Diet and your gut health


Our guts are home to trillions of bacteria, some good, some bad. What is most certain is that they have a tremendous impact on our health. These organisms in our gut, or intestinal microbiome, can be influenced by several factors including where you live, stress, and alcohol. But it is believed that our diet has the greatest impact on our gut’s microbiome. Disruption of this delicate system has been linked to an array of maladies including obesity, diabetes, and depression. More and more research is demonstrating that these bacteria have a far greater influence on our general health than we thought.

The traditional Western diet consisting of high fat, high protein, and more than a modest amount of alcohol has been shown to alter the gut’s microbiome in a negative way. The Western diet leads to alterations in the gut’s protective function. Because of this, toxins leak from the gut and into our bloodstream resulting in low grade inflammation. The Western diet has been linked with cardiovascular disease and diabetes – both associated with increased levels of inflammation in the body.

Most research has compared the traditional Western diet with vegetarianism, which not surprisingly is not associated with leaky guts and inflammation. But if you’re reading this you’re probably not eating fast food or buying your groceries at places that also sell clothes and lawn supplies. You may adhere to the Paleo diet, or even be strictly vegan. Although, we know that these diets affect the composition of the gut microbiome I have yet to find research that compares their influence on the protective and more beneficial bacteria of the gut (if you are aware of such research, please share it with us!)

Although, there have been studies showing that high protein and high fat diets contribute to alterations in the gut’s microbiome that result in inflammation and even colon cancer, the types of protein and fats the studies were using are not characteristic of a Paleo diet or any other (non-Western) that focuses on high fat and high protein. There is clearly a difference between lard (used in one comparative study) and the fat found in almonds and avocados.

I think the common thread that connects all “bad” diets is not necessarily a food group, but rather how processed it is, in other words, how far removed is it from it’s original natural source. What is most important for our gut health, in my opinion, is not the food group we consume most of but whether it is real–whole foods. As this article from Nature points out, our bodies have learned to adapt to various diets:

Our findings that the human gut microbiome can rapidly switch between herbivorous and carnivorous functional profiles may reflect past selective pressures during human evolution. Consumption of animal foods by our ancestors was likely volatile, depending on season and stochastic foraging success, with readily available plant foods offering a fallback source of calories and nutrients. Microbial communities that could quickly, and appropriately, shift their functional repertoire in response to diet change would have subsequently enhanced human dietary flexibility.

What is clear is that our body’s adaptation to the modern diet is anything but adaptive. Ultimately, you need to determine what foods are best for you knowing that your gut’s microbiome is influenced by many factors including genetics, where you live, but most importantly your diet. Perhaps, less attention needs to be on whether one specific diet is better, and simply focusing on eating real food – as Jennifer Aniston said “just stop eating shit.”


What athletes should know about leaky gut


You have probably heard the term "leaky gut" before, but what does the science actually say  about this phenomenon and how does it relate to endurance athletes?

When we talk about leaky gut, we are really referring to an increase in intestinal permeability. This does not mean that there are holes in the intestines, but rather that the spaces between the cells that make up the intestinal lining have widened. Normally, intestinal cells are closely packed next to each other to form tight junctions that only let small molecules pass from the intestines into the bloodstream. During times of increased permeability, the tight junctions loosen giving larger molecules and toxins the opportunity to leak into the bloodstream.

Increased intestinal permeability is a particularly important issue for endurance athletes because exercise has been shown to draw blood flow away from the gut which increases permeability and may lower the efficacy of the immune system. This can lead to common side effects that many endurance experience such as cramps, diarrhea, nausea, and an increased risk of infection. One study found that permeability increases with running intensity so the harder you train, the higher your risk for these adverse effects. But don’t worry, no one is telling you to lighten up on your training! There is actually a way to help prevent the exercise-induced increase in permeability: probiotics.

Probiotics have been shown to prevent intestinal permeability and even prevent exercise-induced permeability specifically. The idea is that probiotics form a protective barrier around the intestinal cells which reduces permeability and supports the immune system. This may explain why probiotic supplementation is associated with fewer gastrointestinal and respiratory illnesses in athletes.

Probiotic supplements are a great tool to help you stay healthy while training hard, but be sure to choose your probiotic wisely. If you read our post on why probiotic strains matter, you will remember that a probiotic should contain the types that have been shown to result in the benefits you are looking for you.

by Katelyn Collins

Katelyn Collins, is a future registered dietitian with a passion for probiotics, a knack for nutrition communications, and a love of athletic pursuits on both land and sea.


It's All About the Strains


Would you use a pack of chihuahuas to pull your dog sled or give your grandmother a Saint Bernard as a lap dog? Even though all dogs are from the same species and subspecies, Canis lupus familiaris, their traits and behaviors vary by breed. Similarly, even though bacteria from the same species may share certain characteristics, their functions can vary by strain.

