Gut health is a trending hot topic. It has been so for the last few years.
Is it relevant to dancers?
If you have a healthy gut then you can minimise the negative effects of strenuous training, promote adequate and timely recovery, and keep yourself strong both physically and mentally.
Here is why
Your gut microbiota (that is, the whole environment and microorganisms living in the digestive tract) promotes digestion and food absorption for energy production.
It can control oxidative stress and inflammatory responses.
It can also neutralise carcinogens, modulate intestinal motility (movement of food through the digestive tract), protect you from pathogens and mature the immune system (which means less colds, flu’s and infections!)
Intense physical training, like dancing and sports activities, can impact the gut microbiota in a not-so-helpful way.
When you are dancing and training, particularly at higher intensities, your blood pools away from your digestive tract to the more relevant muscles and organs like the heart and lungs. This can disrupt the intestinal barrier and promote inflammatory responses. It also leads to the release of hormones (e.g. GABA, NPY and dopamine – more on these at another time!) that can cause gastrointestinal disturbances, anxiety, reduced food intake (intentional or unintentional) and less stress-coping abilities.
Sounds like the gut needs some TLC to cope with all these, doesn’t it?
The quite fascinating thing is that dietary changes can affect more than 50% of gut microbiota changes.
In dancers, like athletes, where the focus of eating is often on simple carbohydrates (for that “quick energy lift”) and animal protein (for muscle recovery and synthesis), it can be easy to fall short on fibre and resistant starch, which are the keys to improving the gut microbiota. Mind you, the simple carbohydrates and animal protein are still needed.
How do you improve your gut health?
Feed them the foods they like the most – dietary fibre and resistant starch.
The health-promoting bacteria in the gut love these two and by feeding them well, they’ll grow in numbers and strength.
Fibre is found in whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts and seeds – pretty much all plant foods are good source of fibre.
Resistant starch is found in starchy foods and the amount will depend on how the food is prepared. The name comes from the fact that this starch doesn’t get broken down and absorbed in the stomach but rather gets fermented in the gut to create health-promoting substances. Cooked and cooled rice/pasta/potatoes/corn, oats, barley, firm bananas, lentils, peas and beans are all very rich in resistant starch.
How much do I need?
Now, that depends on your unique needs, goals, medical/diet history and eating habits.
But I can give you a general guide to start you off.
Are you enjoying 5 serves of veggies and 2 serves of fruit a day?
Are you enjoying more than 4 serves of grain foods (rice, pasta, bread etc) a day?
Do you regularly eat legumes and/or nuts?
If you’ve answered yes to all then you’re on a good way to a healthful gut!
On the other hand, if you’ve noticed you’re short on some of those above, you now know what to start adding to your meals and/or snacks.
Clark A., and Mach N. Exercise-induced stress behavior, gut-microbiota-brain axis and diet: a systematic review for athletes. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2016;13:43.
Cronin O., O’Sullivan O., Barton W., Cotter P.D., Molloy M.G. and Shanahn F. Gut microbiota: implications for sports and exercise medicine. Br J Sports Med. 2017;51:700-701.
Mayer E. The Mind-Gut Connection – How the hidden conversation within our bodies impacts our mood, our choices, and our overall health. HarperWave. 2016.