Whether you’re an athlete looking to improve your performance or if you have gut health concerns like bloating, gas, or indigestion, this article will help you understand how gut health can impact sports performance!
Gut health and why is it important?
The gut microbiome is composed of all the bacteria, fungi, and viruses that our bodies host. The environment of our gut microbiome allows for a diverse collection of microorganisms to thrive. In the past, the importance of our gut flora was overlooked. However, new technologies have allowed for scientists to dive deeper into the interactions these microbes have with our bodies. This has also highlighted the vital roles they play in influencing factors like nutrition, immunity, mental health, and even physical performance. 1
Relationship gut health has with different body functions:
Gut microbiota are responsible for the production of Short Chain Fatty Acids (SCFA). 1 SCFA are fatty acids produced when healthy gut bacteria ferment fiber within the colon. They are the main source of fuel for the cells lining the gut, known as colonocytes. Butyrate is a type of SCFA produced from the fermentation of fiber in the large intestine. 10 It has been reported to support healthy immune function, help reduce inflammation, and help prevent diseases like cancer. 2
How can exercise affect gut health?
Gut health is influenced by diet and environmental factors, like exercise. Exercise can be very beneficial depending on the type and intensity at which it is being performed. Moderate-intensity exercise can help increase movement through the digestive tract and can also help increase blood flow throughout the body. 3 This can help strengthen the gut microbiome by stimulating bacteria that are known to improve our gastrointestinal lining barrier functions and increasing microbiota diversity. 11
In addition, aerobic physical activity can also increase the number of healthy bacteria that produce butyrate like akkermansia muciniphila. This bacteria is found in the gastrointestinal track of many athletes and is correlated with a decreased risk of developing different metabolic disease. 4 Eating more fiber can increase carbohydrate metabolism. Therefore also increasing SCFA production. 4 This can lead to a higher muscle turnover rate, improving exercise performance. 4
However, extreme exercise isn’t good for the gut. Placing too much of a demand on your body can cause dysbiosis, the imbalance of gut microbiota. 3 Over-exercising can cause your gut microbiome to become weak and issue an inflammatory response. 3 Some symptoms of overexertion can even cause GI discomfort such as cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea. 4 Think about this next time you’re running and start to feel cramps in your stomach or working out so hard you feel nauseous. It’s okay to push your limits but remember you’re not only pushing your own but also your gut microbiome’s.
How does gut health affect sports performance?
Gut health and sports performance directly affect each other. This is partly due to the fact that our gut microbiome produces nutrients like SCFA which our bodies metabolize during exercise. 9 In addition, findings of different research have also confirmed that certain sports like running, basketball, and rugby have specific gut microbiota that help athletes perform better in that specific sport. 5
For instance, in an interview with Jonathon Schieman, a Harvard scientist, he explains how during the 2015 Boston Marathon, he and his colleagues brought back samples of feces to their lab from over 20 marathon runners. This was part of research aiming to identify bacteria elite athletes have that allow them to be stronger, faster, and have greater recovery speed than the average person. After evaluating the bacteria from the marathon runners after the race, Schieman found that levels of bacteria that break down lactic acid were higher after the race than before. 5 The bacteria responsible for this is known as veillonella atypica and is found in many elite athletes. 6 It carries out an enzymatic process that can help reduce lactic acid build up and speed up recovery time in athletes. 6
In another study which evaluated elite rugby players, scientists found that exercise increased microbiome diversity. They also found that exercise had a positive correlation with protein intake and creatine kinase levels. 6 The results of the study highlight the effect that both diet and exercise have on determining biodiversity of microbiota within the gut. A greater microbiome diversity is related to having better overall health, while not having a large amount of biodiversity can lead to the development of different inflammatory conditions and gastrointestinal diseases, such as inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome. 7
Gut Health and Sports Performance: Benefits of Probiotics for Athletes
By incorporating probiotics into your diet, you can improve your health, performance and recovery time. Probiotics help to do these things by diversifying your gut microbiome and promoting gut health by replenishing it with good bacteria. 12 Probiotics are microorganisms found in fermented foods that promote the growth of healthy bacteria in your gut.
Which types of probiotics should I take?
In a study testing the effects of supplementation with probiotics, lactobacillus plantarum showed positive effects on exercise performance in addition to physical fatigue when examining the gut microbial profile in mice. Results showed that lactobacillus plantarum increased muscle mass and grip strength.8 It also enhanced energy levels and exercise performance. 8 Lactobacillus plantarum influenced exercise performance by producing lactic acid. This could then could be used by lactate-utilizing bacteria- veillonella atypica – to produce butyrate. 8 Along this pathway, there was also formation of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). This shows that probiotic supplementation could also play an important role in energy production during exercise. If you’re wondering what probiotics and other supplements to take to improve your gut health and sports performance, click HERE.
