The Effects of Exercise on Gut Health

By Kyla Jacobo, DPT

So you’re training for a marathon. Participating in a crossfit challenge. Maybe you’ve committed to one of the most difficult endurance events in the world, an Ironman. But will your body be able to handle the increased demand?

Injury can creep up on you when you least expect it. An easy morning warm-up can result in a pulled calf muscle if you’re not taking proper precautions and allowing your body to recover. There are many things to consider…building an adequate fitness base, proper footwear, regular cross training to avoid overuse injuries and strengthen accessory muscles. 

However, one area of recovery that is often overlooked in a training program is nutrition. Yes, most people ensure adequate protein intake, loading up on all sorts of gooey, gelatin-like substances. But what about healthy, plant-based foods that feed your cells and promote a healthy gut? 

Did you know an unhealthy gut can make you more susceptible to injury?

Research has shown 60 minutes of exercise three times weekly helps to create optimal gut health. However, beyond 300 minutes per week, there are no further benefits and may in fact increase inflammation and immune dysregulation. This can make you more susceptible to injury and illness. 

So, does this mean you shouldn’t train for these challenging events? Not at all…in fact, these events promote an active lifestyle with many healthy side effects. But don’t leave out your gut in the training and recovery process. 

One way to stave off injury is to ensure your natural antioxidant system is working properly. A simple laboratory test can be done to measure your glutathione levels, a substance that plays an important role in gut health and quenches oxidative stress. Some people have a genetic mutation that leads to insufficient production of 5-MTHF, which is responsible for a process called methylation. When the methylation switch is turned off, a number of important molecules cannot be efficiently produced, including glutathione. Fortunately, changes in lifestyle and diet can ameliorate the issue. 

So if you’re training for Ironman or ultra running, be sure to make gut health a part of your recovery by including fermented foods, cruciferous veggies like broccoli and cauliflower, and a daily dose of apple cider vinegar in your diet. 

Remember, fitness does not necessarily equal health. When we place heavy demands on the body, we need to counteract that stress with proper nutrition and sufficient sleep in order to facilitate recovery and reduce risk of injury.

Happy training!