Athletes have a more efficient microbiota

While benefits of sports are well known, the link with the microbiota is just starting to be investigated. An Irish team studied the impact of physical activity on our intestinal flora.

 

Besides the heart, brain or muscles, the microbiota is an unsuspected beneficiary of physical exercise and its positive effects on the body. This study was not limited to the observation of bacteria, but also focused on their metabolism, i.e. the way they actually function. To this end, 40 professional rugby players were compared to 46 sedentary control subjects which were stratified based on their corpulence (overweight / thin subjects). The participants completed a questionnaire regarding their diet, and stool and urine samples were taken for analysis.

Greater bacterial diversity in athletes

Through the comparison of stool samples, the investigators were able to indirectly identify which bacteria make up the intestinal flora. Unsurprisingly, the results showed a greater bacterial diversity in athletes: intense physical activity in addition to an adequate diet has been previously associated to an increase of the microbial diversity. This is why, the researchers then studied if physical activity had consequences on bacterial metabolism.

“Boosted” metabolism

Analysis of metabolites–final components produced by bacteria–was carried out in urine and stool samples. Athletes seem to have an increased bacterial metabolism which promotes, for instance, antibiotics synthesis, or an increased production of amino acids that are key elements to all life processes. In particular, athletes have a higher level of short chain fatty acids whose beneficial impact on immunity, colonic cell integrity and brain functions has been proven. Interestingly, these fatty acids were found in similar levels in the thin control subjects, whose microbiota was more similar to that of athletes.

The same prescription for everyone?

According to the authors, an increase in physical exercise in overweight or obese persons might provide the same metabolic benefits observed in the microbiota of athletes. These results confirm the link between physical activity and metabolic health and pave the way to the optimization of diet not only for athletes, but also for the overall population. The researchers believe further studies might lead to the development of microbiota manipulation techniques for therapeutic or preventive purposes.

 

Sources:

W. Barton et al., « The microbiome of professional athletes differs from that of more sedentary subjects in composition and particularly at the functional metabolic level », Gut, vol. 67, no 4, p. 625‑633, avr. 2018.