Health and fitness have gained much importance over the last few years and exercising for good health is very much ‘in trend’ these days. With more and more people turning to endurance sports activities such as running, cross-country skiing, cycling, aerobic exercise, or swimming to exercise, there is also a mushrooming of events such as multi-sport activities such as triathlons and duathlons, across the globe. This has led to an increase in the number of both professional and recreational athletes and they are constantly looking for ways to improve their performance.
The Demands of Endurance Exercise
Endurance exercises have a major impact on oxidative stress, intestinal permeability, muscle damage, systemic inflammation, and immunological responses. During strenuous exercise, the body breaks down carbohydrates, leading to depletion of the glycogen reserves in the liver and skeletal muscles. Arduous exercise has also been known to impair the body’s immune responses and increase gut permeability, which can make the athlete susceptible to infections and gastrointestinal distress respectively.
Nutrition plays a key role in the improvement of athletic performance, conditioning, recovery from fatigue after exercise, and avoidance of injury. The nutritional needs of an endurance athlete are highly different from an average sedentary individual. Sports nutritionists are now looking beyond just energy and protein intakes and recognizing the importance of micronutrients in modulating the overall health and performance of the athlete. Of the various aspects related to micronutrients, their role in modulating gut responses is being increasingly recognized. Gut health has now become a key area of interest in sports nutrition.
Understanding Gut Health of the Endurance Athlete
Gut health is associated with the athlete’s overall health and can also impact his/her performance. Many factors (e.g. age, genetics, drug use, stress, smoking, diet, etc.) affect the gut microbiome, influencing a complex ecosystem that is highly dynamic and personalized. Athletic activities and the gut microbiome influence each other in numerous ways (Figure 1) :
- Stress during trainings and competitions results in the release of stress hormones or sympathetic neurotransmitters that affect gut physiology and alter the habitat of the gut microbiota.
- A bout of strenuous exercise can acutely modify the intestinal permeability, leading to an increased prevalence of systemic lipopolysaccharides (LPS.) These evoke immune responses and endotoxins which are associated with the characteristic GI symptoms experienced by long-distance runners. Frequent exposure to LPS results in a chronic mild inflammatory state that is damaging to the athlete’s overall health.
- The gut microbiome plays a role in water transport which is a key to good hydration essential for endurance sports.
- Modulation of the gut microbiome (using prebiotics like fructo-oligosaccharides – FOS) can promote the growth of commensal bacteria such as bifidobacteria and lactobacilli species and potentially improve the overall health and performance of endurance athletes.
Role of Prebiotic Oligosaccharides in Sports Nutrition
Energy Source: Prebiotic oligosaccharides such as FOS are fermented by the intestinal bacteria to release short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). During exercise, SCFAs can be used as an energy source by the liver and skeletal muscle cells and can help prevent liver glycogenolysis. SCFAs can also help maintain blood glucose levels for a sustained period of time and thereby improve endurance.
Enhance Recovery: SCFAs are also associated with the regulation of neutrophils and inflammatory cytokines which might help delay fatigue symptoms in endurance athletes. Consumption of drinks rich in oligosaccharides accelerates the recovery of muscle glycogen, which helps the athlete engage in intense and multiple training sessions daily.
Reduced GI symptoms: Gastrointestinal (GI) complaints are very common among endurance athletes leading to underperformance in endurance events. Prebiotic FOS modulates the gut microbiota to improve the epithelial integrity and reduce gut permeability. Intake of low FODMAP diets (fermentable oligo-, di, mono-saccharides and polyols) helps relieve the GI distress experienced by endurance athletes .
Immunocompetence: High-intensity training increases susceptibility to infections due to impaired immune responses such as lymphopenia and neutrophilia occurring immediately post-exercise. Strengthening the immune system of the athlete is thus crucial.
As the gut is the largest lymphoid tissue in the body, which makes about 70% immune cells, modulating gut health can help strengthen the immune response. Prebiotics like FOS promote the growth of intestinal bacteria such as Lactobacilli and Faecalibacterium prausnitzii, which exhibit stress-protective and anti-inflammatory properties, thereby regulating the immune responses.
Prebiotic interventions before physical activity have demonstrated improvement in immune function as measured by the increased production of NK (Natural Killer) cells and lesser prevalence as well as the duration of URTIs (upper respiratory tract infections.)
Due to its ability to potentially improve athletic performance and overall health, prebiotic supplementation is the next big thing to catch the attention of sports nutritionists worldwide. Fossence® – a quality product from TATA NQ is a clinically proven sc-FOS prebiotic dietary fiber that finds wide applications in sports nutrition and other products. Fossence® is notified as US-FDA GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) for use in foods and is manufactured at the state-of-the-art, FSSC 22000 certified manufacturing facility in Andhra Pradesh, India. With a traceable supply chain and automated production system, this facility ensures that quality is monitored at every step.
With increasing awareness of gut health and its long-lasting impact on physical health and performance, the athletic community is now gradually turning to prebiotics. TATA NQ is committed to improving the ‘Nutritional Quotient’ of the athletic community.
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