“You are what you eat” – or so the saying goes. If you want to be seriously anabolic you need to know about new research relating to gut health. Maybe it should read “you are what you absorb”, or even “you are what your gut biome is” – because the health of your gut has a major impact on your overall metabolism, health and body composition. And we are only just beginning to understand that you can change your gut biome in a good way or a bad way simply by what you eat, how much you eat, and when you eat.
What we know now Your gut is effectively a 10 meter long tube that starts at your mouth and finishes at you anus. It is home to many trillions of live bacteria or microbes, most of which reside in your large intestine or colon. You don’t just have one type of bacteria, you have many, many different species.
These bacteria or “biome” metabolise the food that is not digested and absorbed in your stomach and small intestine to produce many different compounds. The different compounds are then available to be absorbed by your body.
Some species produce beneficial compounds that are good for you, while other species produce compounds that impart a bad effect that can cause a many types of health problems.
What you eat has a major impact on your gut biome and the balance of good and bad bacteria. Fundamentally, if you want optimum health, athletic performance, maximum lean muscle mass and a lean strong body then getting your gut biome balance right will make your goals much easier to achieve.
**So how can you optimise your gut biome? The following are a list relatively straight forward nutritional tweaks you can make to optimise your gut health: **
1. Reduce processed carbs and sugar Sugar and starches feed the gut bacteria that tend to have a negative effect on your health. The more sugars and processed carbs you eat, the greater the number of ‘bad’ bacteria you will have residing in your gut. The result – they produce lots of compounds that stimulate weight gain and fat build up, plus a range of health problems, from allergies through to diabetes, heart health issues, immune issues – just to name a few. The take home message here is – reduce or eliminate as much sugar and processed foods as possible for a healthy gut.
2. Reduce or eliminate gluten Most of us have heard of gluten – but what actually is it? Well it’s a general term that describes a class of protein usually found in grains like wheat and barley. People react to gluten in different ways. Many people eat wheat products and feel no real ill effects. Some people have a gluten intolerance if they eat too much and feel a bit bloated or suffer from diarrhoea. On the severe end, a small number of people suffer from what’s called celiac disease where even minute amounts of gluten will cause a strong and sometimes life threatening inflammatory reaction.
Wheat tends to be the grain with the most gluten and the worst side effects. Actual studies on gluten show that this type of protein has an inflammatory action in the gut of almost all humans to lesser or greater degrees. When you gut becomes inflamed, the gut lining becomes swollen, and more permeable, meaning it lets compounds into your blood stream that it shouldn’t, which can cause a cascade of damaging effects. Now your immune system can handle this invasion to a certain degree, but excess gluten, combined with stress from life or hard training can overwhelm your system causing many bad effects.
So if you want to do your gut a favour, reduce or eliminate gluten laden foods like bread, pasta, biscuits and cakes – anything made with wheat or wheat flour.
3. Eat more veggies Veggies, particularly highly fibrous veggies like cabbage, broccoli, onions, string beans, squash, zucchini, lettuce, kale, and moderate servings slower digesting starchy vegetables like sweet potato, turnips and parsnips – are all fantastic for gut health. Why? Because they feed your good gut bacteria while reducing bad bacteria to maintain a healthy balance.
4. Eat high quality protein Now if you are into training, chances are you are already doing this. But when we say high quality, what do we mean? Well you want to try to get 3 or more serving per day of a good animal sourced protein like lean red meat, chicken, fish or eggs. Dairy like milk or yogurt is also good, and of course a quality protein supplement like whey is a great addition to ensure you are hitting you protein target.
If you are vegetarian or vegan it can be a bit trickier. Nuts, legumes, and other plant proteins will get you there but you need to be more diligent with planning. Aim for an intake of about 2 grams of per kg of body weight.
5. Eat more good fats If you are cutting back your sugar and carb intake to improve gut health, what do you replace them with? Your choices are protein or fats. Assuming you are following the guidelines above, you will already have a good protein intake already, so we don’t advise to up your protein further. What works well for gut health and overall metabolism is to increase your income of healthy fats. Now this seems counter intuitive to the advice nutritionists who for years have been recommending low fat diets. But a lot of new research is saying the opposite is actually the way you should go. What that means in practice is more healthy fats like nuts, olive oil, avocado’s, but also you don’t have to get rid of every last bit of animal fat. Moderation is the key. It’s fine to have moderate levels of egg yolks, full cream dairy is ok if consumed sparingly. Fatty meats aren’t that bad if consumed with a lower carb and sugar diet. The key fats to avoid are industrially processed oils – like vegetable oils. These types of oils are inflammatory to your gut and in fact your whole body.
6. Eat probiotics and fermented foods Probiotics are popping up in lots of different foods these days. A great source of probiotics is yogurt. However there are lots of other sources. Fermented vegetables like Kim Chi (Korean) and sauerkraut, which is fermented cabbage, also contain beneficial bacteria. A new wave of fermented drinks, known as kombucha is now widely available and has similar benefits. If this all sounds a bit earthy for you, simply get some probiotic capsules from your local pharmacy and you will be doing your gut a big favour.
What can I expect? Now to change your gut biome to a very healthy state can take weeks or even months, so once you embark on these healthy practices, stick with it. What you can expect as your biome improves is:
• More energy • Less fluid retention • Eliminate bloating • Better quality sleep • Faster recovery • Reduced body fat • Increased lean muscle