Don’t let your gut health slow you down
Even when you have a lane to yourself, you’re never swimming alone. Although many of you spent the past year worried about contracting external microbes, you might not have even thought about your indispensable inner microbial world. You should. The microbes that live within you can dictate your well-being, nutritional status, and even your athletic performance.
The microbiome consists of nearly 10 trillion organisms that live symbiotically within your digestive tract and break down the undigestible compounds from foods you eat. Their digestive activity produces bioactive substances such as short-chain fatty acids, affects the pH of your large intestine, and enhances the absorption of minerals such as calcium. Without your inner bacterial colonies, you would be undernourished despite eating a healthy diet because you wouldn’t be able to process or absorb important nutrients from your food.
Foods such as apples, onions, blueberries, strawberries, beans, oatmeal, whole wheat, quinoa, tea, coffee, dark chocolate, and whole grains are the fuel that drives the microbiome bus. These foods provide both nondigestible fibers and polyphenols that feed and encourage the growth of healthy bacteria and discourage the growth of harmful bacteria. Polyphenols are known to provide health benefits from their anti-cancer, antioxidant, anti-microbial, and anti-inflammatory properties. Polyphenols also help prevent chronic diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, obesity, and neurodegenerative diseases.
But wait, there’s more. Scientists have looked at the microbiomes of elite athletes and found specific gut bacteria, Veillonella atypica, that improve athletic performance. During exercise, working muscles produce lactate that enters the bloodstream and then crosses into the gut. These bacteria convert lactic acid into a short-chain fatty acid called propionate, a compound that can increase the maximal rate of oxygen consumption.
The bottom line? Your microbiome influences not only your long-term health and longevity but also your athletic performance.
How to Feed Your Microbiome Throughout the Day
- Start your day with oatmeal, with a banana or handful of blueberries. Top it with almonds. Add a cup of coffee, and that’s four sources of polyphenols for your inner colonies.
- Snack on fruits or vegetables with skins or nuts with skins.
- Have a sandwich on whole-wheat bread, or try vegetable soup with plenty of beans (see recipe below). Think black bean or split pea soup. Or try hummus.
- Make your side dishes work for you. Mashed red potatoes with the skin on, baked beans, or sauté extra onion and garlic for your marinara sauce.
- Think of mixed dishes, such as chili and stews, that include beans and vegetables such onions, carrots, and celery, and that go well with a whole-wheat roll.
Minestrone Soup (Meat optional)
- 1 lb. of chuck roast, cut into 1” cubes (optional)
- 3 carrots, diced
- 2 medium onions, diced
- 3 stalks celery, diced
- 4 garlic cloves or 1 tbsp. of minced garlic
- 28-oz. can of Italian tomatoes, chopped with juice
- 15-oz. can of kidney beans, drained
- 15-oz. can of cannellini or garbanzo beans, drained
- 15-oz. can of green beans, drained
- 8 cups of stock or bouillon (vegetable or beef)
- 1 cup of dried whole-wheat pasta (penne, elbows, cellentani)
- Dried oregano and basil, 1 tsp. each or more
- 1 bay leaf
- Olive oil, salt, and pepper
- Garnishes: parmesan cheese and chopped parsley
- In a heavy bottom Dutch oven or soup pot, sauté beef over medium–high heat in olive oil, salt, and pepper until browned. Remove from pan and set aside.
- Using same pan, sauté carrots, celery, onion, and garlic in olive oil until just beginning to soften.
- Add tomatoes and all the beans to the pot, along with the beef.
- Add the stock, herbs, and bay leaf to the pot and bring to a gentle simmer. Let simmer for 45 minutes or until beef is soft. If you aren’t using beef, you only need to simmer until the carrots are soft (20 to 25 minutes).
- Once beef is soft, add whole-wheat pasta directly to the pot, and allow it to cook in the soup. This will take anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes, depending on the pasta.
- Once the pasta is soft, serve with parmesan and chopped parsley.
- Health and Nutrition