MEAN MICROBIOME MACHINE
Whether it is optimising performance in terms of mental capacity or smashing your PB for the purposes of physical exercise, you might be surprised to hear your microbes play a part. They could be giving you an extra ‘edge’ if you positively enhance them in the right way.
Research on the microbiome is growing exponentially, and although this is one area that might not have been fully explored as yet, it’s pretty clear that our microbes exert their influence on our performance in myriad ways.
The relationship we have with our microbiome is one that is mutually beneficial and factors in supporting both physical and mental performance. We provide our microbes with a cosy home and feed them with fibre and in return they ‘perform’ by producing many substances that give back to us positively. This includes Short Chain Fatty Acids or SCFAs. One of these is called butyrate, which provides an energy source for the cells that form the barrier of the gut. This is crucial for managing inflammation in the gut and more generally in the body. With stress, either from a pressing deadline or from exercise, we need to have butyrate in abundance to help counteract any negative knock on effects, and in turn help us to perform better. Another SCFA called proprionate has also been linked to an increased capacity for exercising. To help maximise SCFA production it is crucial to include adequate fibre in the diet, as well as from varied sources. Fibre is found in all plant-based carbohydrates such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains and nuts & seeds. In particular stewed apples provide a certain type of fibre called pectin that has been linked to enhanced production of butyrate. Fibre is essentially fuel for the microbiome to help maximise potential and performance.
ABSORPTION FOR PERFORMANCE
It is not always a case of you are what you eat but more you are what you absorb. The microbiome has a crucial role in assisting absorption of nutrients from food and managing the barrier of the gut. Optimising nutrient intake is rather obvious when it comes to having sufficient fuel to power performance. However, the other important part of this is that our microbiome ensures that food stuff doesn’t essentially ‘leak out’ and potentially lead to a cascade of inflammatory and stress responses from the immune system. Not cool if you want to be performing at your best. Chewing food thoroughly, sitting down and eating meals in a ‘rest & digest’ state is essential when it comes to aiding absorption. Literally making a meal out of mealtimes also creates important pockets of recovery in the day which is vital for optimising performance whether physical and/or mental.
When we consider the concept of performance we need to realise that the microbiome, often referred to as the ‘little brain’, can have a marked influence on how our ‘big’ brain functions. One startling fact is that a whopping 90-95% of serotonin, dubbed our ‘happy neurotransmitter’, is produced by microbes in the gut, as well as other neurotransmitters such as dopamine and GABA. These influence the way that our gut ‘thinks’ and behaves and can also have a role to play in how our grey matter operates too. It seems that being mentally sharp might also be down to the wit and intelligence of trillions of microbiome ‘minds’ too.
A recent study observed that a specific strain of bacteria in the microbiome seemed to be more present in athletes. Findings suggest that this bacterium has been linked to increased capacity for exercise. This is believed to be due to them being more efficient in breaking down lactate, a substance produced during exercise that links to fatigue. Moreover, it is the by-product of propionate (those SCFA mentioned earlier) which is seen to be higher with these bacteria. Might we be considering the concept of ‘performance enhancing microbes’?...it’s certainly a possibility!
Studies also seem to suggest that our gut bugs also like a bit of moving and shaking too and that exercise can positively shift the composition of the microbiome. Even more of a reason to bring in some movement into your daily routine!