When you buy a bottle of probiotics, the genus and the species are used to identify the different types of bacteria in the product. For example, in Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus is the genus and acidophilus is the species. Some companies also include the strain at the end of the name. The strain may appear as letters (Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG), numbers (Bifidobacterium infantis 35624), or a combination. There is no standardized format for strain naming, so you may even see the company name within the strain name. Regardless of the naming system used, strains help us distinguish between benign, helpful, or harmful bacteria from the same species.

Probiotics are often called “beneficial bacteria” because these particular species provide a helpful service for us. When research is performed on probiotics to investigate the positive effects, only one strain of a particular species is tested. Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG is an extensively studied bacterial strain that has been shown to reduce diarrhea and shorten the duration of GI-symptom episodes in marathon trainees. But just because one strain of Lactobacillus rhamnosus shows a therapeutic effect, does not mean that all strains of this species will have the same benefit.

When purchasing probiotics, it’s essential to identify what you hope to achieve by taking them and then select a probiotic that uses strains that have been shown to provide the benefits you are looking for. If you are searching for a probiotic supplement to support your endurance racing, as I assume you are, then you've found the right place

by Katelyn Collins

Katelyn Collins, is a future registered dietitian with a passion for probiotics, a knack for nutrition communications, and a love of athletic pursuits on both land and sea.


Prebiotics and Probiotics: The Perfect Pair


You may have noticed that some probiotic supplements contain “prebiotics”, but what are prebiotics exactly and what do they have to do with probiotics?

Prebiotics are a type of fiber that resist digestion. Instead of being broken down by acids or enzymes in our digestive tracts, prebiotics pass through intact and are fermented by the beneficial bacteria that live in our large intestine. This fermentation process produces short chain fatty acids (such as butyrate) which support normal intestinal function and inhibit growth of pathogens.

Prebiotics occur naturally in a variety of foods and are often isolated and added to products to increase their fiber content. Some common prebiotics are fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) from agave, inulin from chicory root, beta-glucans from oats and baker’s yeast, and resistant starch from potatoes.

You may have seen one or more of the above ingredients included in a probiotic supplement. This is because probiotics are living organisms that need nourishment in order grow and function properly. When you take a probiotic supplement, the probiotic organisms will consume the prebiotic which will allow them to colonize the large intestine and carry out their valuable functions. Simply put, prebiotics feed probiotics.

When shopping for a probiotic, be sure to keep the type of prebiotic in mind. Fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) are commonly found in probiotic supplements, but they may cause negative side effects in some people. FOS has been found to cause digestive disturbances, especially flatulence and bloating. If you have ever been doubled over in pain after an excessive amount of onions, you have experienced the effects of too much FOS.

Since GI complaints are so common among athletes we wanted to avoid these potential side effects. Instead, Sound Probiotics contain the prebiotic beta-glucan which has been shown to increase the performance of various probiotics. Additionally, beta-glucans have been found to decrease upper respiratory infection severity and duration and may even prevent respiratory symptoms following a marathon.

Clearly, prebiotics are necessary to optimize the benefits of probiotic supplements, but not all prebiotics are the same. Beta-glucans are effective prebiotics that also have the added benefit of boosting the immune system like the probiotics they support.

by Katelyn Collins

Katelyn Collins, is a future registered dietitian with a passion for probiotics, a knack for nutrition communications, and a love of athletic pursuits on both land and sea.

The Yogurt Myth

Have you ever noticed on the back of yogurt containers the phrase “contains live and active cultures” and the names of those “cultures”? You are probably most familiar with Lactobacillus, but did you know there are many species of probiotics as well as many more strains within these species? These various probiotics have different effects in your body. You can think of them as individual medicines. Probiotics have been shown to have a multitude of beneficial effects in humans, but the effects are specific to each species. Consumers need to be aware of what effects they are seeking in a probiotic product and not assume that the container of yogurt is going to be enough. 

In 2005 Dannon released Activia in the US market. You will probably recall Jamie Lee Curtis touting the benefits of Activia. Without getting into the research behind the probiotic strain they used in Activia, Bifidus regularis, what resulted from this marketing campaign was the misconception that this yogurt (or any one functional food) could be a probiotic panacea – eating a container of yogurt would solve all your health issues.

We completely support eating real-whole foods that naturally contain probiotics (kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut, etc), but recognize they are a part of a larger diet, a diet that supports one's overall health. Because probiotics have strain specific effects I can’t assume the bottle of kombucha I just bought is going to improve my mood (which is unfortunate as I’m rather grouchy from a delayed flight). The medical and scientific community recognize the specific effects of probiotics and I assure you there will be more prescription probiotics in the near future as the pharmaceutical industry begins to patent specific strains. The point is this: eat probiotic foods for your overall good health, but consume specific probiotics for your specific goals. If you're an athlete (and you know you are!) and you want to avoid getting sick, improve your gut function, and increase nutrient absorption – well you've found the right place.