Exercise might not be a magic remedy, but it sure is close. It has the ability to ward off serious conditions like heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s. Are you struggling with depression, anxiety, or migraines? Physical activity will lend a hand. Even debilitating problems like arthritis will improve with exercise. With so many benefits, doesn’t it make sense to exercise all day long? Not quite.
A hardcore routine can actually hurt your gut. It houses trillions of bacteria, outnumbering cells 10 to 1. Plus, nearly 70% of your immune system resides in the gut. Your health literally depends on these microscopic bodyguards.1 2
The gut can take a nosedive if you work out too much. Sure, maybe you’re doing everything else “right” like avoiding refined sugars and getting enough shut-eye. You’re probably also managing stress and eating veggies like a pro. Yet, all of this won’t matter if you push the body too hard.3 4 5
Listen To Your Gut
The factor in question is the intestinal barrier. Normally, intestinal mucosa prevents the absorption of harmful particles and substances. This protective function – also known as permeability – depends on the spaces between intestinal cells called enterocytes. When these cells are close together, the defensive barrier is doing its job. But if the spaces widen? The result is a leaky gut, a syndrome that sparks a pro-inflammatory immune response.6
Most causes of leaky gut aren’t surprising. Long-time suspects include processed foods and high-sugar, low-fiber diets. Chronic stress and overusing non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are also high up on the list. And while many health-savvy folks manage these factors, intense exercising is rarely considered.7 8
How Heavy Exercise Affects The Gut
It comes down to only one specific thing: stress. According to the Journal of the International Society and Sports Nutrition, hardcore physical activity induces enough physical and emotional stress to change the gut’s microbiota balance. This degrades the intestinal mucus and weakens barrier function.
Moreover, many hardcore athletes eat far more protein than plants. As a result, bacterial diversity and function decrease, leading to a poor immune response. Neurotransmitter synthesis also takes a hit, causing brain fog and mood swings. You won’t even have enough energy to work out on the regular.9
How To Fix A Leaky Gut
First thing’s first. Slow down! Let your body rest in between workouts. Recovery is vital for getting stronger, and it’s up to you to allow time for that. You can also heal a leaky gut in these five ways.
1. Eat Probiotics
Don’t forget that stress reduces the diversity of gut bacteria. To restore the balance, eat probiotics like high-quality kefir, yogurt, miso, and kimchi. You can also take supplements, but be sure to check the expiration date.10
2. Take Prebiotics
Probiotics can’t do it alone. In order to grow and thrive, good bacteria need prebiotics or fiber that is only digested in the large intestine. Tasty examples include honey, onions, asparagus, rye, Jerusalem artichokes, bananas, and oats.11
3. Limit Refined Sugar
If refined sugar isn’t already on your radar, change that. Pay closer attention to foods that have added sugar and sweeteners. Can’t give up the occasional donut or cookie? Seek out healthier alternatives using natural forms of sugar.
4. Eat Anti-Inflammatory Foods
Lack of exercise lets inflammation flourish, but overexercising does the same thing. Remember that stress isn’t good for the body! Get a handle on it by eating anti-inflammatory foods like turmeric, almonds, and avocado. Fatty fish is also an exceptionally rich source of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids.12
5. Increase Fiber Intake
Again, many athletes focus on protein instead of plants. However, it’s what the gut needs to maintain better microbial balance, as seen in Mediterranean diets. So be more diligent about your fruits and veggies! It’ll improve barrier function, leading to better stress levels and immune response.13 14
|↑1||NIH Human Microbiome Project defines normal bacterial makeup of the body. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑2||Vighi, G., F. Marcucci, L. Sensi, G. Di Cara, and F. Frati. “Allergy and the gastrointestinal system.” Clinical & Experimental Immunology 153, no. s1 (2008): 3-6.|
|↑3||Carek, Peter J., Sarah E. Laibstain, and Stephen M. Carek. “Exercise for the treatment of depression and anxiety.” The International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine 41, no. 1 (2011): 15-28.|
|↑4||Varkey, Emma, Åsa Cider, Jane Carlsson, and Mattias Linde. “Exercise as migraine prophylaxis: a randomized study using relaxation and topiramate as controls.” Cephalalgia 31, no. 14 (2011): 1428-1438.|
|↑5||Exercise and Arthritis. American College of Rheumatology.|
|↑6||Hollander, Daniel. “Intestinal permeability, leaky gut, and intestinal disorders.” Current gastroenterology reports 1, no. 5 (1999): 410-416.|
|↑7||Aguayo-Patrón, Sandra V., and Ana M. Calderón de la Barca. “Old Fashioned vs. Ultra-Processed-Based Current Diets: Possible Implication in the Increased Susceptibility to Type 1 Diabetes and Celiac Disease in Childhood.” Foods 6, no. 11 (2017): 100.|
|↑8||Bhatt, Aadra Prashant, Dulan Gunasekara, Jennifer E. Speer, Mark Isaac Reed, Alexis Peña, Bentley Midkiff, Scott Magness, Scott Bultman, Nancy L. Allbritton, and Matthew R. Redinbo. “NSAID-Induced Leaky Gut Modeled Using Polarized Monolayers of Primary Human Intestinal Epithelial Cells.” ACS Infectious Diseases (2017).|
|↑9, ↑14||Clark, Allison, and Núria Mach. “Exercise-induced stress behavior, gut-microbiota-brain axis and diet: a systematic review for athletes.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 13, no. 1 (2016): 43.|
|↑10||The benefits of probiotics bacteria. Harvard Health Publishing.|
|↑11||Younis, K., S. Ahmad, and K. Jahan. “Health benefits and application of prebiotics in foods.” Journal of Food Processing & Technology 6, no. 4 (2015): 1.|
|↑12, ↑13||Tomasello, Giovanni, Margherita Mazzola, Angelo Leone, Emanuele Sinagra, Giovanni Zummo, Felicia Farina, Provvidenza Damiani et al. “Nutrition, oxidative stress and intestinal dysbiosis: Influence of diet on gut microbiota in inflammatory bowel diseases.” Biomedical Papers 160, no. 4 (2016): 461-466.|