gut health

An interview with Scott Umberger

An interview with Scott Umberger, personal trainer & physical preparation coach

Talk to Scott Umberger for a minute and one thing is clear: He’s passionate about what he does. The personal trainer and physical preparation coach has learned from the best and shares it with the athletes who train at his gym in Pittsburgh

And it’s not just any type of training. Work with Scott and you’re gonna work. It may tougher than you’ve ever worked – train optimally, not maximally – but it’s data-driven and personalized for you. His goal: To make you a better athlete, inside and out.

“Everything changes with me,” Scott says.  

Tell us about your background and your approach to training. 

Without a doubt, my approach to training is my desire to get better. In the early 1990s, the internet wasn’t the vast array of useless performance information that it is today. Even today, only the most elite coaches are “in the know.” In the U.S., we’re finally using technology that’s been used in football and rugby for more than a decade. 

And thanks to Facebook and social media, I’ve learned and been “in the know,” connecting with some of the best and brightest in the field. Their willingness to share information has turbocharged my knowledge. I can honestly say that the elite human performance world’s a small one.

Buddy Morris of the Arizona Cardinals has been one of my biggest influences. His willingness to share what he’s done and currently doing is what brought Westside Barbell and Charlie Francis into my life. That knowledge was a game changer. 

James Smith was pivotal, completely changing my coaching philosophy. He opened my mind to the real Soviet sports science and to other elite scientists and coaches, including Carl Valle who was also a Charlie Francis guy. At this time, I was trying to confirm my training. He helped me analyze the data. I was also using heart rate variability (HRV) with Ithlete to uncover my programming and how it was affecting my athletes’ daily trainedness. 

Carl also introduced me to many great coaches and minds, including Henk Kraaijenhof, Dan Pfaff, Ralph Mann, Hakan Andersson, and Randy Huntington. These guys have consistent success in a validatable sport, like track, over periods of time with various athletes. 

How has your approach to training/nutrition changed over the years?

My education is in large part from outside the U.S. – Australia and Europe, and from AFL, rugby and soccer. Some techniques include IFT and yoyo tests. 

  • An IFT is for a baseline of aerobic capacity so I have numbers to train on. 
  • Yoyo tests involve 20-meter back-and-forth sprints with a rest period that stays the same. The time from start to 20 meters varies, getting shorter and shorter so you must run faster and faster. 

I’ve studied a lot of track athletes and coaches because what they do can be validated. It’s harder with team sports because there are so many variables. The more I learn, the simpler and more specific I get with training. Train optimally, not maximally. 

Do the athletes you work with have any misconceptions about training when you start working with them? Do their views change after working with you? If so, how?

Most of them have never really “trained.” They may have done some strength training, but not specific to them as an individual. They’re survival experts used to surviving at sub-max intensities for way too long and way too often. They’re continually crushed by coaches and can’t perform maximally. After 4-6 weeks of training with me, things start to come together. And then they’re 100 percent. 

Most people also don’t understand that they don’t eat enough. Eating 4,000+ calories a day for most athletes blows their minds – especially after logging what they eat for a few days. That’s a huge wake-up call. And they start eating more. Then a “miracle” happens: They start to lean out while gaining some muscle mass. 

Sleep is another issue. Convincing athletes of sleep’s importance and recovery is a slow process. Drinking alcohol effects quality sleep, too. 

Many athletes also struggle with being aware of their weekly and monthly schedules. This is a must – especially in the summer when they’re juggling training, work and a social life. Missing a training session on Monday destroys their week if they’re going out of town and miss Friday’s session. 

To summarize, everything changes with me. My biggest concern is the other 22 hours of their day – the time they don’t spend with me. And athletes work their butts off when they’re with me.

What’s the easiest thing to correct?  What’s the hardest thing to correct?

Only a few of the athletes I’ve worked with aren’t quad dominant. Between sitting all day and never learning how to move, most are “knee benders.” I can help athletes balance out, but it’s a tough issue to overcome. 

