Regular exercise is an optimum way to promote longevity, ward off disease and maintain a healthy body weight. But as many endurance athletes know, extreme exercise can increase the risk of infections and gastrointestinal (GI) disturbances.
One possible cause is that high-performance exercise can lead to harmful changes in the gut. During exercise blood flow is shunted away from the digestive system to working muscles providing them with much needed oxygen and nutrients. The repeated undersupply of blood in the GI tract can cause inflammation and stress leading to increased intestinal wall permeability, commonly known as, “leaky gut”. Suffering from leaky gut can increase one’s susceptibility to infections and GI trouble.
There is hope; however, for ailing athletes. One area of scientific research gaining much attention is the health promoting properties of probiotics.
Probiotics simply refer to live micro-organism that have positive effects on our health when consumed. Studies on athletes taking probiotics have shown both a reduction in the incidence and duration of respiratory tract infections and GI episodes compared to those athletes given a placebo.
These beneficial bacteria are credited with improving the integrity of our intestinal barrier so unfriendly microbes can’t slip through causing infection and illness. Research also showed that consuming probiotics regularly increased the body’s production of immune boosting antibodies.
While there are many bottled probiotics on the market, there is another way to ensure your body reaps the rewards of these marvellous microbes. The trick? Consuming a variety of fermented foods.
Fermented foods, such as yogurt, kimchi and miso, are not only loaded with beneficial flora, they also increase the availability of tough-to-absorb minerals including iron, zinc and calcium – key nutrients for the active athlete.
Don’t be afraid to try your hand at fermenting at home. Follow this easy-to-make kraut to add to your salads, chicken and pork dishes, on top of grains or anywhere that needs a little zing!
Fermented foods are not just for athletes. Increasing your intake of probiotic foods can help improve digestion and boost immunity in every body.
- 1 head (about 2 lbs) Napa Cabbage, cored and finely sliced
- 4 teaspoons kosher salt
- 3 medium carrots, grated
- 1-2 jalapeno peppers, finely diced
- 1 tablespoon garlic, minced (about 4 cloves)
- 1 tablespoon ginger, finely diced
- 1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped
- 1 teaspoon of hot chilli peppers (optional)
Place the sliced cabbage in a large bowl and toss with the salt. Massage the salted cabbage for about 3 minutes so its juices start to release. Place a plate on top of the cabbage and weigh it down with a tin of beans or something heavy while you prepare the other vegetables.
When the remaining ingredients are ready, add them to the cabbage and mix thoroughly with your hands. Keep squeezing the vegetables to help release their water. Divide the vegetables into mason jars, you should have enough to fill 3 -12 ounce jars leaving a little space at the top.
Push the vegetables down with a blender tamper or spoon so they are submerged beneath their brine. Bacteria grow in an anaerobic environment, that is, without oxygen, so keeping the vegetables submerged in their liquid is crucial. Place a smaller jar or weighted baggy on top of the kraut to keep the vegetables submerged.
Cover jars with a clean cotton dish towel to keep out dust and let them sit on the kitchen counter to ferment. The longer it ferments the stronger the flavour. You can leave your kraut for just one day or up to a few weeks. Taste it regularly and once it reaches the desired ripeness, seal with the lid and place in the refrigerator to stop the fermentation process.
Per ½ cup serving, drained: calories: 18 kcal; fat: 0 grams; protein: 1 gram; carbohydrates: 4 grams; fibre: 1.5 grams; sodium: 469 mg (to reduce sodium further, rinse before eating).
Pyne DB1, West NP, Cox AJ, Cripps AW. Probiotics supplementation for athletes – clinical and physiological effects. Eur J Sport Sci. 2015;15(1):63-72. doi: 10.1080/17461391.2014.971879. Epub 2014 Oct 23.
Haywood BA1, Black KE2, Baker D3, McGarvey J3, Healey P3, Brown RC1. Probiotic supplementation reduces the duration and incidence of infections but not severity in elite rugby union players. J Sci Med Sport. 2014 Jul;17(4):356-60. doi: 10.1016/j.jsams.2013.08.004. Epub 2013 Aug 30.