The 10 Top Foods for Good Gut Health

I’m going to assume that many and most will have heard at least a passing comment or three in regards to the importance of gut health.


With danger of massively over simplifying a complex and still emerging area of science, I’m going to attempt to give a quick summary as to what all the big deal is about.

So in that tummy of yours there’s a pretty amazing collection of microbes. Although you have microbes all over your body, the ones in your digestive system are particularly powerful. There’s billions of these lil lovelies and they play a powerful role in both your physical health and your mental and emotional well-being.


The links between the microbes found in your gut and other systems in your body can’t be overstated. For instance, the gut and the brain are connected by the vagus nerve. Many powerful neurotransmitters such as serotonin, which influences both mood and gastrointestinal activity, are made in the gut, (ever had a ‘gut feeling’, ‘butterflies in your stomach’ or a ‘sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach’??).


Ok, so they’re mega important and getting it right can impact everything from your mood, memory, and learning, to your energy levels and capacity to recover from the rigours of life. Getting it wrong has been linked to obesity, depression and less we forget, your capacity to digest food properly!


I’m going to present a simple list of foods and drinks that can promote a healthy gut and therefore, a healthy you. This list was provided by Dr Joanna McMillan on her super accessible and absolutely free (?!) podcast series only available (to my knowledge) on audible – Gutfull: what to eat for a happy gut.

  1. Amaryllidaceae family – onions, garlic, leeks
  2. Cruciferous family – cauliflower, kale, sprouts
  3. Legumes – kidney beans, chick peas,  lentils 
  4. Whole grains – bread, pasta, rice 
  5. Fermented foods & drinks – sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, yogurt, kombucha and kefir 
  6. Berries and cherries 
  7. Teas, herbal teas, coffee & cacao 
  8. Leafy greens 
  9. Extra virgin olive oil 
  10. Nuts & seeds – unsalted & raw are best

These foods combine a host of gut friendly compounds such as probiotics; food for microbes in your digestive system, and probiotics; which can introduce new healthy bacterial strains. These are alongside polyphenols; plant components that act as antioxidants that protect against inflammation and oxidative stress in the body.


Now a quick word of caution from Dr Jo. She makes a super important point on these foods. There are some here which straight away you may well associate with making you, well, fart. A lot.


If this is the case for you,don’t despair. It could likely be that your lil gut microbes just aren’t used to these often fibre dense food choices and it may take some time for them to adjust. Don’t be put off though and just take it slowly by introducing them literally a spoonful at a time in your meals.

Weight Cutting Mexican Chilli Soup


So this one is a favourite of mine if I’m not training, cutting weight or basically needing something comforting whilst doing nothing much but sitting on the sofa all day.


There’s plenty of fibre to help keep you feeling full and enough protein from the eggs and kidney beans to support growth and repair. There’s also a huge amount of antioxidants to support your immune health and lower inflammation in the body. The addition of extra virgin olive oil and cracked black pepper also ensures you’ll absorb all that goodness! Oh, and let’s not forget it’s a super low calorie meal.

Ingredients:(Serves 3 to 4) 

  • 4 large free range eggs
  • 1 diced onion
  • 1 roughly chopped red pepper
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 tsp of chilli
  • 1 heaped tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 stock cube
  • 200ml boiling water
  • 1 400g can chopped tomatoes
  • 1 400g partially drained kidney beans
  • 1/4 tsp black cracked pepper
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Method 

  • Gently heat the extra virgin olive oil (this is important as if you heat to high you will spoil it as it doesn’t tolerate high heat).
  • Add the spices, salt & pepper and combine into a dry paste. Then add the diced onion and mix until the onion is lightly sautéed. Once translucent, remove onions from heat.
  • Add the stock cube to the boiling water in a jug and mix with a fork until dissolved. Now add to the onions and place back on low heat.
  • Add chopped tomatoes and after draining about half the can of the kidney beans, add and stir in to the soup.
  • Finally add garlic, chopped red pepper and, digging out 4 little wells, crack the eggs into the soup.
  • Allow to simmer on the low heat for around 10/15 minutes (or until the egg whites have cooked), serve and enjoy!

