Test Your Gut IQ to Maximize Your Nutrition Plan (+ Performance)

Test Your Gut IQ to Maximize Your Nutrition Plan (+ Performance)

We love talking about nutrition here at Spartan, but at the end of the day, properly fueling is as individual to the athlete as individual gets. In this two-part series, we discuss Gut-Oriented Athletic Training (G.O.A.T.) and how you can optimize your nutrition intake to max your fitness regimen and become the healthiest, highest performing you. 

Sponsored by our partner, Viome

Whether it's poor grip strength, low stamina or subpar muscle power, it's normal to focus relentlessly on your weaknesses as an OCR athlete. Each flaw in form, focus or execution can impact performance, make you hit a fatigue wall and send you to the dreaded burpee pit during a race—we Spartans know this. 

We also know that if we want to grow as athletes, we must train to address our weaknesses. The first step? Identifying what they are. For example, pro runners evaluate their stride and mechanics looking for deficiencies that cost them speed or power. Once these power leaks are clear, it's easier to take steps to fix bad habits and improve performance overall. 

But while it's common to pick apart your training plan and put a huge amount of effort into training your soft spots, it's also easy to forget about the silent weakness many athletes struggle with: proper nutrition. 

Related: How Your "Healthy" Diet + Blood Sugar Crashes May = Poor Performance

Why Eating "Clean" Is Not Enough

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We typically think nutrition fuels our workouts and recovery. But, food is not actually fuel the way gasoline works for a car. (If that were true, there'd be one universal healthy diet, no one would suffer from GI issues, and we'd all have six-pack abs.)

The reason this isn't the case is because each of us has a unique gut microbiome—the system that breaks down our food and converts it to usable energy. Our gut is completely different (less than 1% the same) from person to person. So foods that are healthy for the Spartan next to you might actually be unhealthy for you, and could be slowing you down. (For example, cauliflower could help lower inflammation and aid recovery for one athlete, but could ferment in another's gut and cause GI distress, impacting performance.)

Why Personalizing Your Diet Matters

improve gut health

First, let's get one thing clear: your microbiome is much more complex than tackling the simple task of breaking down nutrients. It produces hormones like testosterone and estrogen, and neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. It also modulates inflammation and sleep, both of which are critical for recovery.

Now, imagine that your microbiome is underperforming. You sleep like crap and your hormones are out of whack. Then imagine running a Spartan Race like that. (Yeah... you get the picture.) 

You may have heard that soy can raise estrogen levels or that a steak can increase testosterone. But how does that actually work? It's your microbes that help produce those hormones based on the nutrients you feed them.

In a recent Harvard study published in Nature Medicine, researchers sampled the gut microbiomes of athletes training for the Boston Marathon. After testing participants post race, they found a spike in specific bacterium necessary to break down lactic acid (the bacteria’s main food source). In other words, their guts adapted to the physiological demands they put on their bodies—which demands specific nutrition from each athlete. 

Same goes for sleep and recovery. You might sleep six hours while your partner needs eight. The gut produces many of the hormones and neurotransmitters tied to healthy rest, like melatonin and GABA. This means the foods you eat impact how you sleep—do it wrong and you're doing yourself a recovery-disservice. In short, it's critical to understand your specific microbiome's needs to function physically and mentally at your all-time high. 

Why Guessing What to Eat Is a Thing Of the Past

improve gut health

The days of training like Rocky Balboa (all heart, no brain) are over. Today, we're smarter than that. Deliberate quantification of what you eat and how you feel will impact your performance and give you more information to work with as you plan your nutrition regimen. This includes monitoring your macros, micros and your microbiome response.

The good news? There are tests for that. The downside? Most microbiome tests only show you which microbes are present in your gut, but fail to mention how they're behaving. 

The Solution: Precision Nutrition, Specific to You

improve gut health

Viome takes a different, holistic approach to GI health: the activity of your gut's microbes and how the entire ecosystem is working together (or not). You get individualized food and supplement recommendations with the results, tied to your unique microbiome. And with this information (because information is power), you can make precise diet tweaks to help decrease inflammation, improve energy levels and expedite recovery. The results? A personalized nutrition plan so you can push yourself to the limits. Every. Single. Day.

It Works Like This:

Take your at-home stool-sample test. Send it in to the lab. Get the results. You'll have a few different lists of information that come back. Foods to minimize, toxic foods, superfoods and treat foods. 

So let's say your test results come back and brown rice is a no-go, showing up on your "Minimize" or "Toxic Foods" list. Simply replace it with a recommendation on that appears on your "Superfood" or "Enjoy" list (like sweet potato or white rice). Same goes for vegetables, proteins and so on. 

Filter your food and eat in an optimized way for 3-4 months paying attention to how you feel. Notice if digestive issues subside, if you start sleeping better or have more energy during workouts. (Keep in mind that it can take a few weeks for your gut to adjust.)

Then, retest your gut to get your Health Intelligence Score and ensure your GI health is improving. For more info on the gut's impact on athletic performance follow the rest of the G.O.A.T. Series here.

For more on your microbiome and athletic performance, read part two in our G.O.A.T. Series here