The bigger issue is the lack of foot and ankle health, or lack of dorsiflexion. Thanks to some slow-motion video, I captured some startling dorsiflexion issues during the gate of a few athletes.  

Valgus is a strength and motor control issue that varies between athletes. It’s not a big deal if I can work with the athlete a few times a week for a few months. Once they understand that their knees collapse when they jump or decelerate, I can show them what they should be doing. The changes are initially mechanical, but become more natural as they progress. 

How important is the psychological/mental side of training? 

It’s everything. You have to give each individual what they need without crossing over too much. I’m a big believer in mental imagery. And in tricking your mind. For example, a D1 hockey player who shows up on time and works his ass off. That’s what you’re supposed to do, but is he ready for all scenarios? 

Grit has been a hot topic. We have an entire generation of softies – we’re less mentally tough and strong. Good training and putting yourself in uncomfortable positions allows you be grittier. For example, learning how to deal with lactate. Learning about that discomfort helps you learn how to push through it. Through good training and coaching, you can learn how to deal with that – and when to back off what you need to.

What are one or two main things athletes can do to help prevent injuries? 

Take care of yourself. Don’t burn the candle at both ends. You’ll be at a higher risk for injury if you’re working 100 hours a week and stressed. 

Track your nutrients. I’m a big fan of InsideTracker and Sound Probiotics. 

Eat well and get enough sleep. What’s going to happen if you go to bed at 11:30 p.m. and have to train at 6 a.m.?  

On your website you mention the importance of the need for training outside a sport. Why is that important? How does that help prevent injury? 

Proper preparation for a sport should be all encompassing. The best lessons are learned on the practice field and while preparing for the competition. I’ve worked with all sorts of “non-traditional” sports, including motocross, figure skating and equestrian. Because our education in exercise science, biomechanics, kinesiology is so lacking in the U.S., even those who have degrees don’t truly understand performance. The academic focus is on repairing an injury or imbalance to baseline. 

At best, the coach has expertise in that specific sport. Their experience in preparation for that sport consists of what they learned from other coaches without any form of human performance background. It’s the “that’s what we did” form of education. 

Rather than using my knowledge to teach an athlete who’s seeking more outside what they’re getting in gym class or with their team, I teach them fundamental athletic movement. Over 15 years of working with athletes, only a handful didn’t have terrible running mechanics. Even gifted runners need tweaks to make them faster. 

My point: I fill in the blanks with each athlete. And it’s different for each athlete and each sport. Our current system lacks development and education of our youth. That has nothing to do with athletes.

How important is recovery for an athlete? Do you have any good at-home strategies to help athletes recover faster and better? 

Put down the cell phone. When you’re attached to it, you can’t unplug and get away. It’s a constant stream of information in your face. So put it down before bed. Create a space where you’re going to sleep better – and that could include going back to an alarm clock (vs. using your cell phone).  

Other good recovery strategies:

  • Float tanks
  • Relaxing music 
  • Mediation
  • Sleep with earplugs and a mask
  • Blackout blinds in your bedroom
  • Eat well – meal prep on Sundays to set yourself up for success, and have good food around

Do athletes come to you with an understanding of gut health? How do you teach your players about gut health?

In general, our country knows nothing about diet and nutrition. Learn how to us MyFitnessPal. Use it for a couple weeks to get your nutrition numbers and where you’re at. And get in tune with your body. I strive for balance and recommend a diet of 30-35 percent carbs and 150 grams of protein. And remember to hydrate – being dehydrated is bad for your body. 

We’re also pretty ignorant to gut health and have no idea how many times a day we should be going to the bathroom. The more you’re aware of food prep, the better your gut health is going to be. And it’s better when you take a probiotic. Your body’s a machine, and the better it works, the better you’ll feel. Would you put cheap fuel in your Ferrari? No – and you shouldn’t put cheap fuel in your body. 

