A Gut Feeling: How Exercise and Digestion Go Hand In Hand

A Gut Feeling: How Exercise and Digestion Go Hand In Hand

There are a myriad of ways to derail your sports performance or exercise plan: injury, exhaustion, and dehydration, to name a few. As much as you stretch, train and hydrate, one of the culprits that can make you hit the showers early is the impact nutrition can have on your digestive system.

There’s a lot that happens in the gut that helps our bodies function properly. A 2017 study showed that exercise combined with a high-fiber and nutritious diet can help increase “good” gut bacteria and promote diversity and harmony in microbes.

Microbiota—tiny bacteria—helps to break down and absorb nutrients, build proteins and expel waste. When there’s not enough of the right kind of bacteria, or if the wrong kind is introduced, or if it’s not getting the support from the body it needs to do its job, the impact to your digestive system can be immediate including cramping, heartburn and more, prohibiting you from completing a race or workout.

How to Improve Performance

Endurance athletes pay very close attention to their nutrition as they train and in the days leading up to their race. As Herbalife Nutrition-sponsored athlete Heather Jackson noted, “Nutrition is critical to not only winning, but actually finishing a race.”

But regardless of your fitness level, there are simple steps you can follow to avoid missing your next workout or competition. According to the American College of Sports Medicine:

Stay hydrated. To ensure optimal performance, you should drink water before and throughout your exercise session. For longer durations where you might need to replenish electrolytes, you can drink sports drinks that can help hydrate and fuel you during your workouts.

Keep a food log. Documenting what you eat and when not only helps track the amount of food and calories consumed but can also help pinpoint any digestive issues that might have a negative impact on your exercise plan.

Take your time. If you’re just starting out, a strenuous exercise plan can actually have a negative impact on your digestive system, joints and muscles. Not to mention your risk of injury increases significantly. A lower intensity workout plan can be very beneficial and increase the chances you’ll stay committed to the exercise program. Interestingly, when it comes to exercise, high-intensity exercise such as sprinting may actually spark more discomfort than “gliding” movements, such as cycling, rowing, swimming or skating.

The takeaway—exercise is always good, but it needs to be the right kind at the right intensity. And as we continue to learn about the vast universe within our bodies, keep moving and remember that good nutrition is essential to your fitness success.

Dana Ryan, PhD, M.A. – Director, Sport Performance and Education

Dana RyanPhD, M.A. – Director, Sport Performance and Education

Dana Ryan completed her doctorate in physical activity, nutrition and wellness at Arizona State University. Before joining Herbalife Nutrition, she taught exercise physiology and related courses at California State University Los Angeles (CSULA), and has conducted research at University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) on the impact of community-based nutrition and physical activity programs on heart disease risk.