Please let me know how you get on, any additions you make and please share the recipe with your family and friends!

Chocolate Chip Protein Energy Bars


One way to think of the role of different macronutrients you eat is as the following; protein = recovery, carbohydrates = fuel and (healthy) fats = protection. With this in mind, it’s important to ensure you’re having a good balance of each one of them throughout your day.


Often people will over eat on carbohydrates and fats as they’re much more readily available in over the counter snacks. Protein on the other hand is not so often easily available.

It is especially important to keep your intake of good quality protein high if you’re training, recovering from injury and/or trying to loose body fat.


These homemade protein energy bars have a good balance of each macronutrient without a bunch of preservatives.
Ingredients:

  • 150g dates
  • 2 scoops 40g protein
  • 3 heaped tbsp cacao
  • 100g almond
  • 50g yogurt
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • 15g cacao nibs

Method:

  • Place dates in a food processor, ensuring all are de-stoned. Blend them, scraping down the sides occasionally, until all are completely pulped.
  • Add all other dry ingredients and blend, again scraping down the mixture from the sides to ensure an even blend.
  • Lastly add yogurt and re blend to a consistent mixture.
  • Place the mixture in a greased deep oven tray. Pat the mixture down as tight as you can using the back of a spoon.
  • Leave in the fridge for 30/45 minutes, remove and cut into equal squares. 👌

2 Ingredient Naan Breads


Although the humble naan bread is most closely associated to accompanying one of Britain’s favourite take aways, it’s also a simple convenient accompaniment to anyone of breakfast, lunch, dinner or a pre or post training snack.

Naan breads often include a few different ingredients but this recipe completely simplifies things and gives you a quick, easy and tasty recipe.


Combine your naan with a decent protein source and some tasty veggies for a far more exciting lunch time alternative to your standard sarnie. Best of all, barring a little salt and herbs, you really only need two ingredients!

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of self raising flour
  • 1/2 a cup of half fat Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 tbsp of Rosemary (optional)
  • Pinch of salt (optional)

Method:

  • Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl and using hands, thoroughly mix ingredients together.
  • Sprinkle flour on the a clear surface. Take a palm sized handful of the mixture and roll it out until its approximately 2mm thick.
  • Melt half a tsp of coconut oil in a frying pan and coat the pan completely.
  • On a medium setting, heat for around 3/4 minutes on each side. You should have enough mixture for around 5 naans.

Healthy Cookie Dough Bites

These little balls of delight are a great little energy providing snack. They have a decent balance of carbs, fats and protein.

I’ve used almond butter but peanut butter would probably work equally as good.


Ingredients:

  • 150g almond butter
  • 50ml honey 
  • 100g oats blended
  • 30g protein 
  • 2 tbsp Cacao nibs

Method:

  • Blend the oats
  • Combine oats and almond butter in a bowel and mix thoroughly
  • Add honey and cacao nibs and mix again
  • Take small handfuls and roll into balls
  • Place balls in fridge for 30mins
  • Enjoy

Creamy Tomato Recovery Curry

This curry doubles as a pretty damn amazing evening treat whilst also being a recovery day special. It’s loaded with anti inflammatory spices such as ginger, turmeric and cumin to support mopping up some of that damage caused by heavy training and the rigours of life.

Red meats such as beef steak are also a good source of iron. There are two kinds of iron, heme and non heme iron. Heme iron is from animals and non heme is from plants. Heme iron is far better absorbed by the body than non heme, which is especially important to be aware of if you’re a vegetarian of vegan.


Low iron levels may be the reason behind low energy levels and poor recovery. Your body uses iron to make hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to all parts of the body. It’s also helps make myoglobin, a protein that provides oxygen to muscles.


Both low iron levels and high levels of inflammation in the body can be detrimental to recovery and hinder making progress towards fitness and health based goals.

