Gut Microbiota And Athlete’s Performance

What is the microbiota of the body?
The human body contains many microorganisms, including a large number of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa, which are referred to as microbiota. Compared with the number of cells comprising the human body, that of the microbiota is much larger.

Studies have indicated that an optimally functioning digestive tract microbiome can have tremendous positive effects on physical well-being, mental health, and longevity.

Microbiota stimulate the immune system, break down potentially toxic food compounds, and synthesize certain vitamins and amino acids, [2] including the B vitamins and vitamin K. For example, the key enzymes needed to form vitamin B12 are only found in bacteria, not in plants and animals

Increasing gut well-being can bolster the immune system, diminish irritation, normalize hormones, and aid in breaking down and assimilating dietary components– all of which are beneficial to an athlete’s physical health.

Do gut health and performance have any connection? This is an overview of the research on the correlation between a healthy digestive system and improved physical activity and athletic performance.

Defining and assessing the gut microbiota

Before examining studies on gut microbiota that are connected to athletes, it is essential to explain what is meant by this phrase. Similar to any of the external surfaces of your body, your digestive system hosts a lot of microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses and fungi.

At least since the 1840s, it has been known that the stomach is a residence for germs, as identified when a surgeon called John Goodsir observed a bacterium in the vomit coming from a 19-year-old individual.

Nowadays, it is widely acknowledged that bacteria living in the intestine perform more than simply existing. Collectively, the gut microbiota—these bacteria—help to control your immune system, metabolism, emotions, and the likelihood of developing a condition.

The phrase “gut microbiome” refers not only to the microorganisms as individual entities but also to all of their genetic information and their home, which is the gut.

Without a doubt, bacteria are the most clustered in the colon out of any other area of the digestive system. The exact number may differ between individuals, but typically a man or woman can contain approximately 40 trillion bacterial cells, the majority of which are in the colon.

It may seem unbelievable, but for each of your own cells, there are multiple bacteria cells located within and around your body.

When discussing a person’s gut microbiota, the most typical way is by examining a sample of faeces. Faecal samples may be simple to obtain and at the same time unappetizing, but they act as a surrogate for evaluating the gut microbiota.

Certainly, bacteria present in faeces and those that reside near the mucosa (the layer of tissue inside the digestive tract) are dissimilar.

It has proven difficult to determine which organisms live in the gut and how they change in response to lifestyle and environmental considerations, because of this issue in addition to other systematic problems.

Although there is still disagreement, scientists in this area tend to come to the same conclusions in certain areas. Initially, the microorganisms in the gut generally progress predictably in the early stages of life.

For example, when a baby is born, their gut bacteria will start to increase in the presence of Bifidobacteria, and that will remain until the baby begins consuming solid foods.

It appears that the gut microbiota remains consistent for the majority of adulthood, but certain dietary alterations, weight loss, and the use of antibiotics lead to changes in the microbiota. In other words, it appears that gut microbiota has both consistent and adjustable properties.

The athlete’s gut microbiome is different

The initial research that analysed the microbes in the guts of sportspersons was conducted on primarily Irish male rugby players. Athletes of rugby had more varied microbiotas in comparison to non-athletes when using a range of measurements.

Athletes had a larger proportion of 48 unique bacterial phyla than people with a similar body size who were not athletes; the only difference was that the athletes had fewer Bacteroidetes phyla.

A further study of elite Polish marathoners showed that their levels of Bacteroidetes were reduced relative to those of sedentary individuals.

Runners had more Prevotella in comparison to non-athletes.

The results of these experiments correspond to the prevailing body of scientific literature; a 2020 report from the International Society of Sports Nutrition concluded that physically active people usually possess a larger number of advantageous bacterial species and a greater variety of bacteria than inactive people.

Scientists are attempting to determine the origins of the additional diversity of the microbiota. Is it the athletes’ training, diet, or something else? It is very challenging to separate and make sweeping generalizations about these components.

Still, some findings are fairly consistent between studies. There is an abundance of certain microorganisms connected with better health found in those who consume higher levels of fibre and other complex carbohydrates.

Studies have also shown that taking fibre supplements increases the amount of Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus species in the diet.

When people become more active, they often increase their carbohydrate intake, which could be a potential factor in the boosted microbial variety seen in athletes.

