Gut Health

chocolate protein balls on a wooden board

These protein balls can be a great snack to manage energy levels, support hormonal balance, and provide a dose of protein and iron without excess sugar. Enjoy one or two as a nutritious snack throughout the day.


  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup almond meal
  • 1/4 cup chia seeds
  • 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 2 tablespoons raw cacao powder (for a chocolatey flavor without added sugar)
  • 1/2 cup natural almond or peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup honey or maple syrup (adjust to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1-2 tablespoons water (if needed for consistency)
  • Pinch of salt
  • Optional: 1-2 tablespoons collagen powder


Combine Dry Ingredients: In a mixing bowl, combine rolled oats, almond meal, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, shredded coconut, raw cacao powder, and a pinch of salt. Stir well to mix evenly.

Wet Ingredients: Add almond or peanut butter, honey or maple syrup, vanilla extract, and collagen powder (if using) to the dry ingredients. Mix thoroughly until a sticky, uniform mixture forms. If the mixture seems too dry, add water, a tablespoon at a time, until it holds together easily.

Form Balls: Take small portions of the mixture and roll it between your palms to form bite-sized balls. If the mixture is too sticky, slightly wet your hands to make rolling easier.Chill: Place the formed balls on a baking sheet or plate lined with parchment paper and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to firm up.

Storage: Once firm, transfer the protein balls to an airtight container and store them in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

Nutritional note: These tasty treats are packed with essential fatty acids, and nutrients such as fibre key for gut health, metabolism,  glowing skin and hormonal balance. Nut consumption is also associated with a 15% reduction in the incidence of cardiovascular disease. Research shows nuts are one of the natural plant foods with a unique profile high in beneficial unsaturated fats and low in saturated fatty acids (4-16%).



Ros, E. (2010). Health benefits of nut consumption. Nutrients, 2(7), 652-682.

Palacios, O. M., Cortes, H. N., Jenks, B. H., & Maki, K. C. (2020). Naturally occurring hormones in foods and potential health effects. Toxicology Research and Application, 4, 2397847320936281.


Contact the Athlete Sanctuary and learn how we can help you to increase health, wellbeing and performance.

About the Author: Kate Smyth is a Sports naturopath, nutritionist and female-centric running coach. She is the founder of the Athlete Sanctuary- a holistic healthcare clinic for athletes of all levels and sporting codes. Kate has a thirst for knowledge with two bachelor’s and a master’s degree under her belt. She has been involved in sports for many decades and competed for Australia in the Commonwealth Games and Olympic Games marathons with a personal best time of 2 hours 28 minutes. 

Nutrients for immunity

The immune system is a busy network throughout our entire body including cells, vessels, lymphoid tissue, nodes, nodules, bone marrow, and organs.

Our thymus gland helps regulate the immune system, and is the storage tank for immune cells responsible for eradicating viruses.

The spleen recycles iron, captures and destroys pathogens and initiates the maturation and release of immune cells when the body is required to fight infections.

The lymphatic system is a filtering system removing waste and obsolete immune cells from our entire body through a system of lymph nodes and vessels. Mucous membranes in our respiratory system and gastrointestinal tract, tonsils, and adenoids also contain lymphatic tissue.

Our immune system would not be complete without the gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT) – and Peyer’s patches in the small intestine.  Nearly 80% of our immunity is actually based in the digestive tract.

A robust immunity has many lines of defence

Our immune system is equipped with a multi-tiered response to battle with foreign invaders 24/7.

The innate immune system includes a  first line of defence which prevents pathogens (germs) from gaining entry into the body. The skin, mucous membranes, gastrointestinal tract and secretions (mucous, vaginal secretions, bile, gastric acid, saliva, tears, and sweat) all play an important role.

The next line of defence houses our infection-fighting cells such as natural killer cells and phagocytes which act like Pac-men against microbial invaders. The immune system also releases antimicrobial proteins such as complement and interferon which interfere with virus replication and cell-to-cell communication.

Our adaptive immune system also keeps a record of every germ it has ever defeated so it can recognise and destroy the microbe quickly if it enters the body again.

A balanced whole-foods diet containing real foods rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals can help build robust immunity.

Key vitamins and minerals to boost immunity
Vitamin C

Vitamin C builds resistance to infection and stimulates immune cells and proteins which help eradicate viruses.

Vitamin C-rich foods include veggies such as red capsicum, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, spinach, parsley, and sweet potato. Fruits such as kiwi, berries, pawpaw, pineapple, citrus, guava, broccoli, mango, currants are great sources of vitamin C.  Rosehip, camu camu, and Kakadu plum provide concentrated powdered forms of vitamin C widely available through health food shops. One we recommend is Wild C.

In some circumstances, vitamin C supplementation may be beneficial.  Having small amounts of vitamin C throughout the day may reduce the likelihood of any gastrointestinal side effects.


Quercetin is a flavonoid reported to have antiviral properties in numerous studies. Vitamin C and quercetin taken together, has a  synergistic antiviral action.

Quercetin is contained in apples, honey, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, onions, red grapes, cherries, citrus fruits, and green leafy vegetables.