Ingredients:

(Serves 2/3 people)

  • 225g Sirloin Steak chopped up
  • 1 medium diced onion
  • 4 cloves of garlic minced/finely chopped
  • 1 red sweet pepper roughly chopped
  • Handful of halved cherry tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp of ground ginger
  • 1 tbsp of cumin
  • 1 tbsp of turmeric
  • 2 tbsp of chopped coriander (one chopped finely, the other roughly chopped)
  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 1/2 tin of coconut milk
  • 1 tsp of sea salt
  • 1 tsp of cracked black pepper
  • 2 tbsp of coconut oil

Method:

  1. Melt both tbsp of coconut and melt on a low heat. Once melted, add the spices, finely chopped coriander, salt & pepper and mix into a paste.
  2. Add onions and lightly cook until translucent. Now add meat and garlic. Continue to cook on low heat until the beef is browned on the surface.
  3. Add chopped tomatoes, stir and cook the meat on a low heat for roughly 2/3 minutes.
  4. Add coconut cream and roughly chopped coriander, cherry tomatoes and the sweet pepper.
  5. Cover the curry and allow to simmer on low heat for 15/20 minutes.

Serve with either rice or if watching your calories, cauliflower rice or just as it is in a bowel.

How much Protein does an Athlete need? 2 minute read

Welcome back! Today’s post is looking at how athletes can best calculate their protein intake to both repair and build muscle. This process is called Muscle Protein Synthesis, (MPS).

Although your intake of protein is essential to fully maximise muscle growth, there are other important factors to also consider. Firstly and most importantly, although you may well preserve your current muscle mass with the right intake of protein, don’t expect to add to it without doing the required training!

You won’t stimulate new muscle growth without a stimulus which is of course resistance exercise. Even for athletes who don’t wish to build hypertrophy, (‘bulk’), having a better muscle to fat ratio is a far preferable situation for everything from sport performance to injury prevention.

Protein Quality


The quality of your protein is important even though many foods will contain some proportion of protein within them. However, to build muscle you need to have food sources that contain the 9 Essential Amino Acids, (EAAs), that your body can’t produce by itself. In particular, food sources that contain a high concentration of the branch chain amino acid, (BCAA), leucine have been seen to achieve the best results.

Food choices that include the 9 EAAs and are high in leucine include;

  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Beef
  • Pork
  • Whey protein
  • Dairy products

Meal Planning


Ok, so now you know the why and the what, here’s the how. So this is the basic strategy to figure out how you can calculate how much protein containing foods to include in your meals. If we break it down MPS is maximally stimulated at 0.3g of protein per kg of body weight, (bw), per meal.

An ideal strategy is to include four feeding portions of 0.3g/kg bw and one of 0.6g/kg bw before you go to bed. A pre bed higher dose of protein may be needed due to the duration you are sleeping without any nutritional input. Athletes should be sleeping a minimum of 8 hours with a dose of 0.6g/kg bw leading to a favourable increase in MPS during that rest time.

So for example, a 70kg athlete may take a serving of 0.3g of protein per meal for 4 separate servings but then for their 5th serving before bed, take 0.6g of protein. This would equate to them ingesting 1.8g of protein per kg of body weight per day.


Older Athletes


A greater intake of protein may well be essential for older athletes. This is particularly for over 50s when a process called anabolic resistance begins to set in. This makes muscle less sensitive to protein intake. Therefore older athletes should shoot for 0.4g/kg of bw to maximise MPS.

Although not quite so important for recreational athletes and indeed recreational drinkers, but be mindful that alcohol has been seen to inhibit MPS. Therefore if gaining size is your goal, limit the boozing as much as you can.

Further Considerations


Quite a lot has been made about meal timing and especially protein timing. Minimal evidence exists however that protein timing is essential for muscle growth.

After exercise the muscle is sensitised to protein intake for up to 72 hours. While it may do no harm and even have some benefits such as muscle soreness management, it is not essential for muscle growth.

However, at the elite end of sport, the 1%s can make the difference. There is good evidence that 4 doses of 20g of whey protein was mildly superior to one bolus dose of 80g. It is also clearly an easier option to digest!

Thanks for reading, please hit me up with any questions or queries!

