Something that I’ve seen over and over again in my life and in my patients is how much the gut can affect even the smallest of physical activities.
In this episode, Navin Hettiarachchi and I discuss how athletic performance is influenced by the gut, why food sensitivities can make or break you, and how ditching processed foods can lead to better sleep and recovery.
Navin has over 20 years of experience working in the NBA, WNBA, and NFL. He also works with Olympians, U.S. Women’s Soccer, Paralympians, and NHL athletes. Celebrities and musicians from Hollywood have also sought his care for their health and wellness. He traveled across the country and across the world to Australia, Belgium, England, Malaysia, India, Ireland, and Thailand to learn and train under world-renowned physical therapists, chiropractors, and osteopaths and has earned multiple certifications in the rehabilitation of musculoskeletal injuries, including Advanced Sports Rehabilitation (CASR) and Certification Spinal Manual Therapy (CSM). He also holds a Master Certification in Manual Therapy (MCMT) and a graduate diploma in Manipulative Therapy (Dip MT). He is a Performance Enhancement Specialist (PES), a Corrective Exercise Specialist (CES), and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS). He is the first Postural Restoration Institute (PRI) Postural Restoration Trained (PRT) Athletic Trainer in Washington DC and the NBA.
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0:00 How Navin got into this field
5:10 How does the gut link with athletic performance?
9:30 Food sensitives affecting athletic performance
15:12 What you need to understand about inflammation and pain.
19:49 Gut microbiome diversity – the importance
23:36 What are other factors that influence athletic performance?
29:46 Have you seen an increase in athletic performance by using vitamins?
34:44 What do you think is a game-changer for overall health?
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Dr. Ann-Marie Barter is a Functional Medicine and Chiropractic Doctor at Alternative Family Medicine & Chiropractic. She is the clinic founder of Alternative Family Medicine & Chiropractic that has two offices: one in Longmont and one in Denver. They treat an array of health conditions overlooked or under-treated by conventional medicine, called the “grey zone”.
Today on the Gut Health Reset Podcast we’re covering how athletic performance is actually influenced by the gut, how food sensitivity can make a huge difference in being a good athlete, to a great athlete, why you should ditch the fast food and be careful of sports recovery drinks that are supposed to “improve performance”, and how pain, cortisol and sleep all can be linked back to the gut.
Naveen Hederachi, the former Director of Health, Wellness & Performance for the Washington Wizards basketball team in the NBA and care provider to the celebrities and stars as well as top-rated podcast host of To Thrive with Naveen on which successful and influential people around the world share their number one piece of advice to uplift and uplevel the lives of his audience. He is on a mission to help people around the world empower themselves proactively to take the best care of their health and live their best lives happy, healthy and pain-free.
Dr. Ann-Marie Barter:
“It’s just so exciting to dig into this topic of athletic performance and how athletic performance is really influenced by the gut. So tell me, how did you get into this field? Then, we’re going to dig into athletic performance in the gut if that sounds good!”
“Dr. Ann-Marie, thank you so much for having me. I love your podcast, I love everything about you. What I love about you is that you’re just connecting the dots, right? We can’t separate our gut from sleep, we can’t separate sleep from mindfulness, we can’t separate mindfulness from performance… so really a part of who we are… it’s just entangled. The way I got into this is really about bio-hacking performance. What can we do that can level up performance? What can we do that doesn’t require supplements or IVs or a hyperbaric chamber? I have access to all this, but what are the little things that we could do to optimize our performance. It’s really about bringing the inflammation down. It’s not about how hard you could work today, but how fast can you recover come tomorrow? It’s about guys after practice icing their knees and getting massages and hitting the sauna or the cryochamber but then taking their $400,000 Rolls Royce right through a fast food chain. It really kind of gave me an ‘a-ha!’ moment. Like, wow, it’s like you’re putting bad gas in your car – or your body in this case, and the next day when you come in you’re like ‘Oh man. I’m struggling, I’m bloated, I’m irritated, I smell bad…’ They’re not getting to the root cause. What we do in professional sports is say, ‘Hey, you have some acid reflux? Here’s some Pepto-Bismol.’ Like, seriously, we probably go through packets and packets every day because nobody really talks about the gut. It’s about what we put into our body, so when I saw these amazing results in my life after accidentally doing a food test and figuring out what foods work for these athletes, all of a sudden I was able to put off surgeries just by changing their food.”
