Ask the Practitioner: How Your Gut Affects You As an Athlete

The 5 lbs of bacteria that reside in your body, known as your microbiome, are key to living a healthy life. For athletes that want to be on top of their game, the health of your gut can mess with your path to success – researchers continue to make discoveries about its connection to a variety of diseases and conditions, from anxiety and mood to obesity and IBS.

Tyler Lafleur 2nd degree connection2nd Owner/Coach at HPHI

Tyler LaFleur, RN, CCEP, CFMP

We asked WellnessFX practitioner and Certified Functional Medicine Practitioner Tyler LaFleur to weigh in on his thoughts when it comes to how athletes should consider caring for their gut health.

[Tyler LaFleur (RN, CCEP, CFMP) is a Certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist through the American College of Sports Medicine, and a Certified Functional Medicine Practitioner. Tyler is available for WellnessFX consults in Louisiana and Washington.]

WellnessFX: What do you think is one of the most overlooked ties when it comes to intestinal health – and why is it so important?

Leaky gut verified by increased zonulin levels and gut inflammation (Calprotectin, SigA, Zonulin, and b-Glucuronidase levels). I have seen more patients improve their symptoms and complaints by simply eating and changing lifestyle to support gut health as opposed to simply taking other supplements to address the apparent, surface symptoms.

I had a patient that was having significant joint inflammation and autoimmune issues that continued as they slowly changed their Western Standard American Diet to a more whole foods based approach, but they were reluctant to give up Beer and Dairy (both highly inflammatory to the gut lining for some people). They were becoming frustrated by the lack of improvement in their symptoms until they finally kicked the beer and yogurt (because they found dairy to be a trigger) for 30 days. Within 15 days, their pain and symptoms were a “night and day difference” per the client. After the full 30 days, their lab markers – Calprotectin, SigA, Zonulin, and b-Glucuronidase – confirmed it.

Supporting a healthy gut through food requires prebiotic and probiotic foods. Learn more about these foods >>  

WellnessFX: What are lifestyle and nutrition habits that you’ve seen have a negative impact on performance in athletes?

Glasses of wine at dinner or drinking beer simply because they “have worked out pretty hard” that day, previously. Eating tons of “gluten-free” baked and battered items in hopes of decreasing inflammation. The alcohol and the other gluten-free grains can still affect intestinal permeability even if they do not cause noticeable G.I. symptoms. Also, not measuring sleep scores and assuming they are getting enough rest. Hours in bed do not equate to adequate recovery. I always encourage my athletes, when it comes to recovery and HRV, to ‘test and not guess’.

WellnessFX: What are some nutrition habits for intestinal health that aspiring athletes could consider in order to increase their performance and why?

Two women enjoying a run in a forest at an endurance event

Credit: iStockPhoto

  • Not overloading the stomach prior to hard workouts or longer endurance training. Prepping the night before is much more efficient and efficacious.
  • Switching from high fiber starch to lower fiber starch: for example jasmine rice as opposed to brown rice. The increased fiber usually wreaks havoc on an athlete’s gut.
  • Go for the easy to digest carbs since blood sugar dysregulation isn’t as much of an issue for the athlete (pending adrenal health of course).

WellnessFX: What do you think are some of the biggest fitness or health myths athletes are being told today?

  1. Eating carbs all day long to keep blood sugar steady. Keeping blood sugar elevated most of the day will usually cause insulin levels to stay elevated as well. Unless athletes are already fairly lean, they usually have trouble burning body fat while they are pumping a steady stream of glucose into their bodies.
  2. Going super low carb is the key to increase endurance. I have seen more athletes wreck their hormonal health by attempting to go keto and continue to train at super high intensities. I had a client that started working with me and had switched their diet 2 weeks earlier to a more keto-based approach. He felt great for the first few weeks, but despite my warnings of too much intensity and volume of his running and cycling while going so low carb, he continued to push his workouts and train more anaerobically while keeping carbs below 30 grams per day. His follow up lab work confirmed their reported lethargy and inability to recover from hard runs. His testosterone dropped significantly and his hs-CRP increased. Only by refeeding with carbs and cutting back his weekly training volume was he able to start to sleep better and recover faster than while on his super high fat and low carb diet.

    Finding adequate carb counts can be tricky. I encourage athletes to assess their energy levels and their body fat levels. If they find that they have good energy but they are gaining body fat, they are probably eating too many carbs. If they are not gaining weight and are losing body fat, but they are having trouble sleeping and not recovering like they have been, they may be eating too few carbs in comparison to their training load and volume. And, of course, if you want to make sure, you can always measure serum insulin levels, fasting blood sugar, Triglycerides, and Hemoglobin A1C to gauge your body’s blood sugar metabolism.
  3. Focusing more on the training as opposed to the recovery to improve their performance. More athletes would benefit more from a recovery coach as opposed to a trainer. Most of my athletes come to me with an existing training regimen. But what I find is that their “low intensity” or “light” days are great in theory, but while looking at their heart rates during training and their HRV and sleep scores, they just don’t match up. The biggest flaw I see is runners claiming that a slower pace will equal a recovery day as opposed to their threshold pace or race pace training and more often than not, I see that they will have to either walk on a steep incline or simply swim or cycle on their recovery days, just to make sure that they are circulating blood and oxygen and not increasing the amount of stress on an already overworked and under-recovered muscle group and central nervous system.

WellnessFX: Favorite foods you prefer to balance your own gut health and why?  

Homemade Pickled Vegetables. A Low Lectin and Gluten-Free Diet. At least one day per week of a full day of fasting to give digestion a rest.

Want more from our Ask the Practitioner series?

Visit 3 Habits That Can Mess With Women’s Hormones–and how to better balance them with Courtney Jonson

About Tyler LaFleur
Tyler LaFleur (RN, CCEP, CFMP) is the Executive Officer for the High-Performance Health Institute (HPHI) and its Executive Performance Group, HP3. He is the author of Health Perversity: Rules for Becoming Fat, Sick, and Stressed and The Behavioral Intentionalist Journal. Tyler received his Bachelor of Science in Nursing from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. He is also a Certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist through the American College of Sports Medicine, and a Certified Functional Medicine Practitioner. He has served in the health and wellness coaching industry for more than a decade and is a Masters of Leadership candidate at the Thayer Institute for Performance Virtuosity. Tyler and his wife, Lacie Jo, and their two children live in Lafayette, Louisiana

How WellnessFX Can Help

WellnessFX provides personalized advice from health professionals, via 1-on-1 consultations done over the phone. After you review your lab results as a WellnessFX member, you have access to our network of licensed health practitioners for an in-depth interpretation of your biomarkers. From women’s health to endurance training to weight loss, a consultation is an opportunity to leverage the data that’s now in your back pocket and identify potential health risks or areas of improvement.

The benefits of a consultation with any of our nutritionists, registered dietitians or physicians, are getting recommendations based on your unique biomarkers.

Regular blood screening is crucial for understanding your hormones, tracking progress, and measuring your associated risk, to hopefully stop a problem before it becomes a problem. Once you have the information, you can make educated, informed choices that fit your body’s specific and unique needs, from nutrition and lifestyle changes to hormone and risk monitoring.

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The posts on this blog are for information only, and are not intended to substitute for a doctor-patient or other healthcare professional-patient relationship nor do they constitute medical or healthcare advice of any kind. Any information in these posts should not be acted upon without consideration of primary source material and professional input from one's own healthcare professionals.