Spicy Protein Pancakes


Write, today’s recipe is a banger of a post gym session or recovery day treat. They can be cooked up, allowed to cool and taken as a post training snack or even better, served fresh and eaten any time of day or night!

The spice of your choosing is a particularly nice addition with a personal fave being nutmeg. Also, I’ve proposed using Whey protein. Whey protein has been proven to be the best choice for muscle protein synthesis, due in part to its high leucine content. However, do just use your protein powder of choice.


Ingredients:

  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup of whole oats
  • 1 medium banana 
  • 1 scoop of protein powder
  • 1 tbsp of Greek yogurt 
  • 1/2 tsp of baking powder
  • 1 tsp of either nutmeg/cinnamon/ginger

Method: 

  • Combine all ingredients in the blender and blend until smooth
  • On a low to medium heat, melted a small amount of oil in frying pan
  • Place palm sized portion of mixture into the pan. Allow to cook until bubbles start come fully through the mixture, (around 2/3 minutes)
  • Flip and and heat other side for around a minute
  • Serve and enjoy!

Chocolate Nut & Oat Slice

Today’s recipe is another snack time treat and is a perfect option for a pre workout or rest day snack.

Almonds are one of the stand out ingredients in this recipe. They contain vitamin E, calcium, and iron. Vitamin E contains anti-oxidant properties and supports immune function. Calcium is important for maintaining the structure of teeth and bones and Iron helps in the production of certain hormones and getting oxygen to muscles.

There’s a good amount of healthy fats, some carbohydrate and protein.

Ingredients:

– 75g almond flour

– 120g oats

– 50g mixed nuts

– 3 tbsp unsweetened cacao powder

– 3 tbsp coconut oil

– 3 large eggs

– 3 tbsp of honey

Instructions:

– Preheat oven to 180 degrees

– Ground oats in processor and mix together with ground almonds and cacoa powder.

– Roughly chop nuts and add them to mixture.

– Combine coconut oil and honey in a bowel and place in microwave. Heat mixture until melted. Remove and whisk together.

– Crack and add eggs to honey and coconut oil mix. Whisk until the mixture is evenly combined and smooth with lumps.

– Add liquid mixture to dry mixture and mix thoroughly.

– Use small amount of coconut oil to grease the sides and bottom of a small cake or pie tray similar to that in the recipe picture.

– Place in the preheated oven for 45/50 minutes. Check the cake is cooked by piercing it with a knife, if it comes out clean, you’re good to go.

– Allow to cool for 5 minutes, slice and serve.

Dietary Nitrates for sports performance & why it may be a good choice for combat sports athletes

Today’s post is looking at another potent performance enhancing supplement. This one maybe doesn’t get the same recognition as other better known supplements but could certainly play a role in improving performance both in training and competition.

The supplement is dietary nitrates, often more commonly thought of as beetroot powder, pills and juice. Now although it’s not true beetroot is the only source of dietary nitrate, it’s derivatives are certainly the most well known for having an athletic enhancing effect.

Performance

As with the other supplements I’ve discussed and written about recently, it’s important to define what is meant by performance. Having done this, we can then determine whether the supplement can support improvements in your specific sporting event.

Historically, beetroot supplements have been better associated with endurance type events likely due to its association of being a vasodilator, meaning it works by expanding blood vessels and increasing blood flow.

Indeed, dietary nitrates have been seen to increase cerebral blood flow, (blood to the brain), Whilst also helping with lowering blood pressure. Interestingly with dietary nitrate supplementation, the higher blood pressure is seen at rest, the more it comes down by.

Dietary nitrates in forms such as concentrated beetroot juice, actually appear better for team sports than long lasting sub maximal endurance events. More specifically, the evidence suggests that impact is seen best in high intensity, intermittent exercises which involve repeated sprint efforts for exercise lasting 12-40 minutes in duration. These improvements are seen in regards to exercise time to exhaustion. The research is also equivalent for exercise tasks lasting under 12 minutes in duration.

Combat Sports

Although not usually the first supplement that springs to mind when talking with fighters or those training different combat sports, dietary nitrates could definitely be a good choice for heavy training sessions or indeed competition.

