What do figure skating champions, pro ball players, marathoners, and you have in common? Odds are, you’re all athletes! Wait a minute, you may be thinking—me, an athlete? Doesn’t one need extreme strength, speed, stamina, or agility to qualify for that title? The truth is, the word athlete describes a much broader category of people than you may have thought. Discover what it really means to be an athlete, and how you can lovingly embrace the athlete that’s already inside you.
What Is an Athlete?
Could you actually be an athlete after all? And what does athletic mean in practical terms? Counting yourself among the athletes of the world may seem like a lot to wrap your head around if you’ve always thought of athletes as, well, other people, but maybe it’s time to reconsider.
Depending on which dictionary you consult, the term athlete refers to anything from one who is trained in exercises, sports, and games to someone who simply participates in them. What it comes down to is that an active lifestyle alone is all it takes to count yourself among the athletes of the world, which is such a powerful shift in thinking that you’ll begin to see almost every aspect of yourself in a whole, wonderful new way.
Cheering on Your Inner Athlete Begins With Nurturing Your Gut
Learning that you’re an authentic athlete is great news, because being an athlete comes with lots of health perks. One of the most important of these is a boost in gut health. It turns out that active folks generally have more diverse, healthier microbiomes than those who are more sedentary.1 And when you balance your gut through exercise, your entire body and mind benefit.
To make things even better, the relationship between exercise and the gut is circular. Being athletic improves microbial health—and improving microbial health helps you become a better athlete! That’s why one of the best ways to begin embracing and encouraging your inner athlete is to care for your friendly flora.
In addition to getting lots of fun, invigorating exercise, leading a gut-healthy lifestyle also involves eating a wide variety of whole plant foods (preferably organic), and avoiding processed foods, refined sugar, artificial additives, and GMOs—all of which are harmful to beneficial microbes. Spending time outdoors, getting enough sleep, making loving connections, reducing stress, practicing mindfulness, steering clear of antimicrobial cleansers, and avoiding antibiotic medicines (unless you absolutely need them) also all play a strong part in maintaining microbial balance.
Because modern life is tough on your microbial good guys, you may also want to supplement with high quality, time-released probiotics for men and women like PRO-15, which is tailored to the needs of those with active lifestyles, and contains organisms specially selected to support athletic performance. Additionally, since even with the best diet it can be challenging to consume enough prebiotic fiber to properly nourish your microbial community, you may want to sprinkle some organic prebiotic powder into your favorite healthy foods and beverages.
How Loving Your Gut Brings Out Your Athletic Side
Giving your gut bugs lots of love by enriching and supporting your microbial team enables you to be the best athlete you can possibly be in all these exciting areas:
- Energy and endurance: A healthy microbiome makes it easier to get and stay moving! Certain beneficial microbial strains work to create short-chain fatty acids that your body then draws on for lasting energy.2 And your healthy microbiome will keep you going, even in extreme heat and humidity. A recent study found that bringing more friendly flora on board through probiotic supplements helped healthy adults run longer in 95° heat before becoming fatigued.3
- Mental clarity: Athletics is as much a game of the head as it is the body, and science is revealing how probiotics can help support the state of mind required to stick it out when the going gets tough, by helping to produce and regulate brain chemicals like GABA and serotonin that reduce stress and create a calm, focused sense of well-being.4,5,6
- Recovery after workouts: As good for you as exercise is, it also produces some less than healthy effects—one of the most significant being that it bumps up cell-damaging free radicals and temporary inflammation that can make you more prone to injury and health issues. Your best defense is calling on your microbial good guys to aid in your body’s recovery process—studies indicate they can help with repairing muscle, maintaining blood sugar levels in a normal range, breaking down lactic acid, and synthesizing amino acids that restore the body to a balanced state.7,8,9,10 Introducing certain bacteria can even help counteract the free radical effects of exercise. In one study, athletes were able to increase antioxidant levels enough to neutralize post-workout free radicals after only four weeks of supplementation.11
- Strong bones and joints: Even when you’re respectful of your body’s limits, vigorous exercise can be tough on bones and joints, especially if you enjoy high impact workouts like running or martial arts. A healthy microbiome moderates this effect, since certain helpful strains produce vitamins and enzymes that support healthy bones and joints—as well as support a strong gut barrier and produce short-chain fatty acids.12,13,14
- Healthy weight management: When you’re at the perfect weight for your individual body, workouts are more fun and satisfying, and you can more fully experience the thrill of movement. Many folks turn to diet and exercise when they want to shed stubborn pounds, but scientists are learning that your microbial composition is actually a critical factor in determining whether or not you struggle with weight.15,16 When you’ve got the right microbes on board, they encourage healthy weight management by supporting optimum blood sugar levels already within the normal range, maintaining hormonal balance, keeping digestion comfortable, and discouraging stress.17,18,19,20 This is empowering knowledge, because taking care of your microbiome can provide major support for your healthy weight management journey. Multiple studies indicate that supplementing with probiotics can lead to significant losses in weight, BMI, and body fat.21,22
- Strong immune system: When you train heavily there is a window of time immediately following that can take a toll on your immune function, leaving you vulnerable to health issues that could derail your workout schedule.23 Since the bulk of your immune system resides in your gut though, supporting your microbial troops with probiotic supplements encourages your body’s defenses to neutralize this effect, so you are more likely to stay healthy and less likely to miss workouts.24,25
- Comfy digestion: An unsettled tummy takes all the fun out of exercise! After all, it’s almost impossible to feel motivated to get moving when temporary gas, bloating, and other digestive discomforts are literally cramping your style. But caring for your microbial health with targeted probiotics keeps you in the game by supporting your strong gut barrier and nutrient absorption.26,27 The result is that your whole digestive system keeps functioning more comfortably and efficiently, so you can play hard without interruptions for frequent restroom breaks.
