The role of the gut in the athlete’s body

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Jamie Pugh with Graeme Close

The gastrointestinal tract is well known for its role in digestion and absorption. However, it has also shown to contribute to our immune function and systemic levels of inflammation and it has even been suggested that it may affect higher cognitive functions via the gut-brain axis.However, despite its size and multitude of functions, the gut has rarely been thought of as an athletic organ and comparatively less research has been conducted on gut composition and function in athletes compared to other physiological systems (eg, the musculoskeletal system) and compared to the number of studies in clinical conditions (eg, obesity, IBS). Much of the research that has been conducted on the gut in reference to athletes has focused on the role of the gut in the following: immune function, water and nutrient (mostly carbohydrate) absorption during exercise, gastrointestinal (GI) complaints during exercise and, more recently, intestinal injury during exercise and the effect this may have on inflammation and nutrient absorption. This article will take a critical look at this and conclude with practical recommendations for the strength and conditioning (S&C) practitioner.

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