This one is super common among endurance athletes! Quite often it is brushed off with the excuse that “I’m training enough to burn off this sugar anyway”. This excuse might have some validity, but there’s a much healthier way.
Gut dysbiosis refers to the imbalance and dysfunction of bacteria in your digestive system (from your mouth, all the way to the exit). Putting it very simply, you have good and bad bacteria living on you and in you always. In fact, you are 10 times more bacterial cells than you are human cells… So if you really think about it, who’s carrying who around? Ideally we should have 85% good bacteria and 15% bad. When this ratio falls out of balance – because of the toxins we eat, drink, put on our skin and breathe, or the daily stresses we encounter – adverse health effects can ensue. This can be a multitude of things, affecting our mental clarity and mood right through to the condition of our blood and bones. It will also grossly affect the way we handle sugar.
Bad bacteria love sugar. They thrive on it, growing and multiplying, and ultimately increasing your cravings for more of it! Unfortunately, it is a vicious cycle of craving sugar, eating sugar, feeding those bad bacteria so that they multiply and then you crave even more sweetness. Interestingly, your body and these nasty bacteria also recognise processed foods as a type of sugar. This includes all of the additives and preservatives in packaged foods; those chemicals represented by numbers and fancy words like “antioxidant 319”. As a runner, it can be an eye-opening exercise to simply read the ingredients list of your favourite energy gels or protein bars. Armed with this knowledge, it might start to make sense to you why you’re always craving the sweet hit that these laboratory made “foods” provide. Sure, the back to back training sessions you’ve just done are going to increase your appetite, but is that desire for sweetness driven by the exercise you did or the bad bacteria taking hold of your gut?
The only way to truly answer this question is to cut out the processed sugars, additives and preservatives and replace them with high quality natural carbohydrates and healthful fats. Real foods like banana, kumara (sweet potato) and organic brown rice will fuel the good bacteria in your gut whilst starving the bad bacteria to death (literally). Quality fat sources like avocados, nuts, coconut oil and butter will also strengthen the gut bacterial ratio. Of course, good carbs and fats will provide you with the energy you need to train harder and longer, as well! If you’re really serious about it, I’d recommend supplementing your gut health with daily doses of apple cider vinegar and homemade probiotics such as sauerkraut and bone broth.
If you do it right and you do it well, the balance of bacteria in your gut can begin to change within days and those strong sugar cravings can abate within a week. I was a great sceptic of all of this hype, but the changes that I experienced when I switched up my fuel supply to primarily fats with some powerful natural carbs were inarguable. My appetite decreased – especially for sweet stuff – and my recovery and performance raced upwards. I even shed a few kilograms.
The next step in knocking off the sugar cravings is to switch your body’s primary fuel source to fats. That means that even when you’re plonked on the couch with your feet up, your body is burning fat instead of carbohydrates. It’s a conversation for another day, and you'll be able to read about it in articles to come.
If this sounds like you, and you could do with some help in switching up your fuel source in order to cut the cravings and boost your performance, get in touch, and you absolutely do not want to miss our upcoming Eat To Run Webinar.
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