There is nothing that has upended a greater swath of medicine these past few years than studies on the microbiome. We’ve seen everything from your weight to depression tied to the bacteria in your gut. Now a new study again blows my mind by linking a type of bacteria in the gut to athletic performance? Let’s dig in.
What is the Microbiome?
Your microbiome is the community of bacteria that lives in your intestines. There are literally many trillions of these bacteria, of hundreds of different kinds, that live in your gut. These bacteria act as a second immune system and also eat the food you eat. They can also excrete good or bad chemicals.
When your gut microbiome isn’t happy, neither is the rest of your body. We’ve covered many topics over the years that demonstrate the power of our gut microbiome. Here are a few links to these:
- Parkinson’s disease may be linked to gut bacteria
- Bad gut bacteria may hurt your stem cells, while good gut bacteria may help
- Bad gut bacteria may lead to obesity
- Fake sweeteners can alter gut bacteria, leading to hyper-insulin secretion
Can Gut Bacteria Improve Athletic Performance?
In a new study, researchers have found that a specific type of bacteria is associated with your capacity for aerobic exercise. This type of bacteria, (Veillonella), may play a role in the conversion of lactate into propionate (a short chain fatty acid). Lactate is a by-product of glucose metabolism, and it is associated with exercise-related fatigue. Veillonella was not found in the microbiome of sedentary people.
For the study, the researchers looked at the gut bacteria of 15 Boston Marathon runners and 10 non-runners. Stool samples were collected from all study participants one week prior to the marathon and one week following the race. Analysis of the microbiome showed that Veillonella was significantly more abundant in the runners’ gastrointestinal tract after the marathon, and the researchers were able to duplicate their findings when they studied another group of 87 similar athletes.
For the second part of their study, the researchers transferred the specific Veillonella from one of their runners into a group of mice, who then, when given a treadmill test, showed 13% greater improvement when compared to mice whose microbiome was unaltered!
A Gut Reboot to Kickstart a New Year’s Resolution?
Think about this for a minute. If this research holds up, we may see pills one day that contain these bacteria that are used to kick start a new exercise program. Or maybe Triathletes and Marathon runners will load up on them before a race?
The upshot? What we’re finding out about the microbiome blows my mind. Just a decade ago, the idea that the bacteria in your gut could have such wide-ranging impacts on health would have been considered ridiculous. However, here we are!