Fiber intake is often overlooked by athletes. In fact, most athletes only consume half the amount of daily recommended fiber that they should. Dietary fiber plays a key role in your overall health and wellbeing in addition to being a major requirement for optimal athletic performance. Adding a fiber supplement to your nutrition regime can help maximize your training and athletic performance.
Nutrition plays a key role in athletic performance and is vital for athletes of any level. Most top-level athletes have professional nutritionists to help manage their diets for optimum performance, however most of us are left to manage nutrition for ourselves. Getting enough dietary fiber each day can be difficult and many of us missing out on the benefits this vital nutrient can provide. Understanding how to utilize a fiber supplement can ensure your gut and body are performing optimally and can elevate your overall performance baseline.
In this article we’ll look at why fiber is important for athletes, the impact it can play on your performance, and how to select a fiber supplement that works best for you.
The Gut Impact
A study conducted in 2020 on gastrointestinal health observed the effect that a healthy gut microbiome has on athletic performance, with the purpose of expanding knowledge of sport performance strategies and interventions. The study identified the gut microbiome as being an important mechanism in energy storage and production – something that is essential for an athlete in both training and performance. Researchers have focused their attention on how macronutrient composition in an athlete’s diet can support the microbiome. Dietary fiber is the main nutrient that provides energy to the tract, along with having the greatest impact for the microbiome diversity.
A healthy gut microbiome positively influences muscle synthesis and repair – something that is critical for athletes who wish to improve in their sport. In addition to the gut microbiome effect, dietary fiber plays a key role in keeping your digestive system healthy and moving. Fiber helps to bulk stool in the digestive tract and can promote regular, healthy, bowel movements.
An unhealthy gut microbiome is associated with poor gastrointestinal (GI) health and results in symptoms that include frequent bloating, nausea, cramps, and diarrhea. As you can imagine, physical symptoms such as these will pay a negative role in your training and ability to compete. The study outlined that foods and supplements that contain artificial colours and sweeteners can have a deteriorative effect on the GI tract, as these artificial ingredients can cause chronic inflammation and inadequate functioning of the GI tract.
Blood Sugar Impact
Beta-glucan, a type of dietary fiber, is recognized by Health Canada for its ability to slow absorption of glucose into the blood stream. This is because soluble fiber creates a viscous lining on your digestive system which slows digestion. As a result, athletes consuming beta-glucan in their pre-workout meals can expect to have stabilized energy for a longer duration of time. This can be especially beneficial for endurance athletes such as long distance runners.
The Performance Impact
In another study, researchers analysed results from 20 Japanese collegiate athletes ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics who increased their daily fiber intake by 6 grams through dietary supplementation on a predetermined meal plan. Results from this study showed that athletes improved the health of their gut microbiome due to the increased fiber intake. This improvement led to an increase of 8.9% in athletic performance when compared from the baseline to the fourth week of high-intensity training.
My Own Experience
Finding a competitive edge through your diet while competing at an international level is one of the best ways to improve without training more. As an athlete that has rowed for Canada on the international stage, I know the importance of have proper nutrition to fuel training.
I was skeptical on how beta glucan would have any effect on my performance in a daily training environment, but I felt as if I reached a plateau in performance and was willing to experiment. After the first month of taking it, I found myself recovering quicker during workouts and not having energy crashes like my teammates. After a couple months it has become one of the staple supplements I take.
- William Simpson, Rowing Canada National Team Athlete
How to choose the right fiber supplement to support your training and performance
When choosing a supplement of any kind, always opt for the cleanest and most beneficial option possible:
- Avoid supplements with artificial ingredients or additives (ie. artificial colours and flavors) as these can irritate the gut and diminish positive impacts
- Opt for naturally occurring fibers such as beta-glucan or psyllium
- Avoid supplements that are chemically extracted (most major psyllium brands use a chemical process to extract the fiber from the husk, but there are some smaller organic brands that don’t)
- Opt for a supplement that tastes good and is easy to incorporate into your diet to ensure you will take it regularly
Never take a supplement unless you can research each ingredient individually to ensure its something you want to be adding to your body
NutraStat beta-glucan fiber is my top choice for athletes due to its great versatility, natural extraction, and performance benefits. Unlike major brands such as Metamucil, NutraStat contains a single ingredient (barley beta-glucan concentrate), is grown and produced here in Canada, and is recognized by Heath Canada and the US FDA. I’ve provided it to several of my teammates who have also spoken very highly of it.