“I totally, 100% agree. I see it day in and day out. It’s huge. Inflammation in the body is a big factor in everything. And if you want to get to the elite level of athletic performance then you have to dial that in, right? So, how in the world does gut health link up with athletic performance? Because when we think about athletic performance we really think about ‘Oh, let’s dial in nutrition, what’s the diet, etc.’ And all of those things are very important, but we don’t think about how the gut has a big influence on athletic performance. So, would you mind just going into that a little bit more?”
“You know, you kind of said it – it starts from the mouth, what we put in – and the biggest thing that we do wrong is that we don’t figure out what’s best for the athlete based on something like testing their stool for food sensitivities or gut sensitivities. So, I think it really starts from bad food that we put into our gut because we don’t really think about it. Like, if you look at ‘the world’s number one electrolyte drink’ it has artificial colors, dextrose, ingredients that we can’t even pronounce. We don’t associate what we put in our mouth with how it affects our gut and that causes inflammation. It does matter. People think, ‘Oh, I’m not sensitive to peanut butter and jelly… but it’s making you slower by .001%, right? And if you add one percent every time, at the end of the season, now you know why your knees are hurting or why you’re bloated or irritated… why that thing is chronically bothering you. It started from your mouth. People say the gut is a second brain. To be honest with you, I say the gut is our first brain. It’s like the main train station everything goes through. People are always like, ‘I need melatonin to go to sleep,’ but there is melatonin produced right where serotonin is produced. Like, are we forgetting the machine that makes all these incredible hormones and things that we need to survive and thrive?”
“Exactly. You know what’s interesting is, I love to ride bikes. I’m a huge, avid bike rider and my diet has always been pretty clean, but I was eating a lot of eggs. I remember going on a bike ride one morning and just feeling completely nauseous and I couldn’t keep up with everybody else and I was like ‘Okay, I’ve got to get to the bottom of this.’ This was two years ago. I ran a food sensitivity test and lo and behold, I am very sensitive to eggs. So I decided I had done a lot of gut fixing and cleaning up, and so I wanted to reincorporate eggs because sometimes you can, sometimes you can’t. So I went backcountry skiing – which is kind of an aggressive sport – I went out there and I was so nauseous, I looked hungover to all the people I was with. I had a plate of eggs that morning and had to go back to the car. That was what just two eggs did to me. So I’d kind of like to hear what you are seeing with the same thing around athletic performance.”
“Well, let’s tie in an egg story that I have that literally just happened last week. I think you probably know this number better than me, but like 90% of people get dysbiosis, right? It’s just a crazy amount. But in the athletic population it’s even higher because of the canola oil, the palm oil, the wheat, the processed food. My wife is a triathlete and until the last six years or so I didn’t even think about this, but I’m the one who gels, waffles, all this stuff that’s really causing inflammation. So going back to the egg story… this athlete, he tore his Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL). Think about a table with four legs. Those legs are the four main ligaments in our legs, so you lose a leg of your table – now you can’t put anything on it, it’s wobbly. So this is what happened to this kid. He lost one of the legs of the table, and now that’s really a surgical case. So he went to over four doctors, he’s a professional athlete so he’s obviously consulting with multiple specialists, and everyone’s like ‘We have to have do surgery’ and this kid is like, ‘If I have a surgery I’m gonna be done for the year’. So he’s started the concept of management. When I see an athlete, the first thing I do is obviously telling them everything starts from food. We want to make sure he’s eating the right foods first. So we did a food sensitivity test like you were talking about, and eggs popped up. Eggs are something that this kid was eating every day, but he was super sensitive – really high. So we took eggs out, and I’m not even kidding you… within a day, he’s like ‘Wow, my knee is getting better, I feel better all of a sudden!’ He lost 17 pounds in one month and came back to playing basketball in in eight weeks. He even got quoted in the paper saying: ‘I’m dunking, I’ve never been able to dunk.’ The game changer was that we took something that’s causing chronic inflammation and removed it from his diet. People don’t really think about how everything can stack onto everything else. So, you introduce this egg to his body that’s causing inflammation that’s hurting his knee then it’s causing stress cortisol, so now you can’t go to sleep, your mind might not be mindful right now, so everything starts stacking up. As soon as he took that out and we started adding 10% every day, cortisol came down, inflammation came down and all of a sudden this kid felt like he was younger. So it’s very important to look at the gut, treat the gut, and then if necessary find an expert like you to do a stool sample and see what kind of parasite might be growing. But before we go to the expert, we have to do our own part in taking care of ourselves. You know, it’s so important to heal the gut. I was just saying, no matter how injured you are, no matter what level of athlete you are, I always start with the gut. We have to figure out what’s going on and to figure out what’s going on we have to put the right foot forward. Somebody said people are putting probiotics first, but it’s like everyone forgot if it’s the right probiotic I’ll be growing it. I’ve actually got another story…”
“I think you made such a great point and I want to make sure that we don’t gloss over this, because when people think of pain – like with the MCL tear in the knee – people think, ‘Okay, I need to do my physical therapy exercises, I need to go see my chiropractor, I need to get a cortisol or cortisone injection to help my cortisol levels to help with my pain’… I think what you brought up is just such a critical point because if you have chronic inflammation, you’re going to have more pain. So if the treatments aren’t working, that means you have systemic inflammation in your body and I don’t want to gloss over that piece. I think the other point that you made that I think is very, very important to just reiterate is number one, you have to see what strains of probiotics you’re deficient in. Some people will take probiotics and they’ll be very helpful and then they’ll stop working. It could just be that you need to switch off or vary what you’re doing because you’ve got enough XYZ strands and now you need to move on to something else. It’s really important to get an idea, because certain things help with weight loss, certain things help with athletic performance, etc. So, I just really want to make sure that we just hit that as well and this is kid of the difference on why some people heal better than other people. Anyway, okay… your next story. Tell me about that.”
“That’s so true, I wanted to kind of jump on that. Think about it, as soon as you get hurt, most of the time these athletes are on some kind of meds, right? That really kills our microbiome, kills healthy bacteria, and then you cannot expect to take a probiotic and all of a sudden feel better. That takes time. It’s just kind of like, you’re taking anti-inflammatory pills that’s killing the ecosystem and you’re taking two probiotics to get better and you’re forgetting that everyone’s eating a bad nutrition plan right now, so no one’s really talking about fermented foods or kefir or raw milk or garlic or avocado or apple cider vinegar… like, we always want pills, right? I mean, sometimes I wonder, is it even working for us? Is it buyer-available? Like you said, there’s 10 different companies that are selling it… Why can’t we really start from food and go from there?”
“Absolutely, 100% agree with you. I think it’s interesting because the mentality has been so much of that, when in practice I’m doing a lot of things. And I kind of go back to the diet… let’s say that someone’s 80% better and I go back to the diet… sometimes that hurdle is so great for people because they’ve got their convenient foods. They’ve got their alcohol, they’ve got their drugs, they’ve got their cigarettes. It’s a really hard habit to break and to change and really sort of make those lifestyle adjustments because those changes are going to happen slowly, just like you said, one percent, one percent, one percent. And I think the misconception is, ‘I’m going to do X, Y and Z and I’m going to be 70% better.” Sometimes that happens, but a lot it’s more, this change makes this change makes this change, and it builds on each other.