Athletes generally consume more protein than just fibre and complex carbohydrates. The research into Irish rugby players showed that higher amounts of protein intake were associated with a higher variety of microbiota.

Certain bacteria in the gut can metabolize amino acids (resulting from the decomposition of proteins) if they are not absorbed within the body, an occurrence that is more likely to happen with a high-protein diet.

Although this could be viewed as advantageous, we need to be careful when evaluating this result. Certain components produced by the metabolic process of the colon’s proteins may be damaging to the cells present in that area.

As well, consuming more protein could influence the various bacteria living in the intestine, sometimes with unfortunate consequences.

The results of an investigation conducted on endurance athletes showed that consumption of a blend of whey isolate and beef hydrolysate had the effect of reducing the number of beneficial bacteria such as Roseburia and Bifidobacterium.

In conclusion, the influence of protein on the bacteria in the gut will depend on the type of food that it originates from (vegetable-based, meat, fish, and dairy products), and researchers are still attempting to understand the resultant effects on the intestinal microbiota.

The critical importance of the gut microbiome in athletic performance

The bacterial community within the intestines can have an effect on athletic ability both while doing strenuous physical activity and after it is completed. The optimal gut microbiome has the potential to enhance power and performance by supplying muscles with oxygen and the right nourishment in high-intensity activities.

The microbiome in the gastrointestinal tract can regulate inflammation and facilitate the healing of tissue, thereby increasing performance and speeding up the healing process.

To what extent do the variations in the microorganisms found in the intestines of athletes compared to sedentary people affect them in practical ways?

It is possible to respond to this inquiry in different ways, however, an uncomplicated method of doing so is to research if gut microbiota indicators relate to facets of physical performance.

An inquiry from 2016 was done to ascertain if there was a link between the performance on a VO2max test and the number of distinct species of gut microbiota in young adults and a moderate correlation was found.

Research conducted by other sources has revealed that particular environments of gut microbes appear to be associated with being aerobically fit in non-athlete individuals.

Studies of this kind cannot demonstrate unequivocally that gut microbiota directly influences aerobic fitness. It seems reasonable, if not more likely, that those in better physical condition had different gut microbiomes due to their eating habits and exercise regimens.

In other terms, the microorganisms in their body could be the result of their way of life. To determine if the microbiota is essential to sport success, the optimal way would be to have an experiment that modifies the bacteria within athletes’ digestive systems.

Taking probiotics as an additional supplement is a viable solution, however, the evidence in favour of their effectiveness in increasing athletic performance is limited. Although there have been reports of a boost to the respiratory immune system.

It is possible that the investigations conducted were not employing the suitable form or amount of probiotic, nevertheless, it could also be given that organisms’ metabolic processes in your digestion tracts are not adept enough to have any effect on your muscles or heart during strenuous exercise.

No matter what, using probiotics should not be the first approach an athlete considers when attempting to enhance their athletic capabilities.

A healthy, well-fed gut can provide energy during exercise

The amount of energy in the body has a huge impact on how much effort one can put into high-intensity exercise; the more energy accessible, the more tasks one can complete. For extended physical exertion, the body has to access different energy sources to be able to sustain and increase the strain.

Fortunately, a well-nourished microbiome can provide this power. The microorganisms within our gut create short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) as a result of processing the food that we consume for energy.

SCFAs can be used as an energy source to power gluconeogenesis, a course of action that produces glucose for muscles to access as a form of energy.

A study conducted in 2021 showed that particular Short Chain Fatty Acids might have an essential role in endurance-based athleticism, however, additional exploration specifically on people, specifically athletes, is essential.

Despite the well-known significance of a healthy gut in physical performance, athletes may be more likely to disrupt their microbiome by not consuming sufficient amounts of food.

It has long been known that athletes have demands for more energy and nutrients than those who do not partake in physical activity, and this is part of the reason they run the risk of not getting enough food. Inadequate or restrictive eating can cause gastrointestinal problems by various means.

In addition, it is imperative to nourish the beneficial gut bacteria with prebiotic-rich, fibrous food items for optimal digestive wellness. Examples of these edibles could be whole grains, pulses, fruits, veggies, nuts, and seeds.

