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The guts for sports success: Microbiome study highlights differences in elite athletes

By David Anderson , 12-Apr-2017

The guts for sports success: Microbiome study highlights differences in elite athletes

Elite athletes are known for their skill, dedication and hard work, but new research suggests that crucial to their success may be down to their gut.

Scientists at Ireland’s APC Microbiome Institute, Ireland’s research body Teagasc, and Imperial College London carried out fresh research into the microbiome of elite sports professionals. The research, which involved testing on 40 Irish rugby players from the national squad, found that being physically active may encourage beneficial strains to thrive in the gut.

The study sheds fresh light on how physical fitness boosts the gut bacteria and showed that that the microbiome of the rugby players is primed for tissue repair, to harness energy from diet, and aids the 'high cell-turnover' evident in elite sport.

Details of the study have been published in scientific journal Gut.

The research follows on from an earlier study, which discovered that the makeup of the gut microbiome of professional rugby players differed considerably from non-rugby players.

Helping nutrition

Dr Orla O'Sullivan, senior researcher at Teagasc Food Research Centre, told NutraIngredients the latest findings could help benefit nutrition and fitness and exercise.

“Elaboration and further exploration of the components of this exercise and diet-microbiome paradigm may inform the design of exercise and fitness programmes, including the area of tailored nutrition for both athletes and non-athletes,” she said.

“Our earlier work had shown that the microbiome of the athletes differed in composition from that of non-athletes but now we have found that the functional behaviour of the microbiome separates the athletes and controls to an even greater degree,” said professor Fergus Shanahan, director of the APC Microbiome Institute.

More research into microbiome

While the researchers have discovered the makeup and functional behaviour of the microbiome differs between elite athletes and non-athletes, they are now carrying out further research to find the cause.

“We don’t know whether this is cause or consequence. There is no way of knowing if athletes are just born with a different microbiome, whether it’s years of fitness, a chronic adaptation which ends up with this microbiome,” Dr O’Sullivan told us.

“Obviously, we can’t pull a microbiome out of a human and put it into another human and see if there is a change. That is the big thing, the causation factor.”

Scientists are carrying out increasing research into the gut microbiome, as they look to discover its impact on the population’s well-being 

Source: Gut
Study: The microbiome of professional athletes differs from that of more sedentary subjects in composition and particularly at the functional metabolic level
Authors: Wiley Barton, Nicholas C Penney, Owen Cronin, Isabel Garcia-Perez, Michael G Molloy, Elaine Holmes, Fergus Shanahan, Paul D Cotter, Orla O'Sullivan.