“I’ve got another funny story. So, speaking about gut microbiome health, you know… a lot of these young kids, they grew up on literally four things, right? They eat maybe the same corn bread or the same chicken every single day. So if you’re eating the same food, your microbiome diversity is not there. It doesn’t matter what kind of probiotic that you take. So I have a funny story… love this kid, again, an NBA athlete. I found that every “off-season”, he didn’t have his hip pain. So obviously, we went through the MRI and EMR. Pretty every joint we know that there’s a little bit of a labor tear, and you know, doctors obviously want to repair. You know, when you go to an autoshop they want to repair. So I’m like, ‘There’s something going on…’ and when he goes home, it gets worse. So I’m thinking, is this something to do with sleep? I kind of ruled out everything… So because I took care of nutrition for the team, I have access to the hotel contact. So I was just kind of curious to see what this kid was eating. Every day was a cheesecake, a Sprite, I’m like… wow, this is the thing. So I put that in my memory bag and I’m later I’m checking him out. His hip is tight, and I’m like, ‘What’s going on?’ So we started talking to the kid and asking him what he was eating. We did a food sensitivity test and found that he was very lactose intolerant. We took that out and literally the hip has never needed surgery. So we know that one food literally triggered his microbiome and tightened his hip. I think a big key that you preach all the time is a diverse microbiome. We need a little bit of everything. Diverse amounts of tubers and vegetables lead to guts in good health. But if you look at the standard American diet, people could be like ‘Hey, I eat healthy!’ Okay, sweet potatoes, broccoli, steak… it’s not diverse enough.”
“Yes, I can see that. Diet is super powerful to boost athletic performance and you know, really figuring out what your food sensitivities are, really healing up the gut, what are some other factors that really influence our athletic performance and can they be associated with the gut or not? I’d like to know what else is really going to push people (especially those weekend warriors) to the next level.”
“When you asked me this question the first thing that kind of came to my mind, because I know what you do – pathogens. I think you know most of the time there’s a pathogen in there. Triathletes, right? My wife goes swimming in this dirty water, you know something gonna jump in there. So we want to kind of take a look at it. You need to see an expert. Listen to the gut feeling. Like, we know when there’s something in your gut. I love the gut, I trust the gut, so know your gut! That’s what I want to tell the listeners and the weekend warriors. The second thing is kind of like what we just talked about. If you’re sad, if you’re not happy right now, if you can’t go to sleep, all of that is made in the gut. So if we want to perform, we have to get back to the gut to figure out ‘Why am I getting fatigued? Why is my knee constantly hurting? Why can’t I go to sleep?’ Have the proper foundation to process all that. Or, we could talk about cortisol, right? Because of the gut, because of the dysbiosis or because the equality ecology in the gut is not proper, the cortisol curve is off. Dr. Barter, you see people with flipped cortisol curves – they’re so low energy in the morning they need 10 cups of coffee and they’re wired. What is the root cause? The root cause is the gut. Let’s go back to the root cause. That’s what I love about you, you know medicine and people are so lucky to have someone like you to figure out the root cause and treat that instead of just putting a bandage on it. So, to answer your question… First of all, to improve your performance we have to dial in and take care of ourselves. I call it the Four Pillars. Nutrition – let’s dial in our nutrition, the food that works for you. I call it a thumbprint diet. The food that works for your gut will be different for me and different for Dr. Ann-Marie, but through finding an expert or doing elimination diets and seeing how you feel, you can do your part. Try this brand, try that brand, try the avocado, try not drinking coffee, try tea, eliminate it, see how you feel. Remember – everything goes back to the gut. Sleep – if you’re not sleeping, it’s because you’re creating inflammation. Mindfulness – when we are not mindful, again, we are causing cortisol, we are causing inflammation. We have to be more mindful. And if you can’t be mindful, go back and see what the root cause is. So we’re kind of getting back to the root cause. Everybody listening to this is very unique and has very individualized needs. We just have to treat you as an individual person, and that’s where you know that an expert like Dr. Ann-Marie Barter comes in. The one thing that I see is that people have a really hard time with mindfulness. I think our lifestyles are just so busy and so crazy. We add too much to our plate, we think we can do too much, and that’s overwhelming. That changes cortisol, which has an effect on the gut microbiome, that decreases our absorption because we’re stressed out. Our body thinks we’re running from a bear all the time.So I mean, I think it’s important to slow down and to really look at how mindfulness, meditation, prayer – whatever that works for you, and really incorporating that into your life.”
