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Why the Gut is King

Author:Brittany Maughan RD
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Gut is kingWhat are Probiotics?

Probiotics continue to be a hot topic as science further discovers the many advantages of having beneficial bacteria in your system. Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are good for your overall health, and more importantly, your digestive tract. Not all bacteria are created equal, and your body is full of bacteria, both good and bad. Probiotics are naturally found in your body, and can be taken through food and supplements to increase the amount of ‘’good’’ or ‘’beneficial’’ bacteria in your system. 

How They Work

‘’Your gastrointestinal tract houses some 100 trillion bacteria—about two to three pounds worth. In all, the bacteria outnumber your body’s cells by about 10 to 1. Your intestinal bacteria are part of your immune system, and researchers are discovering that microbes of all kinds play instrumental roles in countless areas of your health. […] Probiotics have been shown to:

- Modulate your immune response and reduce inflammation

- Produce vitamins, absorb minerals, and eliminate toxins

- Control asthma and reduce risk of allergies

- Benefit your mood and mental health

- Boost weight loss

Beneficial bacteria also control the growth of disease-causing bacteria by competing for nutrition and attachment sites in your colon. This is of immense importance, as pathogenic bacteria and other less beneficial microbes can wreak havoc with your health if they gain the upper hand. It can also affect your weight.’’ (1) 
Think of your body like a car – if you maintain the machine by getting the oil changed, rotating the tires, and changing your brake pads, your car will be more efficient at utilizing fuel, will be less likely to breakdown or overheat and be a reliable mode of transportation. Same goes for your gut – if you maintain the machine, and create healthy levels of good bacteria, it will better process foods, allow less time for toxins to sit in your small and large intestines, and allow you to perform at your best, as it readily absorbs the nutrients your body needs. Your gut flora can affect an array of ailments such as celiac disease, insulin resistance, diabetes, eczema, the cold, the flu, high cholesterol, acne, and allergies (among many others).
The goal with probiotics is to add more good bacteria to your system, and allow them to positively affect your gut flora, increasing the percentage of good bacteria and lowering the percentage of bad bacteria. The ideal ratio between the bacteria in your gut is 84 percent ‘’good’’ and 15 percent ‘’bad’’ (2). 
The Bad Guys
The Westernized American diet and lifestyle is a perfect storm for bad bacteria to flourish. A diet heavy in processed foods, sugar, fructose, refined grains, agricultural chemicals, and pesticides, along with exposure to antibacterial soaps, pollution, antibiotics, and chlorinated water all take a toll on your gut bacteria. 
The good news is that you are in total control of the type of bacteria that lives in your body, largely through the foods that you eat. Research looking at the many diets of different cultures and peoples throughout the world showed similar microbial makeup in those eating similar diets. ‘’Major diet shifts can change the mix of gut microbes noticeably in just a day.’’(1) This is good news for those of us eating a diet high in sugars and processed foods. A ‘’bacterial imbalance in your gut can be made worse by processed foods and foods that have been pasteurized and sterilized. Other factors affecting your gut flora include where you live, your age, your stress level, and any health issues you may have. Like processed foods, sugar also promotes the growth of disease-causing yeasts and fungi.  Symptoms of yeast (candida) overgrowth include fatigue, depression, irritability, headaches, problems concentrating, muscle weakness, recurrent vaginal and urinary tract infections, athlete’s foot, jock itch, persistent heartburn, indigestion, constipation, swollen joints, nasal congestion, and sore throat.” (1) As an athlete, any of these symptoms of bad yeast overgrowth could greatly affect performance and overall well-being.  
The Good Guys
Most beneficial bacteria come from two groups:
Lactobacillus: This type of bacteria normally lives in our digestive, urinary, and genital systems without causing disease. It is also found in some fermented foods like yogurt and in dietary supplements. This bacteria is used to treat diarrhea as well as other general digestive problems including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s diseases, Helicobacter pylori (ulcer causing bacteria), and urinary tract infections. Lactobacillus is also commonly used to prevent the common cold in adults and respiratory issues in children. Lastly, this strain of bacteria can be used for skin disorders and to help control cholesterol, lactose intolerance, Lyme disease, hives, and to boost the immune system. (3)
Bifidobacterium: This group of bacteria normally lives in the intestines and can be grown outside the body and taken by mouth or through supplementation. It’s used for many conditions affecting the intestines and restoring good bacteria that has been killed or removed by diarrhea, radiation, chemotherapy, antibiotics, or other causes. It’s also used to boost the immune system and help treat eczema, yeast infections, cold, flu, mastitis, hepatitis, lactose intolerance, mumps, Lyme disease and cancer. Because Bifidobacteria come s from the lactic acid bacteria, it can be found in fermented foods like yogurt and cheese. (4)
At Feed The Machine, we always suggest starting with a healthy and balanced diet as a foundation to every athlete’s nutrition regimen. Food sources are a great way to go to get a boost of healthy vitamins, minerals, and probiotics.  Probiotics can be found in yogurt, some cheeses, and sauerkraut, pickled foods, miso and tempeh. Kefir is also a great option, as it’s easy to find and can be easily made at home using kefir start granules. It’s best to look for raw milk kefir with little additives (such as artificial colors, flavors, and sweeteners).
As for supplementation, we highly suggest two products we carry at Feed The Machine. Adding a few capsules to your daily regimen will ensure that you keep a consistent level of probiotics in your gut, and provide a fast and efficient way to support your immune system and overall athletic performance. Hammer Nutrition makes a probiotic supplement called Digest Caps that offers L. Acidophilus, B. Bifidum, B. Longum, and L. Plantarum OM, all of which assist in alleviating ammonia-produced fatigue and supporting healthy intestinal flora. As part of their complete product line, Klean Athlete offers Klean Probiotic that contains 8 strains of probiotics plus prebiotic to balance the bacteria in your gut and assist in proper nutrient absorption.  
Your gut is King. Your internal machine (your digestive system) needs to be fully functional and healthy in order to process, breakdown, and absorb the nutrients you put into it. If you don’t keep up the maintenance and keep your immune system strong, you will quickly run yourself down by hard workouts, lack of sleep, and poor nutrition, further compromising your immune system, leading to sickness and poor athletic performance. Keeping your gut flora healthy with a high percentage of ‘’good bacteria’’ is key in creating a foundation for all the physical challenges you place on yourself as an athlete. Eating a well-balanced diet, along with probiotic rich foods and supplements will keep you and your digestion on the right track. Bottom line, a better gut equals better performance. 

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