An athlete who doesn’t eat enough of certain foods or imposes a strict diet won’t be giving his or her gut bacteria the fuel necessary for them to survive.

A healthy gut can help reduce inflammation

The bacteria that live in the digestive system can help to reduce inflammation, which is essential for anyone who wants to do well in their sport. Exercise naturally induces muscle fibre tears, causing inflammation.

During the repair process, an enhanced flow of blood is present in the injured area; this provides the muscles with oxygen, and energy, and helps to remove waste, enabling the muscles to recover and gain strength.

While inflammation is necessary for the muscular growth process, too much of it can be damaging to the immune system.

However, a balanced digestive system can lessen the risk of inflammation due to an intense workout. As previously mentioned, when microorganisms in our bodies are provided with enough nutrition they produce SCFAs, providing us with energy.

It has been found that SCFAs generated by healthy gut bacteria can help to lessen inflammation that occurs due to strenuous exercise. This is done by diminishing gut permeability and blocking cytokines, which are molecules that cause inflammation.

This reduction of swelling can also help to postpone exhaustion after exercise.

How athletes can support gut health

Further study is required to comprehend in a greater amount of detail the association between physical exercise and the human gut microbiome. In the meantime, there are actions you can take as an athlete to promote a healthy gut microbiome:

Athletes need to prioritize getting enough rest to benefit from the most recovery and the best athletic performance. Having a variety of microorganisms in the intestinal tract is related to more effective sleep, more overall rest time, and fewer awakenings in the middle of the night.

It is essential to consume enough vitamins, minerals, and various kinds of foods to help maintain your physical fitness as well as your overall health.

Diets that cut out large food groups, usually those that contain carbs, can inhibit the beneficial bacteria in the gut from getting the necessary prebiotics and fibres from food. Furthermore, eating food that is high in polyphenols can have advantageous effects on the bacteria found in the gastrointestinal tract. These include coffee, tea, wine, and cocoa.

Manage stress: This includes both life and training stress. High concentrations of cortisol, the hormone linked to pressure, have been linked to bad digestion, digestive issues, and loss of muscle mass.

These issues can result in a decrease in restful sleep, increased worry, a dismal state of mind, a decrease in bone solidness, and a decrease in immune system capacity.

Check your physiological indicators: Aside from cortisol, there are several symptoms related to the health of your gut that can be found in your blood. Keeping an eye on hs-CRP, HDL cholesterol, triglycerides, glucose, and HbA1c levels and doing what it takes to make them optimal can aid in upgrading the state of your gut microbiome.

It could be useful to incorporate probiotics into one’s diet, as these helpful microorganisms are known to decrease inflammation, aid in attaining and keeping a healthy weight, and positively affect mood and thinking.

Probiotics may have the potential to enhance an athlete’s well-being and help them become more physically fit and capable of exercising.

Research needs to be conducted on athletes on the advantages that probiotics may have and how they can enhance physical performance, plus discover how these potential advantages manifest.

An active lifestyle may also support gut health

The microbial flora in the digestive tract can improve performance in sports, however, the correlation may be reversed.

Research has indicated that active people usually have a greater range of gut microbiome variation (which is known to be an indication of good gastrointestinal health) in comparison to those who are inactive. The amount of fat, muscle, and other tissue in the body, as well as the amount of physical activity, are both linked to particular bacteria species.

Further examination is needed to determine the correlation, but scientists have come up with many possible ways exercise may impact gut health. These include:

  • Higher amounts of health-promoting or ‘good’ gut bacteria
  • More diversity of the good gut bacteria
  • Increased metabolic capacity
  • Improved GI barrier function
  • Improved mucosal immune function (remember, the gut is part of the immune system!)

Athletes have higher amounts of faecal metabolites that can be linked to having a higher physical fitness level and overall better health than those who are less active. These metabolites are created by the metabolism of food and nutrients within the gut bacteria.

The microbiotas of athletes may increase their capacity for mending tissues and being able to maximize the energy ingested from food, which has already been mentioned.

It is interesting to note that there may possibly be a variance in gut well-being associated with varying types of sports. Research examining top-tier athletes in 16 distinct sports has identified that variations in the gut microbiome can be associated with the sport being practised as well as the intensity of the training, as long as their dietary habits remain alike.


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