Connect with Scott on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and his website

Tips and Training with Dr. Jason Ross, D.C. ART C.S.C.S.

Dr. Jason Ross,  D.C.  ARTC.S.C.S.  is a Doctor of Chiropractic and Strength and Conditioning Coach. Dr. Ross runs Train Out Pain Chiropractic in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He was the official chiropractor for the United States Bobsled team. In fact, he was himself a two-time member of the US Bobsled team as a push athlete. 

Dr. Ross trains and treats a variety of athletes from recreational to professional and we caught up with him to talk training, injury prevention and a whole lot more.

Two twists of fate landed Jason Ross as a chiropractor in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The first: He got a scholarship to play rugby, a sport he loved more than football. Two shoulder dislocations and a two grade 3 A/C join tears later, his second twist of fate arrived in rehab: his doctor said he’d make a great bobsled push athlete. 

Six months later, he performed well at the combines and made the U.S. National World Cup bobsled team – and graduated from chiropractic school. After competing for a few years, he retired and started practicing chiropractic medicine full-time. A year later, he was back on the team, but this time as its chiropractor and strength coach. He traveled with the team for four years. In 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, their teams won gold in the four-man, and the women won bronze. 

How has your approach to training changed over the years? 

I place less importance on the numbers. If you lift 30 more pounds on your squat it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re improving. I’ve also changed my stance on good/bad exercises and the cost/benefit. I ask myself, is this worth it for this athlete?  

Do the athletes you work with have any misconceptions about strength training when you start working with them? Do their views change after working with you? If so, how?

A few misconceptions that are still around:

  • That strength training will make them bigger
  • That strength training will take away from their sport
  • Not lifting because you’re tired and sore 
  • Lifting during race week

Guess what? When done right, lifting will help your race! Athletes also realize that they feel better after lifting. Lifting should complement all phases of your sport, offseason, preseason, race prep and recovery. 

What is the easiest thing to correct? The hardest? 

The easiest thing to correct is lift technique. And even getting someone stronger. The hardest thing: convincing an athlete they don’t have to feel crushed or wore out or dripping in sweat to have accomplished some quality training.

What are one or two main things athletes can do to help prevent injuries? 

The biggest injury prevention tip: sleep. More research is proving this. Quality nutrition also helps. If these two aren’t covered, you’re wasting your time and kidding yourself on improving or taking your sport seriously. 

What are the biggest challenges facing athletes in sport? 

At the amateur level, the biggest challenge is how to pursue your sport at the highest level and still balance family and work. Most mountain bikers, runners and triathletes aren’t fully sponsored athletes. What they do to balance all aspects of their lives is more impressive than a full-time professional. They’ll tell you how hard it was to get where they are. 

How important is the psychological/mental side of training?

The mental side of training is what separates the top 1 percent from the rest. There are some people who just don’t quit. They have GRIT. They don’t care they got four flats – it doesn’t derail them. They just keep competing. At the end of the day, everyone you see on a podium is mentally fit. The ones you don’t see on the podium may have more talent, but they pull back or lose focus. They can’t pull themselves out of a setback. 

How important is recovery for an athlete? Do you have any good at-home strategies to help athletes recover faster and better? 

Recovery is the cornerstone of training. Some recovery techniques: 

  • Sleep – it’s crucial and even quick naps on a consistent basis help
  • Foam rolling – try it for five minutes after workouts and before bed
  • Low level aerobic work (heart rate under 110) – a great movement practice after hard workouts 
  • And I’m biased, but I think everyone should see a chiropractor at least monthly for joint health checks

Do athletes come to you with an understanding of gut health? 

Gut health is becoming more prevalent. The elite level has known about the health benefits of good gut health for a while, but I think the everyday athlete is just starting to see it. People are realizing the importance of absorbing nutrients and producing neurotransmitters – and the affects it has on personality and the desire to train. 

Also, no one can train on an irritated bowel! Athletes are surprised when I tell them how much our guts impact the entire body. 

