The ability of an athlete to achieve peak performance is directly influenced by a combination of overall muscular performance, balanced immune functioning, and biological stress tolerance and adaptation1. In competition, the gut is an essential organ for facilitating both nutrient and water uptake2, and has thus become recognized as a critical pivot point for determining overall health and performance by playing a substantial role in athletic adaptation and regeneration1. Unfortunately, the gut itself is not considered an athletic organ, and under the intensive mechanical and biochemical stress experienced by athletes, the gut lining becomes unable to adapt and rebuild at a rapid enough pace, thus resulting in damage3.
Why Athletes May Have Poor Gut Health
Gastrointestinal distress is a common complaint during training, with research showing this damage to occur in up to 50% of endurance athletes1, 3. These athletes commonly demonstrate symptoms of reduced gut integrity such as cramping, pain, bloating and diarrhea1, with an outcome of overall reduced performance and frequent illness2. Additionally, due to the prevalence of maldigestion, malabsorption and decreased gastrointestinal blood flow, insufficient nutrient and water availability can often persist in spite of seemingly adequate intake3.
With these considerations in mind, appropriate maintenance of gut health is undoubtedly an essential strategy for maximizing athletic performance and recovery, while protecting against frequent illness and gastrointestinal distress1-3.
How to Maximize Gut Health and Performance
One of the best-demonstrated strategies for attenuating the deleterious effects of exercise-induced damage is through supplementation of glutamine, a free amino acid abundant in human plasma and muscle. Glutamine is essential for appropriate repair and immune functioning and, under catabolic conditions such as endurance training and high intensity exercise, has shown to drop below normal biological levels. Furthermore, the direct impact of intensive exercise on decreased glutamine levels may be cumulative, and has been suggested as a potential cause of the compromised immune functioning and increased susceptibility to illness experienced by athletes4.
In several studies, glutamine supplementation has demonstrated to enhance gut health, significantly improving integrity of the intestinal lining while decreasing gastrointestinal distress5,6 in as little as 10 days6. Glutamine has also shown the capacity to enhance recovery by curtailing the immunosuppressive effects of intensive training7, reducing the rise in recovery phase fatigue factors8 and restoring overall immune functioning7.
In addition to improving biological markers of health, glutamine has also shown to directly strengthen sports performance, with supplementation demonstrating to enhance upper and lower body reaction time9, prevent reductions in maximal aerobic power10, and produce vastly superior improvements in both exercise performance and tolerance11 compared to other common methods of athletic rehydration alone.
With the apparent importance of gut health in athletics, the incorporation of glutamine into a routine supplement schedule can provide a simple and effective strategy for maintaining overall health and enhancing sports performance. And after all, a healthy body makes for a high-performance athlete!
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