Week One and Superior Gut Health

Damn you freshers

I suppose I really shouldn’t complain, we have an absolutely awesome facility with pretty much total access all of the year. It just grinds my gears a little when the first day you’re supposed to be back in training the whole track gets shut down just for some freshers bazaar thing at the university. What this did lead to however, was being able to conduct the first training session of winter training outside, and the weather was beautiful. Good weather is extremely rare in Wales, let alone in the middle of September, but rather than take this as a sign that its going to be an awesome year, I’ll take it as the pure coincidence that it was and carry on regardless.

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I don’t know why everyone is so scared of week one of training. Yeah, it hurts and yeah, the DOMS is incredible but its more than completely offset by the early winter enthusiasm just to be back into training. Now as you may expect, this enthusiasm can drop off pretty quickly as you get into the training and the accumulated fatigue builds up. Don’t worry however, because excitement builds again around December time as the Indoor season approaches, and for those athletes that don’t do indoors, I’m pretty sure Christmas based excitement causes a similar response. This is all summarized in the graph below.

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Scientifically proven by science

Does drawing a graph make this borderline scientific? If I ask my mate about this and he agrees am I then peer-reviewed and ready for publishing? I hope so, because I only published one paper throughout my whole phd and this is far more interesting than that.

So because I had a lot of free time last week, I wrote a bit of an epic blog post on one of my favourite things, the bacteria in my intestines. Don’t get used to so much content, I’m sure it will drop as my early season excitement drops, in fact, content quality and volume of the posts on this blog is probably directly correlated with training performance now I think about it. I feel another “paper” coming on…

The Microbiome

Exact numbers vary depending on your source, but one of the more impressive numbers I’ve heard is that the number of bacteria in your gut is about 10 times the number of cell which you would consider you. That in itself is pretty nuts. Can you really consider yourself you, if more of you is bacteria than you?!?!

Before I get dragged down a logical wormhole, I’ll move on. The importance of maintaining good intestinal flora (the bacteria in your gut) has been pushed for years by the paleo leaders, fermented foods and drinks as natural probiotics, but it seems like the modern media is finally starting to catch up with stories like this one popping up pretty much weekly. The actual link between gut health and all sorts of bodily functions, including brain function, seems to be gathering some mainstream research based steam.

An interesting use of this is the popularisation of fecal transplants to solve various bowel conditions. Human feces is around 60% bacteria, so yes, actually putting this into someone else can start populating their gut with the bacteria that made the first person healthy. This is being used in Crohn’s sufferers with some success, but maybe once we understand what else the gut bacteria can effect, then use of this method may expand to treating other ailments.

I can genuinely see a day where people are making money selling their excrement, or young athletes are bidding on ebay for vials of their favourite sports stars stool as it might have some knock on consequence for being better at their chosen sport.

Diving into Intestinal Flora

So my interest in gut bacteria began several years ago, and rather than being based on any ongoing health issues, it was for pure vanity reasons, I wanted to get leaner. So down a logical thinking path, it went a little like this:

1) Being around athletes all the time, there was just some guys who were so naturally lean all of the time, no matter what they did. Their diet was rubbish, they’d get injured so couldn’t train, yet they’d still be ripped to shreds. A correlation I observed between these people was that they all went to the toilet a lot, and we’re not talking urination here.

  1. So as already mentioned, feces is made of about 60% bacteria. So I draw the conclusion that these guys have a high gut bacteria turn over. Could that be the key to their super leanness?
  2. So, short of a fecal transplant what were my options?

I wanted to hit this from the two angles, increase my gut flora but also increase my toilet visits.

The Weight Loss “Solution”

The solution came in 3 waves, first was the probiotics. I ran a full course of probiotics for a month or two, basically the best one I could afford. These were usually in capsule form, a good probiotic for this will have several billion bacterial cultures and at lest 4 or 5 different strains of bacteria. The yogurt based ones generally have only one or two milk derived strains, not the sort you want particularly if you have some lactose intolerance and although may say they contain a high number of cultures, a lot of this can be lost through digestion. So a real good capsule is a good start.

The second step was vegetables, loads of vegetables. Just this step on its own will begin to help you lose weight (more on this in future posts), eating more veg means you just can’t physically eat as much rubbish, its simple. Then all the the insoluble fibre just gets stuff flowing.

