Gut health for Triathletes

Gut health for Triathletes

img23 September 2019

Gut health. It’s a #trend word at the moment, but there’s a good reason for it. Beyond the fermented foods, probiotic supplements, kombucha teas, sourdough bread and sauerkraut, there are many ways we can alter our diet to create a healthy gut which can also support our training and performance.

You’re probably familiar with the word probiotics, because often people take them to boost their good gut bugs to improve their gut and bowel health. Probiotics are also found in fermented foods like sourdough bread, yoghurt, sauerkraut, kimchi and miso. But for probiotics to create good gut bugs and grow, they need a fertiliser, like plants do. And their fertiliser is prebiotics.

Prebiotics are the non-digestible parts of foods that move into our large intestine to be broken down. Most prebiotic foods (see the list below) are full of fibre…which a lot of us try to avoid around training or racing to reduce the risk of gut upsets. But these fibres are super important for our overall health – supporting not only our gut health, but also bowel health (digestion) and keeping our immune system strong.

Interestingly, studies have found that not eating enough resistant starch may reduce our gut bug diversity and function. They’ve suggested our gut microbiota (the group of bugs) may play a key role in helping control and manage exercise induced inflammation and stress in the body when exercising at a moderate to high intensity (over 60% VO2 max).

So, for triathletes who don’t eat enough fibre or resistant starch, this could compromise immune function – increasing the risk of getting sick (which is common with increased training loads) and therefore needing time off training or having to miss races…which we don’t want!

When I talk about this with my triathletes, they often ask, “so how do I eat enough fibre each day but not get issues when training?” And there’s a few strategies you can try to do this. My favourite, which I think is achievable for most triathletes, is:

  1. Eating simple lower fibre carbohydrates around training (1-2 hours before): like white bread with spread, fruit you’re comfortable with, fruit juice, milk, yoghurt, rice puff bars, white rice, quick oats.
  2. Eat whole grains and high fibre foods in recovery meals and throughout the day, such as: grain bread, brown rice, fruits and vegetables with the skin on, beans, lentils, rolled oats.
  3. Increase your water intake throughout the day. Often when you start to increase your fibre intake or eat more resistant starch foods you can experience gas or bloating. This is normal for your body as a way of processing the food and it will adjust.

*It’s important to note that everyone responds differently to food. Some people may be fine exercising soon after eating high fibre foods, others may not. So, take note if you experience any symptoms and if they continue, chat with an Accredited Practising Dietitian or Sports Dietitian.

Prebiotic Foods

  • Wholegrains: Barley, rye bread and crackers, pasta, gnocchi, couscous, wheat bran, wheat bread, oats
  • Vegetables: Jerusalem artichokes, chicory, garlic, onion, leek, shallots, spring onion, asparagus, beetroot, fennel bulb, green peas, snow peas, sweetcorn, savoury cabbage
  • Legumes: Chickpeas, kidney beans, baked beans, soybeans, lentils
  • Fruit: Custard apples, nectarines, white peaches, tamarillo, persimmon, watermelon, grapefruit, pomegranate, dried fruit (figs, dates)
  • Nuts: Cashews, pistachios
  • Human breast milk
  • Resistant Starch foods (type of fibre): Cooked and cooled rice and potato; Cooked and cooled (and reheated) pasta; raw rolled oats; Firm, unripe bananas and banana flour

Christie Johnson
(AG AUS Triathlete & Accredited Practising Dietitian at


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