Is Poor Gut Health Causing Your Clients to Plateau?

As personal trainers, we have all been there before:

You’re training a new client, and all is going well. They show up to every session, put in every ounce of effort needed, and seem to be following their diet plant.

Sure, they came to you overweight and a little misguided, but with hard work and dedication, you know that flabby stomach is destined to be a six pack sooner rather than later.

Poor Gut Health

Then, all of a sudden, the weight-loss comes to a screeching halt. You switch your client's exercise routine to avoid the plateau, but nothing changes.

Naturally, your first reaction may be to blame the person you are working with for not following his program properly. Maybe he's mixing in more carbs then he is letting on? Maybe he's hiding a deep addiction to mid-day doughnuts? Does he even hit the gym when you're not around?

Contrary to popular belief, new research is pointing to gut bacteria having a major influence in weight management. Furthermore, the negative gut bacteria your client might be fostering, due to a carby, sugar-filled, and fat-loving western diet, sets the stage for failure. As his personal trainer, this doesn't look good on you!

If you're already familiar with the importance of gut health and the mechanisms to achieve it, skip straight to this infographic on 12 colon-cleansing foods. For the rest of us, here's a the gut health crash course you need...

What are Firmicutes and Bacteriodetes?​

Need to brush up on your probiotics? We've got you covered.

Let’s talk probiotics:

These 2 bacterial strains dominate your gut. They account for vitamins you are able to absorb, enzymes to help you digest, and can even influence your mood.

Each bacteria colony though, has a unique response within your body, which is why diversity is ideal when considering any probiotic regiment.

Firmicutes have a unique ability to process energy from foods, much greater than their colonial counterpart digesting the same amount of food. This astounding conclusion has delighted the interest of scientists and geneticists like David Suzuki, re-shaping the way we look at genetic obesity.

Rather than "easy weight gain" being blamed on the family blood line or lack of individual willpower, we now can see a direct link between the bacteria a person carries, whether it be genetic or cultivated, and that person's ability or inability to lose weight.

This was observed conclusively in a study where 2 germ-free rats were given the same food, but had different bacteria transplanted into their guts. The first rat was given bacteria from a skinny adult, while the second rat was given bacteria from an obese adult.

The results were surprising...

Although the environment stayed the same, the rat given the obese bacteria began to gain weight while the skinny rat remained thin. The only difference between the two was their gut bacteria.

To further drive the point home, the skinny rat was then given a transplant of the obese bacteria. Immediately, this rat began to gain weight as its twin once did. This ruled out any genetic causation that could have been tipping the odds.

The Odd One Out​

There is one grouping of gut bacteria that goes against the grain here. Researchers have named it Christensenella. Although still part of the firmicutes classing, this group of bacteria is genetically linked to weight-loss.

One large study sought to confirm this by observing the microbiome of nearly 1,000 paternal twins. They found a shocking correlation between this bacteria and thinner body masses.

They also found that simply giving the bacteria to germ-free mice resulted in 4% less fat and 5% less total body weight. Although not fully understood, people with an abundance of Christensenella seem to display a greater ability to lose wight as well.

Researchers saw this as an exciting time since it was previously thought that bacteria was driven through external factors alone, not genetic ancestry.

While I hope these findings do not deter anyone struggling with weight, we can now see why some thin people eat cheese burgers like their shareholders in McDonald’s and others gain weight just from the smell.

​What Can You Do as a Trainer?

Okay, this is all interesting stuff, but let's make it practical for your success as a personal trainer.

Luckily, you are at the front lines of this battle with your client. They are looking to you for advice and expertise.

By following a specific diet that gives more attention to dietary fibre rather than calorie counting, you may be able to bring shock and awe to a scenario that once seemed hopeless. Yes, your clients can break through their plateaus!

By remaining patient through this process, you can help change someone from being "destined for obesity from birth" into someone happy and healthy in their newly fit body.

As with any diet or meal plan, the devil is in the details, but here are 3 key points to consider when building the base:

1. Adopt a Plant-based Diet​

For all you meat lovers, this suggestion may hit close to home. The reality is thin-loving bacteria need and love fiber. And it just so happens to be that meat has 0 dietary fiber. Your clients need to eat more plant-based food.

Yes, we all know the importance of protein, so opt out for beans and other legumes in addition to an array of veggies. And remember, this might be a big change for your clients, so approach it with baby steps.

Eat high-fiber vegetables to foster thin-loving bacteria!

Vegetables that are naturally high in the ideal dietary fiber are Jerusalem artichokes and chicory root. Although not too common in your contemporary grocery stores, more health-oriented stores like Whole Foods should have these handy.

These two foods are similar to potatoes, but replace the no-good starch with porous fiber, which will help "thin" microbes to flourish.

2. Ditch the Sugar​

This seems like a no-brainer for any diet, complex or basic. Speaking louder than words to their gut microbes, sugar is like kryptonite to a healthy digestive tract. Not only does it lead the way for pathogens, it also plays a great host to the fat and calorie-loving Firmicutes bacteria mentioned earlier.

3. Stress the Importance of Exercise​

Although this may sound like the foundation of a trainer's position, research points to exercise as a key factor determining which bacteria dominates the gut and therefore promotes weight-loss or weight-gain. 

Be sure your clients understand that exercise is more than just calorie-burning. There are deep internal benefits, like healthy gut bacteria, that will pay big dividends in the long run. 

Will this help your clients break through their plateau? If so, pass along the knowledge using the share buttons below!

About the author

Brock Ingham

Brock Ingham

Brock is the editor of a nutritional blog Urban Alchemy where he shares industry tips and tricks.  When he's not learning about food science he's looking for unique gift ideas to stock his shop, Levitating Moon.