Everyone I work with who’s been taking Sound for a few months has commented that they have more energy, feel more robust, and had fewer viral infections. And those who’ve gotten a cold recover faster. 

How do you teach your athletes about gut health? 

I teach through example. I constantly talk about recovery and nutrition’s impact. But even great nutrition that isn’t absorbed isn’t great nutrition.  

What trends in fitness / training are you paying attention to?

A few I’m watching now: 

  • What elite athletes are doing and their trickledown affect 
  • Melatonin – is it the new vitamin D?
  • Optimizing brain health, including techniques like HALO
  • Breath work, like CO2 use, breath hold and maximizing Anion gap 
  • Sauna for heat shock protein
  • Cold exposure for brown fat optimization 

And, according to your site you like espresso, playing with your dog and reading. What’s your favorite espresso? What kind of dog do you have? And what’s the best book you’ve read in the past year?

We’re spoiled In Grand Rapids. We have the great coffee and espresso. The best coffee is Rowster Coffee. My family has a French bulldog – my daughters love him, and he’s a solid part of our family. 

I love reading nine or 10 books at once. A few interesting books I’ve read lately: 

  • The Secret Life of Fat by Sylvia Tara – all about how fat can think 
  • What Doesn’t Kill Us by Scott Carney – a book about physiology, breathing and cold
  • The Oxygen Advantage by Patrick McKeown – a book about breathing and its effect on physiology and how we can maximize it for performance
  • The Hungry Brain by Stephan J. Guyenet – a book about how our brain is wire for food an eating and how to combat it 

Follow Jason on Twitter or on his blog

Composed and written by Erin Klegstad

An Interview with Jordan Mazur, MS, RD – Sports Dietitian

Being diagnosed at 18 with a rare illness gave Jordan Mazur a new perspective on life. He knew he wanted to help others be healthy, fit and, most importantly, happy. So he got his degree in nutritional sciences, and eventually his masters in exercise science.

“I was always fascinated about how the human body uses food as fuel, all the way down to the microscopic level,” he said.

Today, Jordan is a Sports Dietitian and the Director of Sports Nutrition at the University of California, Berkeley. He believes being successful with nutrition begins with your mindset – and to make nutrition a priority to fuel your life. For athletes that means thinking differently about food. “They aren’t just eating to eat,” he said. “They’re high performing machines who require optimal fuel. All athletes need to think about food as their fuel.”

He recommends an 80/20 approach: 80 percent of the time, fuel with a purpose, while the other 20 percent of the time eat just to eat. “You have to allow yourself to eat the foods you enjoy because after all, food’s meant to be enjoyed!”

What are the biggest challenges facing sports dieticians today? What tools and/or resources do you use to address them?

The media and social media have an enormous impact on body image and food choices. I spend a lot of time debunking myths my clients ask about because they heard it from a doctor on TV or from an Instagram friend who once ate a salad and now gives nutrition advice. It’s important for registered dietitians (RDs) to advocate for themselves as experts. As RDs, we are the nutrition experts.

Does your approach vary based on an athlete’s given sport?

Every sport and individual have unique needs. Every sport has different energy demands, requiring different fueling strategies. Each athlete starts with a nutritional assessment to get a better picture of them and what they need to achieve their goals. The assessment includes five domains:

  1. Food/nutrition history

  2. Anthropometric measurements

  3. Biochemical data

  4. Nutrition-focused physical findings

  5. Client history

How has your approach to nutrition changed over the years?

It’s more individualized. Sports dietitians need to become nutrition coaches. It’s not enough to only speak on nutrition or lecture on carbs or hydration. It takes consistent reinforcement of that info to build habits. Sound nutrition doesn’t happen overnight. It starts with the nutrition assessment. Some athletes are ready for a complete diet overhaul; they can use a meal plan that breaks down their macronutrients. Sometimes it’s getting an athlete to drink more water or eat one less fast food meal per week. Little upgrades over time help create solid nutrition habits.

