Today’s article is written by my talented writing intern Leeauna Duchesne who previously wrote one of the most fascinating pieces of content on my website looking at how fibre and fermented foods alter the gut microbiome.
After reading this piece on physical fitness and your gut bacteria, you’ll probably be tempted to go back and give that one a read because it teaches you how specific foods can positively influence your microbiome.
As for today’s content, it was was written and researched in its entirety by Leeauna D. while yours truly played the role of reviewer and reviser.
Fascinating work, hope you enjoy it as much as I did!
Physical Fitness Is Connected To Your Gut Bacteria
By Leeauna Duchesne
If you are an active individual who regularly demands a lot out of your body during training or exercise, then it may be worth it to take a closer look at the state of your gut health.
And while it might surprise you to hear that there is a link between athletic performance and your gut bacteria, today’s article will clarify the two main reasons that tie this relationship together.
Why Gut Health Matters For Performance
Nutrition-wise, gut bacteria are a fundamental part of our digestive tracts that enable our bodies to break down important food and nutrients for efficient use as fuel.
Good energy extraction from food is a crucial component of any athlete’s lifestyle, as energy translates into performance.
The exact extent to which this is influential continues to be studied, but the theoretical connection in this regard is clear.
Gut bacteria also influence cognitive performance and stress tolerance experienced in the body via the immune system and the gut-brain-axis (Bell et al., 2018; Martinnen et al., 2020).
These two major factors can also heavily influence athletic performance and recovery.
Starting to get intrigued about how you can optimize your microbiome through diet?
I bet you are, now let’s explore some other key considerations.
1. Active People Have Healthier Microbiomes
Current evidence supports the role of exercise as an important formative factor that can create measurable changes in the gut microbiome’s richness and composition (Mohr et al., 2020).
Especially when compared to the gut microbiome of sedentary individuals (Bressa et al., 2017).
Another study from 2017 studied and compared the gut bacteria of sedentary women against those of highly-active women of similar age groups and discovered that several ‘health promoting’ bacteria were only present in the highly active group during analysis (Bressa et al., 2017).
Health-promoting bacteria, such as Faecalibacterium prausnitzii (a gram-positive bacteria that produces butyrate- a key short-chain fatty acid), Roseburia hominis and Akkermansia muciniphila, were exclusively present in thestudied group of highly active women (Bressa et al., 2017).
2. Healthier Microbiomes Mean Less Inflammation
“Microbiota have an indirect influence on various indices of exercise performance, recovery, and patterns of illness”
Mohr et al., 2020
In fact, a recent well-known study found a significant connection between the greater diversity of gut bacteria and the improvement of several inflammatory markers, such as inflammatory cytokines, circulating in the body (Wastyk et al., 2021).
Let’s talk briefly about inflammation as it relates to exercise and athleticism.
Keeping inflammation at bay is of great interest for many (if not all) highly active individuals and athletes and there are many external treatments used to reduce inflammation post-exercise, such as ice baths, topical creams and pharmaceuticals.
But, what about treating inflammation from the inside of the body, such as from the gut?
It turns out, a diverse microbiome can help to prevent and reduce inflammation throughout the body (Wastyk et al., 2021). This is because epithelial barriers in the digestive tract are deemed healthy when they include a diverse ecosystem of microbiota (Jager et al., 2019).
Conversely, if there is a lack of diversity present in the gut, then inflammation and its signals can increase (Wastyk et al., 2021).
The extent to which this relationship plays out practically in terms of recovery time and injury incidence continues to be a topic of interest in the scientific community, but the connection between the gut microbiome and inflammation is much more clear.
Studies in athletes have demonstrated, for example, probiotic use decreases certain inflammatory markers while the well studied anti-inflammatory spice curcumin has also been studied as a treatment and has also shown to be effective in helping to restore the lining and barriers of the gut (Szymanski et al., 2017).
Today’s article presents valuable insights and key messages to both very active and very sedentary people.
