Improving our understanding of how the microbiota respond to exercise may help to enhance overall athletic performance and health.

Exercise affects multiple bodily systems

Intense exercise results in both muscle-based and systemic responses, including correction of electrolyte imbalance, decrease in glycogen storage and increase in oxidative stress, intestinal permeability, muscle damage and systemic inflammatory response.

The importance of the gut in digestion and providing energy substrates for exercise is well-documented.

Endurance athletes experience a high level of upper respiratory tract infections and gastrointestinal (GI) issues, including increased gut permeability, disruption of mucous thickness and higher rates of bacterial translocation.[1] GI issues include symptoms such as belching, bloating, flatulence, side stitch, abdominal cramps, vomiting, diarrhoea and the urge to defecate during exercise.[2]

The effect of exercise on the microbiome

Our understanding of the effect of exercise on the gut microbiota is still being developed and the function of the microbiota in exercise adaptation is still being researched, with only a few studies to date showing the impact that exercise has on the gut microbiota composition.

A role for probiotics?

Most of the existing research does not identify a performance-enhancing role for probiotics, but does suggest a positive impact on immune function, oxidative stress and gut permeability. Several studies indicate modest benefits in reducing respiratory and GI illness and the gut microbiota has also been suggested to have a relationship with inflammatory conditions and potentially to have an impact on musculoskeletal health.[3] Thus, probiotics may help to improve performance by enhancing communication between the gut bacteria and the immune system for mutual benefit, in particular enhancing mucosal barrier integrity in the GI and respiratory tracts.[4]

[1] Mach N & Fuster-Botella D 2017 Endurance exercise and gut microbiota: A review. J Sport Health Sci 6:179-197
[2] Shing CM et al 2013 Effects of probiotics supplementation on gastrointestinal permeability, inflammation and exercise performance in the heat. Eur J Appl Physiol DOI 10.1007/s00421-013-2748-y
[3] Rankin A et al 2017 ‘Microbes in sport’ – The potential role of the gut microbiotia in athlete health and performance Br J Sports Med 10.1136/bjsports-2016-097227
[4] Pyne DB et al 2014 Probiotics supplementation for athletes – Clinical and physiological effects. Eur J Sport Sci

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