Having a healthy gut is number 1. The forefather of modern medicine, Hippocrates, said it way back 2,400+ years ago and modern science is really only starting to cotton on to the fact that it is so important now. But without a healthy gut, your body will not work effectively.
I have noticed recently though, a lot of people complaining about gut issues. Both in every day life and during training/racing. The last thing you want halfway through a marathon or ultra is GI distress. I’m not saying a healthy gut will fix all GI distress situations during a race, but it will go a long way to reducing the incidence of it. So let’s start from the beginning…
The gut contains a fair bit of bacteria. If I were to say there was a billion microorganisms in our gut would you be surprised? Well you should be, because that wouldn’t even cover a square inch of your gut. It’s actually more like 100 trillion (100,000,000,000,000) microorganisms. Which is a hell of a lot by any standards. If you have been taking anti inflammatory medication, antibiotics, smoking, eating sugar laden junk food, overly processed carbs and have lots of unresolved stress in your life, you are really setting yourself up for failure.
So it goes without saying, the first thing to do, is remove all these things from your diet and life. But to repair it, it takes some intervention from good, natural foods that contain plenty of healthy fiber (think vegetables) as the fiber actually rots in your gut creating food for all the microorganisms.
Next we should take a broad spectrum probiotic to get the ball rolling. I like a brand called Metagenics as they have the largest bacteria count that I have seen. Fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, natural yoghurt, kefir will all help too. I posted a way to make your own sauerkraut a while ago, follow this link to find it. Avoid the store bought stuff as this is generally pasteurized killing off all the beneficial bacteria that it normally has.
As runners, we often have sports drinks or gels during training to boost our energy. I like to look at this kind of thing as a necessary evil. Sure it gives us energy, but it does have a detrimental effect due to all the sugar they contain. It doesn’t really have a bad effect on our blood sugar like it would away from training, but it can effect our gut flora.
All gels and powdered sports drinks have a optimum dilution. Or a recommended amount of water to have with them to enable us to properly absorb the nutrients. Think about how thick your standard gel is. If you were to have it without water, your stomach would probably just reject it, but most are designed to be consumed with something around 300-400ml of water.
If you are in your next race or big training run and feel you are not properly digesting your fuel, go back to the basics, get your gut healthy, then look at your fueling strategy/source, get the dilution right for the conditions and proper absorption and hopefully you can be running happily again soon.