The microbiome is an aspect of nutrition that often gets overlooked, especially in the athletic community. However, our bodies have co-evolved with thousands of species of bacteria, to the point where we now rely on their function to optimise our health. Providing your microbiome with the proper nutrients can have vast implications on your health and your ability to achieve peak performance.
What is the microbiome?
There are trillions of bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms living in and on your body. This assortment of microbes is called the microbiome, and it plays several important roles when it comes to your health. Your body contains more bacterial cells than it does human cells, of which there are over 1,000 different species. Most of these bacteria are found in the large intestine and are referred to as the gut microbiome .
The role of the microbiome in the body
The bacteria inside the human gut have been found to play numerous roles in supporting and optimising your health. In some cases, the mechanisms behind these benefits are not fully understood; however, the relationship between the microbiome and human health becomes more apparent as research into this area progresses.
- Aiding digestion.The bacteria in the gut contribute to digestion and promote the absorption of food for host energy production. Gut bacteria digest fibre that would otherwise be indigestible by the human body. These fibres are a type of complex carbohydrate and are referred to as prebiotics, as they essentially act as food for the microbiome. Prebiotics stimulate the growth and activity of bacteria in the gut and are essential for their function and survival .
- Postbiotics production.When bacteria digest prebiotics, the process not only aids digestion but also produces beneficial end products that the host can utilise. These end products are referred to as postbiotics, and their effects contribute largely to the importance of the microbiome. One such example is the production of short-chain fatty acids (SCFA’s) as a by-product of carbohydrate fermentation. SCFA’s can be utilised as an energy source, and it is estimated they contribute to around 10% of your body’s overall energy demands .
- Maintaining intestinal lining. SCFA’s, produced by gut bacteria, are the primary energy source for your gut cells. These cells are responsible for maintaining the lining of the intestines. Dysfunction of this lining can lead to inflammation, which causes discomfort and gastrointestinal (GI) distress. Inflammation of the gut has also been linked to many diseases, including diabetes, obesity, and even cancer. Some bacteria also produce SCFA’s that reduce inflammation in times when it does occur .
- Immune support. The gut microbiome plays a huge role in boosting the immune system and protecting the body from infection. Studies have shown that having a healthy and diverse population of microbes within the gut can reduce potentially pathogenic bacteria populations . Some species of beneficial bacteria have been shown to produce a chemical called acetate, which stop toxins from entering the blood . This helps to protect the host from infection. Other postbiotics directly influence the immune cells, inducing these cells' response against infection.
- Brain and nerve function.Recent research suggests that the gut microbiome also plays a role in central nervous system (CNS) function and may contribute to the regulation of anxiety, mood, pain, and cognition . Some studies have shown that increasing the diversity of the microbiome results in beneficial psychological effects in both rats and humans, reducing anxiety and alleviating stress .
Having a healthy gut microbiome is critical for your general health and optimising performance. Providing your microbiome with adequate prebiotics will allow bacteria to thrive, encouraging them to support the digestive, immune, and CNS systems of the body and reduce the risk of disease.
One important factor to consider as an athlete is optimising digestion to make the most of the foods you consume. The bacteria in your gut help you digest carbohydrates, the most efficient energy source during exercise. They also produce postbiotic substances, such as short-chain fatty acids, that can be utilised for additional energy production . If the microbiome is healthy, you can essentially get more energy out of your diet, optimising your output when it comes to exercise.
When you undergo intense exercise, the rate of blood flow increases around the body to demanding organs such as the skeletal muscles. As a result, the digestive system may experience inadequate blood flow, as other organs are prioritised. This can lead to inflammation and irritation of the gastrointestinal tract (one of the main reasons for ultra-endurance runners to pull out of a race before finishing) . If the gut microbiome is healthy, it will optimise systems that prevent this inflammation, reducing discomfort and allowing you to perform without interruption.
Intense exercise can also increase the permeability of your intestinal lining and diminish the thickness of gut mucus . Under normal circumstances, these structures allow important metabolites to be absorbed whilst keeping harmful bacteria and toxins from entering the bloodstream. If compromised, your body will become more susceptible to infections and inflammation . As some bacteria provide the energy source for gut cells and aid in mucus production, their function can reduce these effects. This will allow you to perform optimally during intense exercise without suffering the potential repercussions on your digestive and immune systems.
The radix solution
At Radix, we strive to create the best quality products for the best possible performance. With a focus on nutrient density, the Radix Nutrition Architecture(RNA) includes a daily recommendation for overall fibre intake, as well as up to 8 different prebiotic compounds. Our prebiotic blend is derived from a number of natural ingredients, including over 30 different fruits and vegetables. All this ensures that your gut microbiome is provided with the nutrients it needs, stimulating growth and providing the raw material for beneficial postbiotic compounds. This is one way that we ensure a Radix diet is optimised to provide peak metabolic performance.