What do you eat in a typical day?

It always begins with coffee. And I never skip breakfast. It usually consists of vegetables, protein, carbs and some healthy fats. That can be a veggie omelet with fresh fruit and Greek yogurt. Or it’s avocado toast with two hard boiled eggs and a green smoothie with chia seeds. A pre-workout snack – usually an energy bar (KIZE is my favorite) – follows breakfast. Post-workout is always a protein shake and a carb source. Lunch is my biggest meal – veggies, protein and some type of carb (today was salmon, mashed sweet potatoes and broccoli). My afternoon snack is usually Greek yogurt and almonds or trail mix. Dinner is lean protein like chicken, turkey, fish or lean beef with a lot of veggies. And I always get some protein before bed. This helps rebuild and repair muscles overnight.

What are your thoughts on the USDA food pyramid?

The food pyramid has changed as science has evolved. It’s now called MyPlate. I use a variation of this with my athletes called Performance Plates. These contains parts of MyPlate (grains, veggies, protein, fruits and hydration), but reflect more how an athlete’s plate should be. These also vary depending on their training phase. For example, a plate for an easy training day looks different than a plate for a hard training day. It all goes back to individual nutrition. We’re all different with different nutritional needs. Our fueling must reflect that.

Do your athletes have any misconceptions about nutrition when you start working together? Do their views change after working with you?

Almost always! This is where nutrition coaching is important. Building relationships and being present with athletes goes a long way. Athletes then learn to trust you and ask questions. I’ve heard them all, too – from detoxes to alkaline diets.

One of the biggest misconceptions is how much they need to eat and how often they should eat. Most nutrition info in the media is geared for weight loss. Most athletes don’t need to worry about this. Their fueling strategies are a lot different than someone who’s sedentary and has a weight loss goal. Once they start to fuel like an athlete and see and feel performance benefits, then there’s buy-in.

What’s the easiest thing to correct nutrition-wise?

Two things for athletes:

  1. Hydrate. It impacts performance almost immediately. Hydrate early and often throughout the day. It’s key to functioning right.

  2. Eat more veggies. Eat the rainbow – aim for a variety of colors and get a serving at every meal.

What are the five best foods to incorporate into your diet?

  1. Oatmeal. It’s a great source of carb energy for athletes. It’s also high in fiber, which keeps you full longer and helps maintain glucose levels.

  2. Olive oil. Its monounsaturated fats have anti-inflammatory benefits. And it’s easy to cook with or drizzle on salads or veggies.

  3. Salmon. It’s packed with protein and anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats, which can help you recover faster.

  4. Nuts and (natural) nut butters. They’re a natural combo of protein and healthy fats.

  5. Berries. They contain antioxidants, which help protect against oxidative stress and free radicals that form in the body during strenuous physical activity.

What’s one change an athlete can make to their nutrition plan that will get the best results?

Eating protein at every meal. Research shows that 20-35 grams of protein initiates protein synthesis in most athletes, depending on their size. Our bodies are in constant flux of protein breakdown and synthesis, so if we can give our body amino acids – the building blocks of protein – during the day, we can maximize our protein balance.

How do you teach your athletes about gut health?

I speak to athletes about the importance of gut health for performance and well-being. I always recommend a food product or supplement to make sure they’re giving their gut good bacteria and getting its benefits. I also show them how overtraining and exercise can break down and cause “leaky gut,” making them more susceptible to illness.

What nutrition trends are you paying attention to?

  1. A low carb/high fat diet for endurance athletes to improve fat metabolism

  2. Super foods like kale, açai berries, chia seeds, matcha and kefir

  3. DHA and brain health, particularly for post-concussion recovery

  4. Supplements, including phosphatidic acid as a potential supplement for strength gains

  5. Regulation of supplement safety

Follow Jordan on twitter.

Athletes and Inflammation – when is it too much?

