Whether you’re a recreational exerciser or an elite competitor, fiber plays an important role in the smooth and efficient operation of your digestive system. It can impact everything from your pre-race bowel movement to your immune system’s efficacy, which means that optimal fiber intake is a must when fueling for performance. Unfortunately, if you’re like most Americans, you probably don’t have enough fiber in your diet.
But all is not lost! Even if you’re not getting enough fiber right now, you can easily boost your intake and enjoy its benefits. With careful planning, you can increase your dietary fiber with little to no negative impact on your athletic performance.
Here’s everything you need to know about fiber, its many benefits, and how to eat more of it.
The Three Forms of Fiber
Almost always coming from plants, fiber makes up the unprocessed parts of food that the body can’t digest. That being said, all fiber is not the same. In fact, it comes in three unique forms: soluble fiber, insoluble fiber, and resistant starches. When fueling for performance, it’s important to cultivate gut health — and by extension, general health — by including each type of fiber in your diet.
Soluble fiber is able to absorb water and, when it does so, turns into a gel-like material that keeps your bowel movements smooth and regular. Found in fruits, veggies, seeds, and legumes, soluble fibers provide valuable nutrients to the healthy bacteria living in your digestive system.
Insoluble fiber, on the other hand, cannot absorb water. As a result, it has a significant satiating effect and keeps you feeling full. You can find insoluble fibers in fruit and veggie peels, whole grains, seeds, and legumes.
Finally, resistant starches promote the growth of healthy bacteria while simultaneously warding off harmful microbes. You can consume resistant starches by eating rolled oats, green bananas, as well as cooked and cooled rice or potatoes.
The Role & Benefits of Fiber in an Active Lifestyle
The importance of fiber’s role in an active lifestyle cannot be overstated — especially when fueling for performance. In fact, adequate fiber intake has been associated with a number of positive health benefits. The most prominent benefit, of course, is a healthy gut. By facilitating consistent and comfortable bowel movements, fiber keeps digestion on track.
Fiber does more for your gut than just boost digestion, though. A 2013 meta-analysis of 20 different studies suggested that a high fiber diet may even reduce your risk of colon cancer!
In addition to keeping your gut happy and healthy, fiber has been associated with the prevention and mitigation of several diseases. A robust body of empirical evidence suggests that appropriate fiber intake can reduce total and LDL cholesterol as well as blood pressure. Lowering both LDL cholesterol and blood pressure, in turn, drops the overall risk of cardiovascular disease (which, according to the CDC, claims one life every 36 seconds).
How Much Fiber Should I Eat?
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, adult women should consume 25g of fiber per day while men should consume 38g. However, the majority of Americans don’t even come close to these numbers. A 2017 article published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine cites a lack of education on the fiber content in foods as one of the biggest barriers to getting adequate intake.
A good way to judge the fiber content of foods is to look for products that claim to be a “good” or “excellent source of fiber.” The FDA regulates these statements and ensures that each serving contains 3g or 5g of fiber per serving, respectively.
When to Avoid High-Fiber Foods
Fueling for performance often requires athletes to think carefully about what they eat and when. The same mechanism that allows fiber to keep you feeling full also makes it a poor choice immediately before training or competition.
During activity, the body directs blood away from the digestive system in order to funnel oxygen and nutrients to working muscles. This leaves fiber sitting in your stomach just waiting to ruin your session with sudden discomfort, nausea, or even an emergency trip to the bathroom.
Fueling for Performance Everyday
Increasing your intake of this essential nutrient is necessary to enable your body to operate as it was intended. Whether you’re fueling for performance at a triathlon or on the sidelines at your son’s soccer match, the benefits of fiber can’t be ignored. From better bowel movements to a lower risk of heart disease, fiber can do it all—allowing you to win that triathlon and keep being there for your loved ones.
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