More Ways to Give the Athlete Within Some Love
Here are a few additional strategies to help your inner athlete bloom into a true champion:
Set a Regular Time for Exercise
If you’re finding it challenging to fit workouts into your busy schedule, it’s helpful to designate a consistent time slot. Some people find it easiest to wake up 30 minutes to an hour earlier than usual and exercise before breakfast. Others enjoy working out during their lunch hour, or right after work. Everyone is unique, so experiment and see what feels right to you.
Team up With a Buddy
When motivation is the issue, making a pact with a workout buddy keeps you honest. After all, if you blow off your routine to curl up on the couch, you’d be letting him or her down, and vice versa. Having a friend to exercise with opens up your workout options too—you’ve got a built in partner for handball, frisbee golf, tennis, or yoga.
Move to the Beet
Conventional wisdom always held that while you could strengthen your heart—and even manufacture more red blood cells (thereby increasing blood oxygen levels) through exercise, you could never actually get more energy output from each oxygen molecule, no matter how much your fitness improved. The newest research debunks this theory once and for all by introducing beet juice to the equation—proving it’s not only possible, but very easy, to increase the efficiency of the body’s energy production. A groundbreaking study found that drinking beet juice before exercise improved endurance, and athletes required less oxygen to do the same amount of work than they would have otherwise!28
An even more recent study reveals that this effect isn’t restricted to beet juice—eating whole beets before workouts also significantly improves athletic performance. Adults running a 5K treadmill trail improved their running times after beetroot consumption, and experienced lower perceived exertion.29 As if this wasn’t enough reason to add beets to your pre-workout snack, beets are also an excellent source of gut-boosting prebiotics!
Soak in Some Magnesium
Magnesium is one of those nutrients that’s essential for all of the body’s systems to function properly—as well as to reach your full athletic potential. Unfortunately, even with a good, pure diet, it’s difficult to get enough of this valuable mineral, so much so that about 80% of Americans may be magnesium deficient.30 To make matters worse, when you exercise it can redistribute your body’s magnesium levels in a way that actually impairs athletic performance.31
Thankfully, magnesium is well absorbed topically, presenting an opportunity to compensate for this setback by simply massaging a high quality magnesium oil into the skin before workouts.31 The bonus is that magnesium oil is also great for soothing aching muscles, so it can do double duty when you re-apply it after particularly intense exercise.32
Give Yourself Time to Recover
To get the best results for your efforts, muscles need time to recover. You may want to alternate which areas of the body you challenge on any given day to allow at least 48 hours for your muscle tissue, which naturally sustains some damage during workouts, to build new protein strands and knit everything together.
Mix Things Up
Virtually all exercise falls into one or more of three major categories: cardio, strength, or flexibility. Each of these brings its own distinct rewards, so it’s best to incorporate all three into your workout plan. Rather than just sticking to a single sport, you might want to combine running (cardio), weight training (strength), and yoga (flexibility/strength) in the rotation, and/or favor sports that cover all the bases, such as gymnastics, certain types of dance, and parkour.
Be Open to New Adventures
To avoid boredom (and plateaus!), free up your adventurous side by trying brand new types of workouts periodically. Have you ever wondered what it would be like to do aerial fabric dancing? How about Krav Maga? Perhaps you’ve always fantasized about playing on a local softball team. Your next workout adventure awaits!
Inside each of us resides a strong and frankly badass athlete that thrives in the exhilaration of movement and delights in pushing limits. As you become a loving mentor to your inner athlete , your gains will extend much further than just building a beautiful athletic body. As your athletic side begins to shine, your health, self-image, confidence, and outlook will rise up as well—leaving you feeling like a winner in every way imaginable.
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Roberta Pescow is a writer at Hyperbiotics and proud mom of two amazing and unique young men. Natural wellness is a subject she’s passionate about, so she loves sharing information that helps others discover all the ways probiotics support glowing health and well-being. To learn more about how a healthy microbiome can enrich your life, subscribe to our newsletter.