For sedentary people, particularly those with less than optimal gut health, it appears that increasing physical activity may have a role to play in improving the state of the microbiome.
For very active people, your gut microbiome’s potential influence on performance and recovery represents yet another reason why optimizing your nutritional status with the help of a professional (hint; Andy is available) is a worthwhile investment.
References & Further Reading
Bell, V., Ferrão, J., Pimentel, L., Pintado, M., & Fernandes, T. (2018). One Health, Fermented Foods, and Gut Microbiota. Foods (Basel, Switzerland), 7(12), 195. https://doi.org/10.3390/foods7120195
Bressa, C., Bailén-Andrino, M., Pérez-Santiago, J., González-Soltero, R., Pérez, M., Montalvo-Lominchar, M. G., Maté-Muñoz, J. L., Domínguez, R., Moreno, D., & Larrosa, M. (2017). Differences in gut microbiota profile between women with active lifestyle and sedentary women. PloS one, 12(2), e0171352. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0171352
García-Montero, C., Fraile-Martínez, O., Gómez-Lahoz, A. M., Pekarek, L., Castellanos, A. J., Noguerales-Fraguas, F., Coca, S., Guijarro, L. G., García-Honduvilla, N., Asúnsolo, A., Sanchez-Trujillo, L., Lahera, G., Bujan, J., Monserrat, J., Álvarez-Mon, M., Álvarez-Mon, M. A., & Ortega, M. A. (2021). Nutritional Components in Western Diet Versus Mediterranean Diet at the Gut Microbiota-Immune System Interplay. Implications for Health and Disease. Nutrients, 13(2), 699. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu13020699
Iljazovic, A., Roy, U., Gálvez, E.J.C. et al. Perturbation of the gut microbiome by Prevotella spp. enhances host susceptibility to mucosal inflammation. Mucosal Immunol 14, 113–124 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41385-020-0296-4
Makki K, Deehan EC, Walter J, Bäckhed F. (2018). The Impact of Dietary Fiber on Gut Microbiota in Host Health and Disease. Cell Host Microbe. 2018 Jun 13;23(6):705-715. doi: 10.1016/j.chom.2018.05.012. PMID: 29902436.
Marttinen M, Ala-Jaakkola R, Laitila A, Lehtinen MJ. Gut Microbiota, Probiotics and Physical Performance in Athletes and Physically Active Individuals. Nutrients. 2020 Sep 25;12(10):2936. doi: 10.3390/nu12102936. PMID: 32992765; PMCID: PMC7599951.
Mohr, A. E., Jäger, R., Carpenter, K. C., Kerksick, C. M., Purpura, M., Townsend, J. R., West, N. P., Black, K., Gleeson, M., Pyne, D. B., Wells, S. D., Arent, S. M., Kreider, R. B., Campbell, B. I., Bannock, L., Scheiman, J., Wissent, C. J., Pane, M., Kalman, D. S., Pugh, J. N., … Antonio, J. (2020). The athletic gut microbiota. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 17(1), 24. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-020-00353-w
Scarpellini, E., Balsiger, L. M., Maurizi, V., Rinninella, E., Gasbarrini, A., Giostra, N., Santori, P., Abenavoli, L., & Rasetti, C. (2022). Zinc and gut microbiota in health and gastrointestinal disease under the COVID-19 suggestion. BioFactors (Oxford, England), 48(2), 294–306. https://doi.org/10.1002/biof.1829
Szymanski MC, Gillum TL, Gould LM, Morin DS, Kuennen MR. (2017). Short-term dietary curcumin supplementation reduces gastrointestinal barrier damage and physiological strain responses during exertional heat stress. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2018 Feb 1;124(2):330-340. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00515.2017. Epub 2017 Sep 21. PMID: 28935827.
Wastyk et al. (2021). Gut-microbiota-targeted diets modulate human immune status. Cell, 2021, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cell.2021.06.019.