Zinc plays a crucial role in supporting immune cell production and modulation of immunity.3, 4 Common zinc deficiency signs include frequent and prolonged colds, and poor wound healing, acne, dermatitis, low stomach acid, poor smell or taste. White spots on nails may also be a sign of zinc deficiency.

There are many factors that may contribute to zinc deficiency. Inadequate dietary intake, poor absorption, loss through perspiration, and high iron and copper levels can have a detrimental impact on zinc homeostasis.

Foods rich in zinc include oysters, seafood, tahini, peanuts, liver, eggs, nuts, seeds, and legumes. Soaking and sprouting legumes, nuts and seeds helps to break down the phytates that may bind to zinc and reduce zinc’s bio-availability.

Keep in mind there are many other nutrients that support the immune system, however, zinc, vitamin c, and quercetin are key when it comes to fighting viruses.

Gut health

Gut health plays an important role in immunity.

Including prebiotic (skins on vegetables and fruit, psyllium husks, slippery elm, etc.) and probiotic-rich foods (kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, tempeh, kombucha, miso, and quality yogurt) can improve your immunity. Probiotics can also improve sports performance as discussed on our blog here.

Don’t self-sabotage your immunity

Avoid substances that reduce immune system function.

Diets high in saturated fats, sugars, and refined carbohydrates have been shown to contribute to the prevalence of obesity and type 2 diabetes, and increase the risk for severe COVID-19 pathology and mortality. 5 Studies suggest sugar reduces the capacity of white blood cells for up to 5 hours within 1 hour of consumption. Sugar can also feed fungi such as candida which deplete the immune system and increase fatigue.

Caffeine or other stimulants can stress your nervous system, reduce sleep and deplete stores of zinc, and magnesium.  Switching your second coffee for a green tea has been shown to improve innate immunity.

Enjoy alcohol in moderation. Excessive alcohol may also suppress the immune system and increased susceptibility to respiratory pathogens and lung injury.

Sleep has an influence on immunity maintenance and immunological response and can increase your risk of picking up infections. Obtain at least 8 hours of sleep every night, ideally hitting the pillow before 10 pm.

Chronic stress depletes the immune system. Focus on what you can control and avoid getting caught up in daily news. Your mindset matters in times of stress and unpredictability. Consider ways of dispelling stress such as meditation, mindfulness, reading, or creative activities. Don’t forget laughter has been shown to improve immunity and mental health.

Keep your exercise balanced and consistent. Regular exercise improves immunity however excessive exercise of long duration and intensity can make athletes more susceptible to respiratory infections.

If you feel you need to boost your immunity, feel free to contact us and let’s discuss how we can help.



1.  Carr AC, Maggini S. Vitamin C and Immune Function. (2017) Nutrients. 3;9(11):1211.

2. Askari et al., Quercetin- an overview. (2017). Nutrient Delivery

3. Maywald M, Wessels I, Rink L. Zinc Signals and Immunity. Int J Mol Sci. 2017 Oct 24;18(10):2222. doi: 10.3390/ijms18102222.

4. Skalny AV, Rink L, Ajsuvakova OP, Aschner M, Gritsenko VA, Alekseenko SI, Svistunov AA, Petrakis D, Spandidos DA, Aaseth J, Tsatsakis A, Tinkov AA. Zinc and respiratory tract infections: Perspectives for COVID‑19 (Review). Int J Mol Med. 2020 Jul;46(1):17-26. doi: 10.3892/ijmm.2020.4575.

5. Butler MJ, Barrientos RM. The impact of nutrition on COVID-19 susceptibility and long-term consequences. (2020) Brain Behav Immun. Jul;87:53-54. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2020.04.040.

6. Does Sugar Weakn the Immune System? Biotics Research. 2020.

7. Chowdhury P, Barooah AK. Tea Bioactive Modulate Innate Immunity: In Perception to COVID-19 Pandemic. Front Immunol. 2020 Oct 28;11:590716. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2020.590716.

8. Yeligar SM, Chen MM, Kovacs EJ, Sisson JH, Burnham EL, Brown LA. Alcohol and lung injury and immunity. Alcohol. 2016 Sep;55:51-59. doi: 10.1016/j.alcohol.2016.08.005

9. Silva ESME, Ono BHVS, Souza JC. Sleep and immunity in times of COVID-19. Rev Assoc Med Bras (1992). 2020 Sep 21;66Suppl 2(Suppl 2):143-147. doi: 10.1590/1806-9282.66.S2.143.

10. Dhabhar FS. Effects of stress on immune function: the good, the bad, and the beautiful. Immunol Res. 2014 May;58(2-3):193-210. doi: 10.1007/s12026-014-8517-0.

11. Yim J. Therapeutic Benefits of Laughter in Mental Health: A Theoretical Review. Tohoku J Exp Med. 2016 Jul;239(3):243-9. doi: 10.1620/tjem.239.243

12. Cerqueira É, Marinho DA, Neiva HP, Lourenço O. Inflammatory Effects of High and Moderate Intensity Exercise-A Systematic Review. Front Physiol. 2020 Jan 9;10:1550. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2019.01550


If you’re training hard, but don’t feel like you’re improving your athletic performance, then enriching your gut health through choosing the best probiotics to complement your gut microbiome could be the missing ingredient.