The gut is an often overlooked part of the body that regulates inflammation. Athletes training with heavy loads are at an increased risk for infection, which requires them to pay greater attention to nutritional strategies used to mediate inflammation. This recovery should include probiotics, which have demonstrated to be a promising nutritional intervention to control and alleviate inflammation.  

Before reading this blog, check out Immunity and Worldwide Competition because it explains how probiotics strengthen immunity and gut health, which will help you understand this blog’s discussion of probiotics and inflammation. 

In this blog, we will explain: 
The process of inflammation

The association between exercise and inflammation

How probiotics regulate inflammation

Probiotics and their effect on exercise-induced airway inflammation and infection

Inflammation

Inflammation is a protective reaction by the body in response to an injury or infection. It results in increased blood flow to the problematic area (redness), increased body temperature (heat), fluid accumulation and pain (caused by the release of chemicals from damaged cells). 

For athletes, exercise-induced muscle damage accompanied with inflammation may first come to mind when thinking about inflammation in general. This acute muscle inflammation from intense or prolonged training occurs when muscles undergo small micro-tears (i.e., small injuries) that cause an acute inflammatory response. Acute inflammation is not a serious problem, and the body repairs this following a workout. It is actually thought to be a part of the normal adaptation to exercise. 

It is the underemphasized chronic inflammation in the gut that may disrupt normal body functions and impair adaptations to exercise. Chronic inflammation results from stressors (e.g., heavy training, poor quality sleep, alcohol, unhealthful diet, etc.) and poor recovery from intensive training – in turn, overtraining. Poor gut health can lead to inflammation in the body, and probiotics are a recovery tool that may mitigate the negative effects of chronic inflammation and reduce the risk of overtraining. 

Exercise & Inflammation

Endurance exercise impacts inflammation throughout the body. Intense training causes acute inflammation, which is comparable to what results in patients with sepsis (i.e., inflammation throughout the body when the body releases chemicals to fight an infection) and trauma. Strenuous exercise increases the amount of pro-inflammatory cytokines, such as TNF-alpha, IL-1, IL-6, TNF receptors and anti-inflammatory modulators such as IL-10 and IL-8. 

Endurance exercise reduces the flow of blood, oxygen and nutrients to the gut, increases the permeability of the gut wall and lowers the thickness of the gut mucosal layer, which results in an inflammatory immune response – “leaky gut.” This is why the mucosal immune system has an important function – to control responses to antigens, which will control inflammation. 

The inflammatory responses generated from intense exercise are fought by gut microbiota and their short-chain fatty acids (see below) that reduce gut permeability and stop the release of inflammatory cytokines. It is suggested that the anti-inflammatory effects of gut microbiota may help delay fatigue during endurance exercise. 

Exercise-Induced Airway Inflammation

One of the consequences of prolonged inflammation is impairment of the immune system. Upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs) (e.g., the common cold and inflammation of the trachea and larynx) are common among highly trained and elite athletes because they are more susceptible to weakened immune systems. The causes of URTIs are considered unclear, but most are caused by viral infections and inhaled allergens. Airway inflammation has been reported not only after intense exercise, but also during resting among endurance athletes, swimmers and cross-country skiers.

Some studies were not able to identify pathogens causing a URTI. The unidentified URTIs were reported as being shorter in duration and lower in severity compared to infectious URTIs. As a result of the high amount of assessments that had an ‘unidentified’ cause, this led to the exploration of inflammation not associated with infection among athletes. 

Similar symptoms (e.g., sore throat, fatigue, headache, runny nose, etc.) of URTIs can also be the result of inflammation caused by inhaling cold, dry or polluted air (i.e., climate conditions), stress on the airways or dehydration, which occur because of the decrease in the integrity of the respiratory cell membranes. 

