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Eat Well, Feel Well: Gut Health And The Importance Of Fibre

Eat Well, Feel Well: Gut Health And The Importance Of Fibre

James Ryan in action during the Guinness Six Nations. ©INPHO/Gary Carr

Eating well to feel well is paramount at the best of times, but even more so now as we all navigate our way through challenging and unprecedented periods. Nutrition is important not just to stay physically healthy but also for your mental health, energy and overall mood and in the fifth part of our video series from the team of IRFU Performance Nutritionists, we explore the topic of gut health and fibre with Sophie Conroy, Performance Nutritionist with the Connacht Rugby Academy.

Gut Health And The Importance Of Fibre – Sophie Conroy, Performance Nutritionist with the Connacht Rugby Academy

Gut health is a buzz topic these days, but do you ever wonder what is ‘good’ gut health and how you optimise it?

A healthy gut is essential for good digestion, prevention of disease and is linked to overall healthy well-being. Nutrition plays a vital role in overall gut health. What we eat (or don’t for that matter), can have repercussions on the health of our gut.


Fibre is a carbohydrate that is an important component for healthy digestion which comes from plants. It helps ‘move’ food through our system.

There are two fibre types – soluble (fermentable) and insoluble (help to bulk up stool volume and improve motility). Both types are needed in our diets. Include a diverse diet rich in wholegrains, legumes, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds to ensure you obtain all of the necessary fibres.

Water is essential in the diet to allow fibre do its job effectively. We need 24g-35g of fibre every day to support our digestion and health.

Modern Diet

The modern western diet contains a lot of processed foods, which are less nutrient dense (i.e. don’t provide much nutrition in their contents). Therefore, limiting your intakes of these foods may help support a well-balanced gut.

Bacteria in our Gut

Our gastrointestinal tract naturally contains trillions of bacteria, both good and bad. Having the correct balance of these is essential for health. There are some things that can cause imbalance (age, use of antibiotics, IBS, the foods we eat).

A well balanced diet with diversity is important to maintaining good gut health. This diverse diet should include foods that contain both:

    1. Prebiotics, types of carbohydrates which help encourage the growth of good bacteria such as onions, leeks, garlic, and;
    2. Probiotics, which are ‘good’ bacteria found in certain foods (and supplements). Probiotics can improve the balance of bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract by competing with harmful bacteria. They are found in foods such as yogurts and fermented foods (kefir etc).

Including these foods as part of a well-balanced diverse diet should allow for a happy gut. There are cases where supplementation may be beneficial (i.e. those who suffer from gut related syndromes, travellers’ diarrhoea, individual issues, however these should be reviewed on an individual basis).

So, in summary, to ensure you are doing the most for your gut, include a well-balanced diverse diet, rich in fruit and veg, legumes, wholegrains, dairy, lean protein and limit your intake of processed foods.

You can read the first part of our Eat Well, Feel Well series with Emma Tester, Lead Performance Nutritionist Munster Rugby here, while Daniel Davey, Senior Performance Nutritionist with Leinster Rugby, explored the topic of nutrition fundamentals here and Marcus Shortall, Performance Nutritionist with the Ireland Sevens programme, discussed the different energy sources. Last week, Gary Sweeney, Performance Nutritionist with the IRFU National Talent Development Pathway, wrote about the topic of hydration.

For more on the IRFU’s Eat2Compete series for younger athletes, click here