Dietary nitrate is proposed to work by enhancing the function of type 2 fast twitch muscle fibres, those essential for continued execution of striking and grappling techniques.

Dietary nitrates can work to change the oxygen cost of exercise and subsequently make muscles more efficient. This is achieved at a less ‘energy cost’ to the body. This basically means dietary nitrates are supporting the fast twitch muscle fibres to produce force with less impact to the your energy reserves, therefore going for longer till fatiguing.

If comparing two athletes where their lactate threshold & VO2 Max are the same, these being the two big markers for endurance exercise performance, a lower oxygen cost will mean you are running at a lower fraction of VO2 max so will fatigue less rapidly.

Some highly trained athletes may respond less favourably. Type 2 muscle fibres are fare more sensitive to nitrate than type 1 endurance fibres. Therefore a ‘non responder’ effect could be down to elite endurance based athlete’s muscles. This could be as Theo muscle fibres will be better oxygenated and their mitochondria better trained away from the requirements of more explosive effort requiring athletes.

Dosage

As noted already, dietary nitrates are found in root vegetables and leafy greens such as lettuce, celery, rocket, spinach and beetroot. However, although eating these foods will without doubt positively effect health, especially for heavy training athletes, the amounts needed for the performance enhancing effects described are going to be difficult to achieve by eating them alone.

On a side note, dietary nitrate supports muscle function by enhancing nitric oxide bioavailability in the body. If you pair any nitric oxide interventions/boosters with antioxidants it can act to boost its impact, so don’t skip having the dark greens mentioned above!

The research indicates a 6-8 mmol dosage is needed for performance enhancing effects. You’ll find 5/6 mmol nitrate in 300g spinach, which is more than your average bag bought from the supermarket. Alternatively 3 medium high nitrate containing beetroots or 6 to 8 low containing smaller beetroot.

Aside from vegetable size obviously, nitrate strength can depend on where the veg is grown, how long it took to get on the supermarket shelf, the growing conditions and time of year.

The optimal strategy is using a beetroot juice or even more conveniently, concentrated beetroot shots. A 6-8mmol dose = 500ml natural beetroot juice. A one shot concentrated version, for example Beet-It 70ml, usually contains around 300ml equivalent to natural beat juice. Therefore ideally take two shots as opposed to one, as other studies indicate performance enhancing effects closer to 8 mmol.

There doesn’t appear to be an advantage in taking significantly more than the upper limit of 8 mmol for further training effect. However, bigger athletes may require more.

Timing

Timing of ingestion is crucial with dietary nitrates. To ensure you get get maximal effect, you’ll need to consume your dosage 2 – 3 hours before you start training or competing.

The biggest performance boost is when plasma nitrite ,(converted from nitrate), peaks in the blood stream, which is related to how much nitrate you take and when you take it. For example if you take 8 mmol of concentrated nitrate, (beetroot juice), nitrite plasma will boost 2/2.5 hours later. At 6 hours it is still seen to be fairly high but 12 to 24 hours later it is back to baseline.

Important

A loading strategy is also advisable if planning to use nitrates for a specific event, especially if competing and using for the first time to ensure your digestion tolerates it.

Research showed a daily dose of 0.5 L of beetroot for 6 days can reduce resting blood pressure, whilst lowering the oxygen cost of exercise ( measured on a treadmill)by 7% and increasing time to exhaustion by 15%.

A strategy to implement would be to try to take 2 shots a day in the morning and afternoon between 2 to 5 days out. Try this for a few days minimum prior to competing.

Be aware that bacteria in mouth converts the nitrate into nitrite which then works to increase plasma (blood) nitrite concentrations. This isn’t a science, but there may be a logic to mouth swilling your beetroot shot for 20 seconds prior to ingestion, similar to carbohydrate mouth rinsing.

Be aware also, commercial mouthwash stops you converting the nitrate in your diet by killing mouth bacteria, so avoid it if you can!

Lastly, huge shout out to Andrew Jones from Exeter University, (@andybeatroot), who I gleaned much of this information from!