The Real Secret to Abs
YES, THEY'RE MADE IN THE KITCHEN—BUT WE'RE GOING A LEVEL DEEPER
Unlike the cerebral winter months, when short days and cool temps inspire inward reflection, the collective energy this time of year is fiery and free, pushing you out of your head and into your physical body. As the months of spontaneity (and exposed skin) approach, you want to feel strong, vibrant, and uninhibited—which starts with building a body that feels great to live in.
Movement helps build the muscles that shape, tone, and support your body, but nutrition is the real secret sauce to seeing that sculpted definition. (Maybe you’ve heard that saying, “abs are made in the kitchen?”) Can we let you in on a little secret? They’re actually made in the gut. How you feed your microbiome supports your efforts in the gym—or in the studio, on the bike, on the Pilates Reformer, or whatever form of movement that brings you joy.
With that in mind, dive into how good gut flora awakens your inner athlete:
Goal #1: Commit to a workout regimen
How your gut can help: By giving you boundless energy.
If a lack of hustle is keeping you from that sunrise cycling class or post-work run, a thriving microbiome can give you the boost you need. Proper gut support allows nutrients to be better absorbed and digested, giving way to enhanced energy. Not only is it necessary to have energy in order to run faster and jump higher, but proper gut health can also prevent dramatic dips in said energy by regulating blood glucose levels. Blood sugar balance provides a key function in insulin sensitivity and hormone balance. With a proper ratio of protein, fat, and fiber your blood sugar won’t fluctuate aggressively, which translates to the proper amount of insulin being released within the body. Along with a plant-rich, fiber-heavy diet, a probiotic supplement is your ally; look out for probiotics that contain Lactobacillus acidophilus, which help with glucose tolerance.
Goal #2: Go harder, better, faster, stronger
How your gut can help: By making you a better athlete from the inside out.
In a fascinating Harvard study, researchers looked at the microbes of exceptional athletes to see if their bacteria was responsible for their performance. They found that many of these sports stars shared a strain that helped break down lactic acid, which aids in athletic recovery, tames inflammation, and fuels a faster metabolism. According to a report published in 2017, exercise has a similar positive effect on bacterial diversity as diet, and it’s been proposed that you can crowd out sedentary strains by supporting the bacterial composition of a “lean” microbiome. Through movement, we help to increase the production of short-chain fatty acids, which have a direct effect on inflammation and gut motility (how quickly our food moves through the body), and even gene expression. It’s the ultimate G.I. kumbaya: a thriving gut supports athletic performance, while exercise supports a thriving gut.
Goal #3: Recover faster and more fully
How your gut can help: By reducing cortisol and taming inflammation.
Though the fitness industry may champion hard work over relaxation, rest and recovery are actually essential to results. Overdoing it can spike cortisol levels, leading to bloat, metabolism slowdown, and weight gain, particularly in the midsection. Research suggests that because the brain/gut axis is a major regulator for cortisol, a healthy gut can help get this powerful hormone in check. Lower cortisol levels also aid in the production of melatonin, a key hormone for the deep, restful sleep that supports recovery and will help you get back into your workout routine quicker and perform better when you do.
Goal #4: Show off your hard work (i.e. your six-pack)
How your gut can help: By defeating bloat for good.
Gut dysbiosis, or an influx of pathogens crowding out the good bacteria, can cause digestive issues and in turn distention and discomfort. The resulting bloat can hide muscles—misleading at best, and uncomfortable at worst. Plant fiber is the game-changer here. Aim for 6-8 cups of leafy greens daily to feed the symbiotic bacteria responsible for a flat tummy that shows off all your effort.