Beneficial Effects of Gut Microbiota:
If you’re an athlete, having a healthy, biodiverse gut is not only important for your overall health, but also for your athletic performance. Here are 7 ways a healthy gut can improve your sports performance:
- Reduce Inflammation: A biodiverse gut microbiome can help decrease levels of inflammation.
- Better mental strength: The brain and the gut are interconnected! The gut produces neurotransmitters and hormones responsible for affecting our mood, stress, and appetite.
- Boost energy levels: A healthy microbiome and help boost energy levels by reducing fatigue and facilitating in lactic acid breakdown and increasing ATP levels.
- Regulate weight: The gut microbiome has an influence over body composition, how blood glucose fluctuates after meals, and how fat stored in our bodies.9
- Nutrient absorption and gut motility: Gut microbiota affects metabolism by producing enzymes that help break down foods, like fiber, that our bodies could not break down otherwise.
- Elevate hydration: A healthy gut microbiome helps keep you hydrated by having an effect on the transport of electrolytes like potassium and sodium across the guts lining. 11
- Improve sleep: The bacteria living in our gut is responsible for producing 90% of the serotonin produced in our bodies. Serotonin has many roles in our bodies- it helps us regulate our digestive processes, mood, emotions, and appetites.
Gut Health and Sports Performance, Conclusion:
Being an athlete requires you to work and train hard physically. However, it also requires your gut to work hard. The gut microbiome helps support all the metabolic processes taking place when you train. The bacteria in your gut helps reduce inflammation, fatigue, and can even help with energy production. 8 Gut health and sports performance has become such a popular subject that scientists like Johnathon Schiedman are coming up with ways to take the bacteria found in the gastrointestinal tracks of elite athletes, and put them into probiotics to sell to consumers. The idea is, their specific bacteria will help others perform like them.
If you want to perform better as an athlete, be sure to support your gut health by taking probiotics and avoiding over-training. By taking probiotics and supporting your gut health, you are also supporting your mental health and physical performance.
1. Blaser, M. J. (2014, October 1). The microbiome revolution. Retrieved from National Library of Medicine : https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4191014/
2. Cleveland Clinic. (2022, July 11). The Health Benefits and Side Effects of Butyrate. Retrieved from CLeveland Clinic: https://health.clevelandclinic.org/butyrate-benefits/
3. Mach, N., & Fuster-Botella, D. (2017, June). Endurance exercise and gut microbiota: A review. Retrieved from Science Direct: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2095254616300163
4. Edermaniger, L. (2022, August 18). 7 Ways Your Athletic Performance Depends On Your Gut Health. Retrieved from Atlas : https://atlasbiomed.com/blog/7-ways-your-athletic-performance-depends-on-your-gut-health/
5. Torrice, M. (2017, October 25). A Conversation with Jonathan Scheiman. Retrieved from National Library of Medicine: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5663343/
6. Mohr, A. E., Jager, R., Carpenter, K. C., Kerksick, C. M., Purpura, M., Townsend, J. R., . . . Antonio, J. (2020, May 12). The athletic gut microbiota. Retrieved from National Library of Medicine: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7218537/
7. Monda, V., Villano, I., Messina, A., Valenzano, A., Esposito, T., Moscatelli, F., . . . Messina, G. (2017, March 5). Exercise Modifies the Gut Microbiota with Positive Health Effects. Retrieved from National Library of Medicine : https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5357536/#B85
8. Chen, Y.-M., Wei, L., Chiu, Y.-S., Hsu, Y.-J., Tsai, T.-Y., Wang, M.-F., & Huang, C.-C. (2016, April 7). Lactobacillus plantarum TWK10 Supplementation Improves Exercise Performance and Increases Muscle Mass in Mice. Retrieved from National Library of Medicine : https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4848674/
9. Brown, M. J., & Chin, K. (2021, October 11). How Short-Chain Fatty Acids Affect Health and Weight. Retrieved from Healthline: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/short-chain-fatty-acids-101
10. Cleveland Clinic. (2022, July 11). The Health Benefits and Side Effects of Butyrate. Retrieved from CLeveland Clinic: https://health.clevelandclinic.org/butyrate-benefits/
11. Rowland, I., Gibson, G., Heinken, A., Scott, K., Swann, J., Thiele, I., & Tuohy, K. (2017, April 9). Gut microbiota functions: metabolism of nutrients and other food components. Retrieved from National Library of Medicine : https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5847071/
12. The Human Microbiome Project Consortium. (2012, June 13). Structure, function and diversity of the healthy human microbiome. Retrieved from Nature: https://www.nature.com/articles/nature11234#citeas
13. Viome. (2023). No Guts, No Glory – 9 Ways The Gut Microbiome Impacts Athletic Performance. Retrieved from Viome: https://www.viome.com/blog/no-guts-no-glory-9-ways-gut-microbiome-impacts-athletic-performance