By now, you probably already know that our gut bacteria play an important role in various functions such as immune defense, nutrient absorption as well as energy production and vitamin production (1). However, today we would like to look at the connection between exercise/sport and our microbiome.
Weight loss, health and happiness: and all that through exercise?
Exercise helps us lose weight, is good for our health, and our body (mostly 😉) releases feelings of happiness. We know all this, but how does exercise affect our microbiome? Do athletic people or even top athletes have a different microbial composition compared to “couch potatoes”? How does the diversity of the microbiome affect athletic performance?
If you don’t feel well, whether physically or mentally, you can rarely perform at the same level as when you are healthy. Because the microbiome affects immune defense, gut mucosa, and brain health, it can also affect athletes’ well-being and athletic performance (2-4). In addition, athletes have been found to exhibit higher diversity as well as increased abundance of health-promoting bacterial species (2, 5, 6). Thus, it can be concluded that exercise has a positive impact on our microbiome. This was also found by Clark et al. as rugby players showed higher microbiome diversity compared to lean, sedentary people (6). What does diversity mean? It describes the richness of the microbiome and whether the different bacterial species are found evenly in the gut or whether some bacterial species dominate. High diversity is associated with health and, conversely, low diversity correlates with many different diseases. Thus, the goal of every person-athlete or non-athlete-should be a high diversity.
Petersen et al, looked at the gut microbiome of cyclists. It was found that the time of exercise reported during the average week was positively associated with the abundance of the bacterial genus Prevotella. In addition, Prevotella appeared to be positively correlated with metabolic pathways for carbohydrates as well as amino acids, including branched-chain amino acids (=BCAA) (5). The term BCAA is well known, especially among athletes. They are branched-chain amino acids that must be absorbed by the body because they cannot be produced by the body. The proteinogenic amino acids valine, leucine and isoleucine are among the BCAAs. Thus, it can be speculated that the microbiome changes for the better depending on the amount of exercise and that this has a particular effect on the metabolism of carbohydrates and amino acids. Incidentally, Barton et al. also found that athletes have higher amino acid biosynthesis and carbohydrate metabolism, as well as more short-chain fatty acids, compared with non-athletes (2). Higher amino acid biosynthesis is therefore beneficial as it may mean better muscle development. Short-chain fatty acids are the food of our intestinal bacteria and thus promote the diversity of our microbiome (7).
However, not only in top athletes, in every healthy person a higher cardiorespiratory fitness can have a positive effect on the microbial diversity and the production of short-chain fatty acids (3). Moreover, in young people, cardiorespiratory fitness has been shown to be related to the Firmicutes/Bacteroidetes ratio (8). Cardiorespiratory fitness, also known as maximal oxygen uptake, is a measure that describes the ability to transport oxygen from the air into our muscles. So if you have a high maximal oxygen uptake, you are making a lot of oxygen available to your muscles for energy production and increasing your performance. Maximum oxygen uptake can be improved through training.
In another study, active versus sedentary women were compared. The study investigators found that those women who exercised at least 3 hours per week had higher levels of butyrate producers (Faecalibacterium prausnitzii, Roseburia hominis) and Akkermansia muciniphila, the bacterium more commonly found in lean individuals (9).
Mailing et al. postulate that exercise increases fecal butyrate concentration (=short-chain fatty acid concentration) and reduces pro-inflammatory cytokines and oxidative stress in the gut. Apart from this, exercise generally brings benefits to whole-body health, protecting against anxiety, inflammatory bowel disease, and colon cancer (10).
In summary, exercise increases the diversity of the microbiome, improves the ratio of Bacteroidetes/Firmicutes, boosts the proliferation of beneficial bacteria, and increases the production of short-chain fatty acids by bacteria. Sport positively influences the microbiome and, in turn, the microbiome influences athletic performance. Since athletes produce especially many free radicals, it is even more important to have a good immune defense. In addition, athletes need much more energy and strive for good energy production. Since our microbiome influences our immune system, energy production and gastrointestinal health in general, this has an impact on our athletic performance. Accordingly, you can benefit your microbiome with exercise and, conversely, boost your athletic performance by keeping your microbiome fit with a healthy and balanced diet.
So maybe you want to swap your cozy blanket for your athletic shoes today, your microbiome will thank you! If you want to know how your personal microbiome is doing, you can find out from the comfort of your home with a Health-Check.
Sporty greetings 💪
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