Enhancing body and mind performance: it all starts in the gut! by Ryre Lee Cornish

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In this blog article, Ryre from Move Nourish Change (MNC) and lecturer on module 2 of the Certificate of Integrative Sports Nutrition, interviews an amateur cyclist, looking to improve her body and mind performance. The demands of her job and exercise routine require her to be in top shape. Since her recent coeliac diagnosis, she sought out support from MNC to improve her flagging performance in all areas of life.

Q: Let’s start off by looking at how nutrition has improved your performance? 

A: I started from a fairly good foundation as I’ve always naturally eaten quite well. However, my coeliac diagnosis left me confused, so I sought help from MNC. Working with MNC allowed me to reduce my symptoms and focus on a strong foundation of gut health – this was needed before being able to optimise my nutrition for performance. Nutritional advice from MNC has always provided new focus and renewed energy – it’s so easy to form habits, and sometimes just tweaking a few things can make a big difference.

Q: Can you give us a brief overview of what was the starting point to improving your symptoms?

MNC explained that phase 1 was to focus on stabilising my symptoms. I completed a food diary (it’s always amazing to see what and when you eat when you write it down), and a food intolerance test, which highlighted a high volume of intolerances – almost pseudo intolerances since the volume of reaction indicated the underlying reason for my symptoms. The testing directly aided shaping a plan of removal and restoration over eight weeks, supported with supplements. I removed certain foods from my diet – those that were compromising my immune system, and I started to notice improvements to my symptoms.

Q: How long did this last for and did you find it challenging?

A: It was of course challenging to cut out and reduce my intake of a high volume of foods – a lot of which were foods I really enjoyed, like avocado and berries! I didn’t reduce volume (my friends will know how much I eat!), but found substitutes. MNC helped by providing guidance and even recipes. The plan was always reintroduction, so knowing this helped. Initially, I was concerned that the removal of foods could impact how I felt and my performance, but I soon started to feel better and my training never suffered.

Q: Are you an advocate of functional testing?

A: There is no getting around the fact that functional testing is expensive. However, when you think about it in terms of value, an investment in your health, then I definitely think it’s worth doing if it’s recommended. I trust the advice from MNC and I know tests aren’t recommended unless they inform intervention. My functional test went beyond my coeliac diagnosis and gave me information on how my gut was functioning and why I was experiencing certain symptoms. Using the test allowed for much quicker diagnosis and progress.

Q: What did the functional test reveal?

A: The functional stool test ruled out a parasite or bacterial infection – good news. However, my bacteria were imbalanced and needed additional support. I was advised to introduce some antimicrobial foods (coconut oil, garlic, curcumin, manuka honey, olive oil, ginger, pumpkin seeds) to ensure that my good bacteria could thrive to support my gut function. The test also indicated that I needed more support with my digestive function – this became Phase 2 of my programme. I wasn't digesting sufficiently, so I wasn't absorbing all my nutrients to perform at my best. You can put good food in, but sometimes the gut needs support to absorb nutrients especially when there is a lot of inflammation caused by stress (training stress on top of the usual stresses that we all have). I also introduced some lifestyle changes – thinking more about my food, not doing things at the same time as eating (putting my phone away) and trying not to eat on the run.

Q: Any nutritional tips you would like to share?

A: On long rides or multi-day events, I try and keep food as varied as possible to avoid palate fatigue. I tend to eat primal pantry cereal bars (mostly dates, nuts and seeds) when I’m on the bike. After a big race, I often wear compression leggings to bed (attractive I know!). At a minimum, on a physiological level, it helps. Also, be well hydrated before a race – I’ve recently started taking electrolytes the day and night before. 

Nourish your gut! It’s the only place you can absorb nutrients, which will not only keep you healthy but, give you your edge!