What are probiotics?
Probiotics are live microorganisms, mainly bacteria, and yeasts, that naturally reside in your gut (microbiome) and convey a health benefit. Your microbiome typically contains over 1000 different organisms, both beneficial and pathogenic.

Because a healthy gut microbiome strengthens your immune system and enhances your recovery from fatigue and overtraining, taking care of your gastrointestinal system is vital. This will enhance your general health and help to improve your athletic performance.

We consume probiotics via gut-friendly fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, kimchi, kombucha, and sauerkraut, and commercially produced supplements.

Probiotics shouldn’t be confused with prebiotics. Prebiotics are carbohydrates and fibres such as inulin and other fructo-oligosaccharides found in foods like artichoke, bananas, and asparagus. The microorganisms in your gastrointestinal tract use prebiotics as fuel.

Supplements called ‘synbiotics’ contain both prebiotic molecules and probiotic organisms.2 Synbiotics offer a dual-action strategy for even greater health benefits. A diet rich in pre and probiotic foods support your gut to develop a robust immunity.

Understanding probiotics for runners

As the popularity of ‘gut health’ supplements for athletes increases, a basic knowledge of the assortment of beneficial probiotics in your supplement is helpful.

Probiotics are classified by their unique microorganism strain, which includes the genus, species, subspecies (if applicable), and an alphanumeric strain designation.

The seven core probiotic genera are Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, Saccharomyces, Streptococcus, Bacillus, Enterococcus, and Escherichia.

Lactobaccillus rhamnosus, Lactobaccillus acidophilus, and Saccharomyces boulardii are common commercially produced probiotic and yeast species. This ‘probiotic tree’ diagram highlights several commercially available probiotic strains.

Research on specific probiotic strains has expanded our knowledge of the health benefits and targeted treatments of probiotics for athletes. However, probiotic supplementation may not be appropriate or necessary for all athletes.

Probiotics for Runners

Certain probiotic species impart significant anti-inflammatory effects within your gut. In particular, Lactobacillus strains produce lactate, which is then converted into short-chain fatty acids by your gut bacteria. Butyrate is a pivotal short-chain fatty acid for intestinal homeostasis due to its anti-inflammatory properties and beneficial effects on intestinal cells, gut barrier function, and permeability.

Over thirty years of research supports the widespread use of Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (LGG) for common gut-related issues such as diarrhoea, antibiotic use, infections, e.g., Clostridium, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, respiratory tract infections, and allergies in athletes.

Studies also show certain probiotics can improve vitamin D levels in athletes.

LGG along with L. acidophilus, and B. bifidum improve exercise-induced gastrointestinal symptoms. In fact, almost 60%of runners and endurance athletes who train intensely experience gut microbiome upsets and unwanted symptoms. Probiotics offer relief by supporting immune function and intestinal cell proliferation and function, as well as shortening the duration of gastrointestinal symptoms.5

Probiotic strains interact favourably with other probiotic species in the microbiome to improve the overall balance and composition of beneficial bacteria in your gut. For example, Lactobacillus fermentum (PCC) can increase the Lactobacillus genus seven-fold after 11 weeks of supplementation.

Probiotic supplements can help regulate blood sugar levels and maintain energy for training and performance. Also, yeast probiotics such as Saccharomyces cerevisiae are widely used to suppress the overgrowth of Candida or thrush fungal infections.

Lastly, new research demonstrates that probiotics can enhance sports performance. Runners taking Bifidobacterium longum (OLP-01) for five weeks significantly increased their running distance in a timed test. Bifidobacterium longum (OLP-01) also provided other health benefits such as increasing the abundance of gut microbiota in the runners.

There are a few final points to keep in mind before you add probiotics to your diet.

First, the quality of your probiotic supplement may vary significantly. Be careful about your choices as the label “probiotic” doesn’t necessarily mean this option will be suitable for your microbiome.

Second, a probiotic combination or an inappropriate supplementation duration may exacerbate unwanted symptoms in some situations. Therefore, it’s vital to consume high-quality, well-characterised live probiotics that deliver a therapeutic dose over an effective length of time.

Finally, the best probiotics for endurance athletes are selected case by case to improve your performance, recovery, immune and gut health. Be sure to seek professional advice for the most suitable probiotic therapy for your training and health circumstances.

Unsure if a probiotic supplement could help you?
Speak with Athlete Sanctuary’s sports naturopath and nutritionist about your health and sports performance goals today.

About the Author: Kate Smyth is a Sports naturopath, nutritionist and female-centric running coach. She is the founder of the Athlete Sanctuary- a holistic healthcare clinic for athletes of all levels and sporting codes. Kate has a thirst for knowledge with two bachelor’s and a master’s degree under her belt. She has been involved in sports for many decades and competed for Australia in the Commonwealth Games and Olympic Games marathons with a personal best time of 2 hours 28 minutes. For more information visit www.https://


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  9. Probiotic professionals