How Does Digestion Affect Your Exercise Routine? 

July 15, 2021


Dana Ryan PhD, MBA, M.A. – Director, Sport Performance and Education at Herbalife Nutrition

There are so many things that can impact your sports performance and exercise plans: injury, exhaustion, and dehydration, to name a few. But did you know that digestion plays an important role as well?

The Role of the Microbiome in Supporting Exercise

There’s a lot that happens in the gut that helps our bodies function properly. Your digestive system is home to thousands of strains of beneficial bacteria that help to break down foods that are resistant to normal digestion. This allows you to obtain more nutrients from your foods.

Studies have found that exercise, combined with a high-fibre and nutritious diet, can help increase “good” gut bacteria and promote diversity and harmony in microbes. 

When there’s not enough of the right kind of bacteria, or if the wrong kind is introduced, the impact to your digestive system can be immediate. This can lead to symptoms such as cramping and heartburn which can stop you from completing your workout or performing your best.  

What Can You Do to Improve Performance?

Endurance athletes pay very close attention to their nutrition as they train, as well as in the days leading up to their race.

But regardless of your fitness level, there are simple steps you can follow to avoid missing your next workout. Here are a few of them:

Consume enough fibre.

Fibre is found in good-for-you foods like fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains. Adults should aim to eat around 30 grams of fibre a day, but the average intake among adults in Australia is about 20-25 grams, with our busy lifestyles contributing to the problem.

Stay hydrated.

To ensure you perform at your best, remember to drink water before and throughout your exercise session. For high intensity workouts where you might need to replenish electrolytes, you can drink sports drinks that can help hydrate and fuel you.

Get some good bacteria.

While the idea of consuming bacteria in your diet may not sound appealing, the probiotic bacteria found in yogurt and other fermented foods can promote digestive health. Aside from yogurt, you can pick up some of these “good” bacteria in other fermented soy products (miso, tempeh, kefir), as well as in pickled foods like cucumber pickles, sauerkraut, and kimchi.

Keep a food log.

Documenting what you eat and when not only helps track the amount of food and calories consumed but can also help pinpoint any digestive issues that might have a negative impact on your exercise plan.

Take your time.

If you’re just starting out, a strenuous exercise plan might stress out your digestive system, joints, and muscles. Not to mention your risk of injury increases significantly. A lower intensity workout plan can be very beneficial and will increase the chances of you staying committed to your exercise program.

Interestingly, when it comes to exercise, high-intensity exercise such as sprinting may actually spark more discomfort than “gliding” movements, such as cycling, rowing, swimming or skating. Here’s the takeaway: exercise is always good, but it needs to be the right kind at the right intensity.

Exercise and Digestion Go Hand in Hand

Exercise isn’t just for the muscles—it’s also good for your digestive tract. Exercise stimulates the muscles to contract, which can promote regularity. It’s also a great stress-reducer, which makes it particularly good for those whose digestive systems act up when they get stressed out.

And as we continue to learn about the vast universe within our bodies, keep moving and remember that good nutrition is essential to your fitness success.

For more health tips visit


Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.