When it comes to exercise and weight loss, our guts often don’t get a lot of love. In fact, for many, that’s the main goal of weight loss: To get rid of their gut.
We hear you. Our guts are easy targets.
However, if you know how to take care of your gut, it can go from being a target to a tool. Instead of trying to make our guts shrink and wither away, we can instead learn how to turn them into high-powered and downright beautiful metabolism-boosting, health-optimizing machines.
What’s the connection between our gut and fitness or weight loss? How can we keep our gut happy and enjoy a healthy, optimal state of fitness?
Here’s what you need to know.
Fitness, Your Gut, and You: Fun Facts for Your Consideration
Your gut is a wild and wonderful place—and its connection to weight loss and fitness may be far stronger than you think. Let’s dive in:
- The large intestine plays host to trillions of bacteria that, together, make up your gut microbiota. The ecosystem in your gut is intimately connected with your vital life functions, such as digestion and elimination—but its role doesn’t stop there.
- If you’re interested in optimizing your health and your weight, you need to be interested in your microbiome. Your microbial diversity has a strong influence on your metabolism, or the way that body turns nutrients and physical resources into energy.
- Recent studies have even gone so far as to suggest that the composition of a person’s gut microbiome can help predict the way a person’s weight loss interventions will work. In Seattle, a group of researchers looked at the functional profile of the gut microbiome of a group of people before they began a weight loss program. People who had a specific set of gut microbiome genes associated with a faster metabolism lost weight more quickly than those who did not.
- On the flip side, exercise can modify our gut microbiota and its functional profile, leading to better health outcomes as well. According to a 2017 study, exercise can not only increase the number of species of beneficial bacteria we host in our gut, it can improve the way that our gut flora develop. These micro-benefits turn into major benefits for the people doing the exercise—us.
- When we exercise, we produce a lot of one specific microbe, Akkermansia muciniphila. Not only is this microbe associated with a reduced risk of contracting metabolic disease, it also tends to be found in high populations in elite athletes.
- Gut microbes also help us produce a wide variety of nutrients, such as short-chain fatty acids, that help us stay fed, happy, and healthy. Exercising creates a lot of metabolic activity in our bodies, and increased metabolic activity means we need more nutrients. In response, our bodies amp up the digestive ability of our guts to get as much as possible out of the food we’re putting in there—giving us a better bang for our grocery store buck.
- Finally, if you’ve ever put yourself through a grueling workout, you know the realities of next-day soreness. This happens because your muscles produce lactic acid during heightened activity. There’s a specific type of gut bacteria—Veillonella atypica—that loves lactate fermentation. This hard-working microbe turns lactate into short-chain fatty acids, making the byproduct of your last workout into fuel for your next.
No Energy? Finding it Hard to Lose Weight? Let’s See What’s Up with Your Gut.
All of these amazing facts about the link between your gut, fitness, and weight loss may sound great—but if they’re not working for you, fitness can be a source of frustration and stress in your life instead of something that should help you thrive. Let’s start troubleshooting to see if we can turn that around.
Experiencing the following symptoms that show your gut function may be interfering with your weight loss or fitness goals? (Or vice versa?)
- Gut dysbiosis
- Weight gain
- Inability to keep weight on
There’s a good chance that giving your gut microbiota some TLC—or even tweaking your workout—could lead to desirable changes in the way your body functions.
However, you should know that investing in your gut function is a long-haul kind of solution. Optimizing the link between your microbiome and your metabolism will take time, discipline, and consistency, but the results will be well worth it.
A Few More Factors That Could Be Affecting Your Gut Function
Before we jump into recommendations for a healthier and happier you, let’s take a moment to mention some other factors that could be messing with your fitness and weight loss goals.
Antibiotic use. Antibiotics can provide lifesaving health benefits. If you’re taking them at the recommendation of your doctor, you should do whatever is best for your health—including antibiotics as prescribed. As we all know, however, antibiotics aren’t exactly kind to your gut microbiota. In fact, antibiotics prevent bacterial growth, kill specific types of bacteria, and lead to disruptions in the way your gut functions.
High levels of stress. Having a lot of stress in your life can do more than just make your days difficult. It can actually reshape your gut microbiome, leading to a slower metabolism and inflammation, and even disrupting signals to your brain that can influence your eating behaviors.
Intense dieting. Eating a very low-calorie diet or a diet low in fiber can affect your body’s ability to nourish your gut bacteria. As a result, your gut bacteria can’t nourish you—or support your own fitness and weight loss goals.
These factors can all lead to reduced energy, a slower metabolism, and overall difficulty reaching your fitness and weight loss goals.
Interested in changing that?
For Better Fitness and Weight Loss, Exercise Smart, Not Hard
Just as serial dieting may make it difficult for your gut microbiota to have a reliable routine, jumping (pun intended) from workout regimen to workout regimen can be very stressful for your body. Even embarking on an over-zealous new exercise plan can wreak havoc on your delicate gut microbiota.
Leading a sedentary lifestyle can be even worse, though. When researchers looked at the microbiomes of people who didn’t exercise much, they noticed less diversity than was present in the microbiota of even light exercisers.
Aerobic exercises (think: dancing, swimming, walking, or cycling) can increase gut-friendly bacteria like Bifidobacteria, Faecalibacterium prausnitzii, and Akkermansia muciniphila. With more of these hanging around, you’ll see reduced inflammation, reduce your chances of developing gut dysbiosis, and keep your gut microbiota in check.
Of course, exercising well is only one piece of the puzzle.
Eat The Rainbow for the Happiest Gut Possible
When the foods we eat are beautiful, our guts are beautiful, too.
Okay, while that’s obviously an oversimplification, it’s not far from the truth. Looking to prioritize a diet that results in healthy gut microbiota (and some great fitness results, too)? Put the following on your plate and watch the magic happen:
- Red foods: Opt for bright crimson fruits and veggies, such as tomatoes, cranberries, cherries, apples, red onions, and red cabbages. These foods are high in antioxidants, are anti-inflammatory, and can even lend your immune system key support.
- Orange foods: Interested in supporting a healthy gut and having a good antioxidant effect on your fat-soluble tissues? Throw carrots, mangoes, yams, apricots, oranges, and even turmeric into your grocery cart. (Caveat: Doritos are orange, but they’re not going to do your gut any favors.)
- Yellow foods Sweet yellow onions, ginger, lemons, bananas, and apples can help with gastric emptying and help keep your blood sugar in balance. Foods with these yellow hues are also high in antioxidant properties.
- Green foods: We all know that leafy greens are good for us, but thinking outside of spinach lead to delicious new adventures. Saute some brussels sprouts, sip on green tea, snack on olives: it’s all good! Cabbage, green apples, and artichokes are good for rounding out our green food quota—which contributes to healthy blood circulation and healthy gut bacteria.
- Blue and Purple Foods: Blackberries, blueberries, prunes, grapes, plums, you name it: These fruits are fantastic for their antioxidant properties and for their ability to feed and sustain your game-changing gut bacteria.
The next time you head to the grocery store, aim to create a colorful palette in your cart. Your gut will thank you for it!
Need a Powerful Gut-and-Fitness Boost? Try a Probiotic!
Optimizing your gut function so you feel powerful and fit (and achieve a healthy weight) is an admirable goal. But figuring out what lifestyle and diet changes work for you can take a lot of self-control, time, and habit-tweaking.
If you’re interested in an effective way to give your gut a leg up while you’re working towards a better leg day, try a flora-friendly probiotic!