Why the Gut Matters to Athletes (and How to Properly Fuel Your Performance)

Why the Gut Matters to Athletes (and How to Properly Fuel Your Performance)
Presented by Spartan Training®

Naveen Jain is the founder and CEO of Viome, Inc., a state-of-the-art gut-intelligence company. 

As the CEO of Viome, Inc., I am privileged to lead an incredible team of scientists, physicians, artificial Intelligence engineers, and experts in system biology. They generate new insights every day about what each person uniquely needs to be healthy. Recently, I sat down with Spartan founder and CEO Joe De Sena to discuss how we can help you and your fellow Spartans get the right tools to fuel your performance.

If you’re like many of your fellow Spartans, the reason you got started with Spartan in the first place was probably to challenge yourself, push yourself beyond your limits, and overcome adversity. We all love the feeling of finishing a hard training session or a race. The feeling of competing against others, or against your own limits, is electrifying. If you want to learn how to push even further, be healthier, and achieve even more, keep reading.

RELATED: Immune-Boosting, Inflammation-Fighting Foods for Better Recovery 

The Power Leak You Didn’t Know You Had

As an athlete, you probably think you are eating healthy because your current diet has worked for your coach or someone you respect. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a universal healthy diet. We have all heard that “one man’s food is another man’s poison.” So, how do you find out what's healthy and what's poison? Let me start by giving you my own story.

I always prided myself on eating healthy and keeping my meals full of spinach, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and a lot of protein. After I launched Viome, I was one of the first people to analyze my gut. It told me that my sulfide score was too high and my gut was unable to digest oxalates properly. Worst of all, my gut was fermenting lots of undigested protein into compounds, which were sending my gut into an inflammation frenzy. It recommended that I avoid eating traditional “healthy foods,” like broccoli or Brussels sprouts, because both contain high amounts of sulfate, which was being converted by my gut into inflammatory sulfide.

Spinach was bad for me because it contains a large amount of oxalic acid, which was not being digested by my gut and could cause kidney stones. It suggested that I cut down my protein intake and take specific digestive enzymes to minimize any undigested protein that would produce inflammatory compounds.

OK, So the Microbiome Matters for Your Performance. But How Do You Fix It?

First, you need to start testing and measuring. You need to stop guessing and start quantifying your current health. Once you know how your gut is performing and how it’s impacting things like inflammation or mitochondrial function, then you can get very specific nutritional and supplement recommendations to start optimizing your body. Viome can help you understand these specific health scores to improve.

Once you are armed with this knowledge, you need not only a personalized diet, but also a "precision" food and supplement plan. Macros are not all created equal for each individual's gut. For one person, sweet potatoes might be a superfood, while white rice or quinoa might be toxic. For another person, white rice might be a  superfood, but brown rice should be minimized. You just don’t know until you test.

Then, once you know which foods are best for you, and which to stay away from, you need to eat a lot of different foods (from your specific options). If the only vegetable you eat is kale, and you ignore all your other vegetables, the microbes that need the nutrients that other vegetables give them won't be working properly. And that means you don’t have all your soldiers working together properly. 

Once you follow these recommendations, typically for 90-120 days, it becomes critical that you remeasure to see where you have improved and where you still need to make progress … just like with your training. We call this "closing the loop," and with Viome, once you have retested, your recommendations for food and supplement nutrition change, so you can up your game even more.

RELATED: What’s the Best Way to Track Nutrition? 5 Tips to Level Up Your Fuel Intake 

Environment Is Everything

Everyone plays different roles in their lives. For example, at the office I am a CEO, but at home I am a dishwasher. Microbes are the same. A microbe can help process lactic acid, or it can cause inflammation. It all depends on the environment — which means what you eat. So, test, understand your unique gut microbiome, eat the specific foods, and take the precise supplements you need to perform at your best.

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