athletes don’t balance training with proper recovery, they are at a higher risk for immune issues. At first, these symptoms can feel overwhelming for athletes to target. However, understanding how the gut interacts with the body as a whole can make it easier to leverage supplementation and nutrition effectively. Focusing on gut health and a balanced diet can give the body ample tools to stay resilient against disease.

The Brain-Gut Axis and Athlete Wellbeing

Villyan Bijev plays soccer on the soccer field

The brain-gut axis refers to the bidirectional communication between the brain and the gut. Gut microbiota access the brain through the nervous, endocrine, and immune system. The brain depends on microbiota to regulate mood and behavior. Healthy gut microbiota can even produce serotonin, GABA, noradrenaline, and dopamine for the brain.

The gut may influence the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA), which controls the body’s stress response. If an individual suffers from an imbalanced gut, their HPA axis and stress-induced hormone release can be disrupted. Similarly, stressors can disrupt the HPA system and the brain-gut axis. As we break down the connection between the gut on athletic performance, you begin to see how these systems can cause a chain reaction within the body.

There is a cyclical pattern to our bodily systems, as they constantly communicate with one another. Brain function, sleep, energy, mood, and neurogenesis (the production of nervous system cells) can all be influenced by an imbalanced gut. This creates setbacks for elite athletes and their ability to perform at high levels, especially while withstanding psychological and physical stressors.

Gut Health and Athletic Performance: Routine Gut Health Is Essential For Athletes

Junior Athlete Aston Davies is smiling on a tennis court with a Lyvecap bottle

Since gut health and athletic performance are so closely related, a daily routine that supports the gut is imperative for athletes. Some examples include drinking adequate amounts of water, balancing training with rest, and being mindful of stress levels. In order to moderate gut microbiota fluctuations, it’s important for athletes to take a science-backed, Informed-Sport Certified probiotic.

The Lyvecap STRONG formulation was created with the modern athlete in mind. It has been clinically proven to reduce post-exercise lactic acid build-up, increase oxygen availability during exercise, and balance gut bacteria.

STRONG helps athletes reach peak performance and recovery effectively. It’s important to be proactive about microbiome health, even if individuals don’t struggle with gut disturbances. In the same way athletes don’t perform dehydrated, it’s important not to perform with an imbalanced gut.

A daily probiotic like Lyvecap helps maximize your talent, current wellness routines, and overall performance. Shop our premier probiotic STRONG todaycontaining 10 billion CFUs, alongside Leucine and Taurine. Lyvecap probiotics are Informed-Sport Certified and third-party tested for purity, quality, and consistency. 


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