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Monash University Food as Medicine Course: Overview & Review

About the Monash University Food as Medicine: Food, Exercise and the Gut Course

Are you a Sports Dietitian, Physician, Coach or another Health Professional with aspirations to specialize in sports nutrition and the gastrointestinal track? Food as Medicine: Food, Exercise and the Gut is a two week online course that aims to help healthcare professionals improve their knowledge of gut health and how it’s affected by food and exercise.

young woman studying on computer

The Gut & Exercise

The gut is a complex part of the human body, and can be affected by many different factors. It is vital that healthcare professionals have a solid understanding of how the gut works, and what can exacerbate or improve gut problems during exercise.

The general topics covered during the course are: the gastrointestinal track, exercise-induced gastrointestinal syndrome, exacerbators, hydration, nutritional interventions, gut training and dietary modifications.

By the end of the course, one will be able to:

    • Describe the different gastrointestinal symptoms experienced by individuals participating in sport and exercise, including the degree of incidence and severity.
    • Explain the concept of exercise-induced gastrointestinal syndrome, and the associated acute and chronic health implication.
    • Describe the key factors that exacerbate exercise-induced gastrointestinal syndrome.
    • Summarize the current evidence-based prevention and management strategies for exercise-associated gastrointestinal perturbations and symptoms.
    • Evaluate the efficacy of these prevention and management strategies.

The course was developed by Monash University, in Melbourne, Australia, the birthplace and the most respected primary source for information about the low FODMAP diet.

Monash University has a strong research team led by gastroenterologist Professor Peter Gibson and nutrition scientist and dietitian Associate Professor Jane Muir who developed the low FODMAP concept in 2005.The course is given by Ricardo Costa.

He is a lecturer, researcher, practitioner and consultant in Extremes Physiology and Sports Dietetics, based at Monash University, with specialization in exercise gastroenterology.


Why I Took the Course

As an endurance runner and a Sports Dietitian specialized in endurance sports and gastrointestinal nutrition, I always had a keen interest in gastrointestinal health in athletes, probably because I noticed that many athletes, especially endurance athletes, suffer from gastrointestinal issues during exercise, including myself sometimes.

Early last year, I took the online training course for health professionals: The Low FODMAP Diet for Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

Even though that course was not focused on Sports Nutrition, I was able to apply some of the concepts that I learned to help athletes, but when I saw that there was a specific course on gastrointestinal health for athletes that was created, I signed up immediately!

I strive to practice evidenced based nutrition, which can sometimes be challenging since there is so many new research emerging in sports nutrition.

Monash University is known to be a leader in gastrointestinal nutrition and has a strong research team, so I had no doubt that the course would provide me with the most up to date and high quality information.

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How the Monash University Food, Exercise and the Gut Course Works

This online course is divided into two weeks. Week one focuses on understanding the causes of gastrointestinal issues during exercise. Week two gets into nutrition strategies to help prevent and manage gastrointestinal issues during exercise.

The course is recognized by Sports Dietitian Australia (SDA) and the British Dietetic Association (BDA). (Information is forthcoming about accreditation for those in the U.S. We will add information here as we receive it).

Overview of the Course Materials

 The course includes many short videos, which I thought were helpful to stay focused and better understand the information. The course is very interactive as it includes some case studies with discussions between participants and the teacher, which I enjoyed.

During the two weeks, it was possible to ask questions and the teacher answered quickly, which was very useful. Also included are handouts available for download, which include graphics, a glossary of useful terminology, a summary of key points and even a recipe book!

Numerous research studies are also listed to further your reading. At the end of each week, there is an end-of-the-week discussion where the teacher makes a summary video to recapitulate the main take home messages and goes deeper into some questions that were addressed during the week by participants.

I liked how the teacher was able to personalize the course according to the interests and questions asked by the participants.


The Different Sections Explained

Below is a breakdown of the different sections of the course and the main highlights.

Week One

Week one is divided into 3 general topics: the gastrointestinal tract, exercise-induced gastrointestinal syndrome and the exacerbators. It is very theoretical, but this is necessary since it provides the basics to be able to understand the practical applications presented during the second week. The creators of the course did a good job in simplifying the information, keeping it straightforward and to the point and making it easy to understand for health practitioners.

  • The Gastrointestinal Tract

This section presents an overview of the anatomy and function of the gastrointestinal tract.

  • Exercise-Induced Gastrointestinal Syndrome

This section defines exercise-induced gastrointestinal syndrome. It explores the various elements that contribute to this syndrome, as well as the potential symptoms and health complications associated with it. It also describes the tests that can be carried out to measure its impact on the gut. This part of the course gave me a better understanding of the causes of gastrointestinal issues during exercise. This section also includes frequently asked questions, which I found very helpful since it allows one to put theory into practice.