Thirdly, I purchased myself a fibre supplement. The one I used was from holland and barret, it was fibre, a pre-biotic with a low level of probiotics as well. Any time you up your fibre levels it basically limits the amount of calories you can absorb from your food so works that way but again its working to increase frequency of bowel movements as well.

The Outcome

Initially, I felt great, and I lost some fat, so two positive outcomes. The real positives came after I finished. Back on a more normal diet (for me) and on the same training programme I continued to lose weight and feel awesome. I think a lot of this came from the high dosage pro-biotics, and this is why I continue to do this every year.

Twice a year, once in September after the summer season, and once in March after the winter, I still do the pro-biotics and have felt real benefits from them. So we’re now in September, and I’ve just started my bi-annual ritual. It gives me a chance to get my gut and digestion into tip-top shape before I constantly stress myself for the next couple of months. I don’t run these constantly, as I just about make enough money to support my athletics so I’m always looking for the most bang for my buck. I get a really noticeable difference in just a month or two, and can’t really afford to run a good quality pro-biotic all year round. I also think there may be a mild immune response to doses this high which I also think is part of the benefit, remember nearly 70% of your immune system is in your gut. This may not be ideal year round when you’re constantly stressing yourself with training as well.

I can’t eat that!

The bacteria in your gut may do a lot of things, but I think keeping it healthy can have an effect on athletic performance. But first lets talk about its link to food intolerances. The bacteria basically forms a barrier in front of the wall of the large intestine which helps stop large food particles passing into the blood stream where they can wreak havoc. Large particles, including proteins will be detected by the body and cause an immune response, this can be what happens with lactose and gluten intolerance. So improvement of gut bacteria can help these conditions to some degree, but how does this affect athletic performance?

This immune response causes the release of inflammatory cytokines in the blood stream, which can actually cause permeability of the blood brain barrier. These cytokines can then access and cause inhibition of the actions of micro-glial cells in neurological tissue. These are the cells responsible for myelination. Myelination of nerves is the generally accepted mechanism at the moment for skill acquisition, repeated practice causes myelination (laying down of a fat and protein sheath around the nerve fibre) of nerves which increase the speed of nerve transmission and better ability to perform said skill (more on this in a future blog). So to sum all that technical discussion up into one simple sentence, better gut health leads to better adaptation to training.

This Year’s Bacteria of Choice

Previously, I’ve gone with the capsules of freeze-dried bacteria, but this year I’m going in a slightly different direction. Symprove are a company who are really into their bacteria. I have a friend who has intestinal issues and he has used their product with great success. He used the product for a year and was almost symptom free, he also put on a significant muscle mass in this time, which he has always had difficulty doing. It is one of the more expensive options, but I’m starting to see with these products that you definitely get what you pay for.

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Liquid bacteria, yummers!

Symprove is a liquid, and on their website they claim a UDS (unique delivery system), the idea is to take it on an empty stomach so that it can pass through to your gut without triggering digestion and it can actually get to your large intestine where its needed. I’m doing their recommended dosing of 10ml per kg, which means I’m getting about 17 billion bacteria in four strains (four of the best strains according to the research btw). Its also lactose and gluten free so seems ideal for those looking to work on gut permeability issue caused by the two most popular food intolerances of the moment.

I’ve been running it for nearly 3 weeks now, and qualitatively I can say I feel pretty damn good. In my two week break I got a bit out of the routine and may have eaten considerably more junk food than I normally would. Normally I would be feeling rubbish, but I seem to have transitioned back into my first week of training feeling pretty good, apart from the DOMS (I know I already mentioned the DOMS but they’re so bad they deserve a double mention). In addition to this, my food is going down well, I get no bloating after meals and my bowel movements are excellent (too much?).

Summarisation

So, short of getting a bacterial colonic (is anyone offering these yet?) and because I don’t think a probiotic capsule as a suppository will have the same effect I’m going to stick with the this for the time being. But I honestly think that for athletes, running a good quality pro-biotic has benefits in both nutrient absorption and also getting better adaptations to your training but can also benefit if you’re looking to get a little leaner as well. This is definitely an overlooked area which I think we’ll be hearing more about in the future.

TL;DR

Gut bacteria is ace, get it in you

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