A Unique Correlation Between Fitness and Gut Microbes

Researchers are looking into probiotics that may help improve athletic performance.

Post-workout supplements like protein powder and BCAAs are intended to provide the amino acids needed for the body to repair and restore damaged muscle tissue. Hydration formulas may contain coconut water, chia seeds, and other calorie-rich, high-mineral formulas intended to both replenish water and balance electrolytes.

According to one study, there could soon be a new post-workout supplement to try: a probiotic.

Researchers have presented their findings at the 254th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

According to the lead researcher, “When we first started thinking about this, I was asked whether we could use genomics to predict the next Michael Jordan. But my response was that a better question is: Can you extract Jordan’s biology and give it to others to help make the next Michael Jordan?”

To that end, the researchers collected daily fecal samples from 20 athletes training for the 2015 Boston Marathon. The samples were taken both one week prior to and one week following the race. The genomes of the bacteria in the fecal samples were sequenced in order to determine the quantity and type of microbiomes in the samples. In the post-race samples, the quantity of a certain type of bacteria increased drastically. This bacteria’s purpose: to break down lactic acid, which can prevent the muscle soreness and fatigue associated with high exercise-induced lactic acid production.

When isolated, the bacteria proved highly effective at breaking down lactic acid in a test tube. The bacteria was passed through mice’s digestive system and remained fully viable. Now, the researchers are feeding the bacteria to the mice to quantify its effects on fatigue and lactic acid levels.

Another companion test found that a type of bacteria (responsible for breaking down fiber and carbs) present in ultramarathoners (running more than 100-miles) weren’t present in rowers training for the Olympics. This indicates that different sports and types of exercise could actually cause the body to produce more of certain types of bacteria.

What does this mean for you? The lead researcher said, “The bugs in our gut affect our energy metabolism, making it easier to break down carbohydrates, protein, and fiber. They are also involved in inflammation and neurological function. So perhaps the microbiome could be relevant for applications in endurance, recovery and maybe even mental toughness.”

The researchers are now looking into probiotic supplements that could increase the specific type of bacteria involved in the lactic acid breakdown, along with other performance-enhancing microbiomes. They intend to launch Fitbiomics, a company that will produce a probiotic supplement as well as continue researching this unique correlation between fitness and the microbiome population.


1. American Chemical Society. “No guts no glory: Harvesting the microbiome of athletes.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 August 2017.