Numerous studies have reported aeroallergen sensitivity in 20-40% of athletes, which resulted in allergic rhinoconjunctivitis (i.e., a condition with nasal congestion, runny nose, post-nasal drip, sneezing, red eyes and/or itchy nose/eyes). Other studies found a 40-50% prevalence of allergic rhinoconjunctivitis among Olympic athletes.

There is a link between training volume and risk of respiratory illness. Training at a high intensity and/or high volume increases susceptibility to infection because of changes in immunity, which include a decrease in salivary IgA and an increase in pro-inflammatory cytokines.

Salivary IgA concentration or excretion rate is used to evaluate the effect of exercise on mucosal protection and associations with URTIs. An increased risk for URTIs for elite athletes is associated with low levels of salivary IgA and/or excretion rates, low pre-season salivary IgA levels and decreasing levels over training. It is suggested that probiotics help increase saliva IgA levels.

URTIs are prevalent among athletes and regardless of what is causing the URTI, their recurrence among athletes can cause fatigue that negatively impacts training and performance. As we will discuss further, probiotics – because of their ability to strengthen immunity and regulate inflammation – are a practical nutritional intervention to prevent or lower the chance of getting a URTI. 

In summary, athletes experience inflammation from: 

1) intense training that disrupts the gut barrier function

2) stressors (e.g., poor sleep, poor diet, alcohol, intense training, etc) that negatively alter the healthy balance of gut microbiota

3) non-infectious causes that impact the respiratory system.

Managing inflammation is critical to optimal recovery and in turn performance. Now let's see how probiotics play a role in this management. 

Probiotics Regulate Inflammation

First and foremost, a balanced gut microbiota is highly important because good gut bacteria can strengthen immunity. A decrease in the prevalence of this good microbiota can lead to the growth of bad bacteria that activate immune cells and suppress important regulatory factors (e.g., decreased synthesis of immunoglobulin A (IgA) and lower levels of important anti-inflammatory cytokines such as IL-10 and TGF-ß). This dysbiosis can lead to chronic inflammation. The science suggests that probiotic supplementation may reverse dysbiosis, return the gut to a healthy gut and bring inflammation under control. 

Probiotics regulate inflammation by:

Maintaining the gut barrier. A weak gut barrier occurs when there are gaps between the cells that line the intestinal wall. These gaps are a critical factor in the initiation of chronic inflammation. Certain molecules that shouldn’t cross the gut barrier (e.g., metabolic waste and undigested food) and bad bacteria (which can release the endotoxin lipopolysaccharide (LPS) from their cell wall) can enter the blood because of increased gut wall permeability. This is referred to as “leaky gut” and causes endotoxemia, which is pro-inflammatory. The continual release of LPS in the blood leads to low-grade inflammation. Treatment of low-level endotoxemia focuses on repairing the permeability of the gut barrier (i.e., strengthening it). Certain probiotic strains can enhance the integrity and function of the gut barrier by:

  • Strengthening the physical barrier. Some probiotic strains can reduce the pro-inflammatory cytokine tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha), which causes a leaky gut.
  • Increasing mucin production. The mucosal immune system functions as a barrier and it protects the mucosal layer of the GI, urogenital and respiratory tracts. Probiotics can impact the development and maintenance of the mucosal layer.
  • Producing antimicrobial peptides. These small peptides are a primary defense on mucosal surfaces, especially for alleviating acute inflammation. Certain probiotics are considered powerful activators for producing and regulating antimicrobial peptides.
  • Alleviating the effects of bad bacteria. Probiotics can outcompete the bad bacteria to help maintain the gut barrier.

Increasing the production of short chain fatty acids (SCFAs). Bacteria produce SCFAs when they digest non-digestible carbohydrate (i.e., certain types of fiber). Of the SCFAs, butyrate is important in regulating inflammation because of its anti-inflammatory effects. Butyrate behaves as a:

  • Signaling molecule by blocking pathways that release pro-inflammatory cytokines
  • Regulator for the production of certain cytokines by affecting their ability to travel to sites of inflammation
  • Main source of energy for gut cells, which helps maintain the gut barrier
  • Attaching to immune system receptors to stimulate pathways that release cytokines associated with inflammation.