  • The Exacerbators

This section explores the factors that can exacerbate exercise-induced gastrointestinal syndrome during prolonged exercise, and what can be done to manage the symptoms. A summary of further outcomes and descriptive examples of exacerbating factors is available for download.


Week Two

Week two looks into the different prevention and management strategies that one can advise athletes who are suffering from gastrointestinal symptoms and perturbations during exercise, with the aim of reducing the gut symptoms, as well as health implications associated with these.

The areas covered include hydration, nutritional interventions, gut training, and dietary modifications. Each of these sections discusses some of the current research in the area, some of the practical application of this research, and includes a case study to help apply some of the scientific theories. The course ends with a summary of the key points.

  • Hydration

This section explains how hydration status can influence gastrointestinal issues during exercise and the emerging evidence in the area. Recommendations on hydration are then provided to help minimize the chances of gastrointestinal issues during exercise. This section also discusses heat acclimation.

For me, this was the most interesting section of the course.I have been keeping up to date with the current recommendations on hydration before, during and after exercise for athletes, but I hadn’t realized how much hydration status, especially dehydration, could influence gastrointestinal issues.

Before taking the course, when an athlete would experience gastrointestinal issues, I would focus a lot on foods consumed prior to exercise and sports supplements taken during exercise. While the latter is very important to consider, this course made me realize that some of the issues can be simply related to hydration. I also found the information about heat acclimation very interesting.

  • Nutritional Interventions

This section explains more about modified diets and their use for performance and gut health. It covers the gluten-free diet in non-celiac athletes as well as the low FODMAP diet and it’s applications for athletes.

Personally, I was already very knowledgeable on this topic since I had already completed The Low FODMAP Diet for Irritable Bowel Syndrome Monash course, I specialize in the low FODMAP diet and have used it with many athletes and clients that I follow.

I particularly liked the approach of the Registered Dietitian that explained the low FODMAP diet in this course and how she focused on the foods that are permitted on a low FODMAP diet rather than on the foods that are not allowed.

  • Gut Training

This section presents an overview of the outcomes from studies that sought to determine if the gut can be trained to tolerate carbohydrate during exercise and reduce gastrointestinal syndrome.

There has been a lot of anecdotal evidence and there is more and more scientific evidence that show that athletes that practice their race nutrition during training present less gastrointestinal symptoms and complications in competition compared to those athletes that don’t practice their race nutrition. This topic was not new for me either, but it was interesting to learn about the new research from Monash University.

  • Dietary Modifications

This section covers the impact of supplements and nutrition on gut health and performance. It provides an overview of how carbohydrate and protein intake before and during exercise may reduce gastrointestinal perturbations. It also goes over a number of supplements that have been researched for their effects on exercise induced gastrointestinal damage including antioxidants such as vitamin C and E, L-citrulline, L-arginine, Glutamine, colostrum and probiotics. I found this section useful as a lot of athletes are curious about supplements and often ask me questions about them.


Summary of the Key Points

At the end, the course provides some practical recommendations to help prevent and manage exercise-induced gastrointestinal syndrome based on the current scientific literature.

It summarizes the implications of exercise-induced gastrointestinal syndrome on gastrointestinal symptoms and health complications, both acute and chronic.

I really liked how the course was able to translate the theory into practice, which is what Sports Dietitians and other practitioners need in order to help athletes.

It is really helpful to have a quick course, which summarizes and simplifies the new research in the field and the main recommendations from those studies. It saved me a lot of time considering all the emerging research in this area.


Conclusion

This training can be a great place to start for anyone new to Sports Nutrition and an important update for expansion of skills and knowledge for those already practicing.

As a Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics and a Registered Dietitian specialized in the low FODMAP diet, this training reaffirmed much I already knew, and yet also provided me new skills of how to integrate evidence based practices with athletes, such as recommending the appropriate fuel and supplements before and during exercise and better personalizing my recommendations.

I now have a deeper understanding of the different aspects that can cause gastrointestinal symptoms during exercise, how to identify them and how to solve the issue.

I feel much more confident and have more practical tools to help athletes get rid of their gastrointestinal issues. I am also excited to try some of the recipes provided in the recipe book! As it is an emerging topic, I will definitely be following the new research and stay tuned for new discoveries.

You can follow the exercise related research by Monash University on their Facebook Page.

Read my next article “How To Avoid Gastrointestinal Issues During Exercise”.

If you have questions about this course or have taken it yourself and have something to add please send us your comment below. 

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