“You know, there’s a lot of nutritional supplements around for example, Vitamin B, Vitamin C for repair of collagen, etc. Where do you figure those fit in? And have you seen any boost in athletic performance using some of them?”
“Dr. Barter, I just want to say something. You just mentioned something about mindfulness and motivation. Like, where does the serotonin an dopamine come from? Gut, gut, gut. So if you want to be happy, if you’re going to be mindful… you’ve got to go back to the gut. And again, it’s the food. So about the vitamins… the bone broth? Big fan of it. Vitamin D? Big fan of it. You just have to get as close as you possibly can to the real thing. Eating the plant that needed the sun and the ground and the water, or eating the cow that needed the grass… If we’re not eating the amyloids (the stress hormone) they got because of how they were stressed before they were slaughtered or what kind of food they ate, so you want to make sure that you’re sourcing it properly. That’s for a person who doesn’t want to go to an expert like you to take a look at things. But I think for an athlete (or all of us, really)… I think there is a point to at least once a year looking at how your landmarks are. I think we get into this habit, we have foods that we like and we eat all the time. Maybe they’re nutritionally depleted, maybe the spinach that you’re eating that came from California that was cut a week ago and has now been sitting in Whole Foods for 10 days. When we think we’re eating a proper food we might not be getting the nutritional value. And I think that’s where the lactose comes in. It’s just like your car, right? You always look at the gas, you know the check engine light, you know the oil level. So, we might need to go to a functional medicine doctor and see what’s happening with our insulin, what’s happening with our glucose… so to answer your question, I think all of us really need to get tested to figure out whether the food that we’re eating is really giving us the micro and macronutrients that we need. Vitamin C for instance, I see low levels in so many people. That’s because our food is so depleted in Vitamin C, but we need that for infections and that gets depleted every time we get exposed to a viral infection. The list goes on and on.”
“It’s really interesting to see, because no one person is the same. I’ll tell you, I’ve been doing this for a long time… I’ve been doing this for about 12 years. And I’ll push for lab testing because even with my experience, I’m only right about 80% of the time without running the lab test. Because, to your point, everybody is so individualized. So sometimes I can get it right on, but most of the time I really need that lab testing to really be able to determine. Is there anything that you think is a game changer that we haven’t discussed?”
“For overall health, I’ve gotten into testing myself to figure out what I really need. That mentality has gone into my athletes and my patients. You just have to figure out what’s going on. It might be that we’re traveling all the time and it’s affecting our microbiome. You could be eating all the right food, but if you’re in an airplane four times a week and three different time zones, that kills your gut microbiome. So, we need support. But support doesn’t come in one pill. We just have to figure out where that support is coming from. To answer your question, I think I really try to customize and constantly evaluate. You sit in your car and look at your dashboard to check you gas level. You check your PSI before you get on your bike. Why don’t you do the same thing to yourself? Why don’t you check your resting heart rate, check in on your sleep schedule, etc. We want to optimize our Ferrari but we forget the most important thing is to optimize us. You want to do more than live, you want to thrive. It’s another level, you’re literally high on life and when you get to that level it’s just like you’re flying. It’s awesome.”
“Well thank you so much for being here. Where can listeners find you if they want to get in touch with you?
“I have a brand new website called naveenhealth.com.”
“Thank you so much for spending the time with us today, just awesome to get your perspective on these things and just be in this world for a while. It’s cool to see how you know how gut has really had an impact on athletic performance, so thank you very much. Thank you for listening to the Gut Health Reset Podcast, and make sure you subscribe and leave a rating so more people can hear about the podcast. And hey, take a screenshot of this episode and tag Dr. Anne-Marie on Instagram or Facebook. For more resources, just visit drannmariebarter.com.