Not all probiotic strains have the same effects on different signaling pathways, but some can attach to immune system receptors and help certain pathways involved in maintaining the balance in the mucosal layer between pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory responses. This influences inflammation by enhancing the production of suppressive and regulatory cytokines.  

Don’t let chronic inflammation hold you back from training and competing. Optimal recovery begins with preparation through probiotic supplementation that will shut down stressors on the gut, which contribute to chronic inflammation and impede performance. 

by Katie Mark, MS

Katie Mark is currently a Master of Public Health candidate at Tufts University School of Medicine. She is a road cyclist working toward becoming a registered dietitian.

References

An Interview with Jacque Scaramella, MS, RD, CSSD –Sports Dietitian

Jacque Scaramella, MS, RD, CSSD at the 2016 Rio Olympics

Jacque Scaramella, MS, RD, CSSD at the 2016 Rio Olympics

What are one or two things that the recreational athlete can learn from an elite athlete to incorporate into their diet routine?

One of the most important aspects of performance nutrition is balancing your plate at meals and snack times based on training demands. This is something that elite level athletes put into daily practice surrounding training and competition. It is a great habit for recreational athletes to follow as well. By shaping your meals based on how easy or hard your training volume and intensity are, you are optimizing the fueling, replenishing and recovery of your body and muscles.

How does optimizing gut health fit into the diet and training plan for an elite athlete?

Regular probiotic intake is a beneficial preventative measure for elite athletes, especially surrounding travel. High volumes of training take a toll on an athlete’s immune system, increasing their susceptibility of acquiring upper respiratory tract infections and the common cold. Additionally, athletes that travel frequently for competition, especially internationally, have increased exposure to different bacteria and a higher risk of GI disorders.

Do you currently work with any athletes who may have issues with IBD, Celiac disease, and/or other chronic conditions for which optimizing their diet has considerably improved their condition?

Yes, of course. Competing or racing while dealing with GI issues significantly impacts performance. As a sports dietitian, one of our main goals is to help an athlete minimize any of these issues and develop an individualized fuel and recovery plan for them. We want to help them compete to the best of their abilities while making sure their performance is not compromised by any GI issues.  

What trends in diet and health are you embracing now that were not around 4 or 8 years ago?

The field of nutrition is very dynamic and the more research that comes out, the more we are able to take advantage of different foods for different functions. For example, our athletes take advantage of tart cherry juice and ginger to help decrease muscle soreness and inflammation, and reduce oxidative stress.  

How does the diet and routine of the athlete vary or change from 12 months out, to 6 months out, to being at the actual Olympic or Paralympic Games?

It is based on the periodization of the training cycle that the athletes are in throughout the year and what their goals are based on that cycle. Elite level athletes train at high volumes for most of the year, however, the style and goals of training change throughout the year. As it gets closer to a Games or major event there is more focus and dedication to consistent nutritious decisions. Nobody can or should be perfect 100% of the time. It is only healthy to have some fluctuation in your diet so that when you need to dial it in, you are ready to do that.

Many of the elite level athletes fine tune their body composition based on their performance goals to match the time they need to be at peak performance, like the Olympics or Paralympics. When preparing an athlete for a major event, we work with them to fine tune their fueling and recovery plans surrounding that competition. We take into account the athlete’s sport, preferences, lifestyle, and any other conditions that may impact their ability to optimally fuel and recover their bodies. This is a dynamic process and takes time and practice during training to figure out what works best for them. The best time to try nutrition strategies is during training when you’re 6-12 months out so that you have time to get in a routine well before the event.

How would you finish this statement?: "Although relatively new now, in 2020 Olympic athletes will all be using/doing/learning X."

Athletes will continue to benefit from advances in nutritional science over the next four years.  It would be great to see more specific advances in nutri-genomics related to the world of sports.