What if there was a microorganism that could enhance your physical performance, make you an elite athlete or help you heal from injuries a lot faster. Sounds like the stuff of science fiction but it could be a possibility in the near future. There is a lot that separates the average healthy person from the professional athlete. Surprisingly, this bacteria could be one of those major differences.
What The Studies Show
Our intestinal tract actually contains a host of bacteria that do different functions in the breakdown of any undigested food that makes it there. Often this is referred to as gut flora. When there is a lack of diversity among this gut flora, it can cause digestive problems. This is easily treated with foods or supplements that provide probiotics. These contain bacteria that help the gut flora flourish.1
Scientists took samples of fecal matter from professional athletes before and after any physical activity to examine their gut flora. They found that levels of one particular species of bacteria spiked after their time on the track or field. In fact, they noticed that there were different bacteria that spiked in the case of rowers when compared to marathon runners.2
How Do The Bacteria Help?
Scientists noticed that the bacteria present in rower’s guts helped break down lactic acid. This is significant because lactic acid is what contributes to muscle fatigue and tiredness. It’s possible that this bacteria helps the athletes push themselves harder and experience more endurance than the average person. For the marathon runner’s, the bacteria that spiked was one that breaks down and makes use of carbohydrates and fiber. This is especially important for long-distance runners who rely on a slow release of energy.3
Other studies conducted in rugby players and cyclists noticed a similar trend with spikes in different kinds of bacteria that contribute to overall fitness.4 5 Judging from this data it’s possible that different kinds of athletes have different concentrations of bacteria in their system which help them during their respective sport.
What Does This Mean For Us?
Probiotics have helped us solve lots of different problems over the years. A good microbial environment is key to a lot of health aspects like improving immunity, digestion, and absorption of nutrients. They can help treat conditions like:6
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Digestive tract infections
- Urinary tract infections
- Vaginal infections
- Possibly eczema in children
Scientists are now working to see if they can isolate bacteria that exist in healthier people like athletes and make them available as supplements for the average person who may need it. Research already shows that bacteria transplanted from obese mice to lean mice results in weight gain in lean mice regardless of food intake.7 If this could work the other way around, we might be able to find more ways to treat obesity and other health problems with specially selected probiotics.
Perhaps in the near future, we may be able to solve problems using probiotics. In the meantime, keep your eyes and ears peeled for a potential probiotic supplement that could perhaps help you do that extra mile on your usual run.
|↑1||The benefits of probiotics bacteria. Harvard Health Publications|
|↑2||A Conversation with Jonathan Scheiman.
|↑3||A Conversation with Jonathan Scheiman.
|↑4||Barton, Wiley, Nicholas C. Penney, Owen Cronin, Isabel Garcia-Perez, Michael G. Molloy, Elaine Holmes, Fergus Shanahan, Paul D. Cotter, and Orla O’Sullivan. “The microbiome of professional athletes differs from that of more sedentary subjects in composition and particularly at the functional metabolic level.” Gut (2017): gutjnl-2016.|
|↑5||Petersen, Lauren M., Eddy J. Bautista, Hoan Nguyen, Blake M. Hanson, Lei Chen, Sai H. Lek, Erica Sodergren, and George M. Weinstock. “Community characteristics of the gut microbiomes of competitive cyclists.” Microbiome 5, no. 1 (2017): 98.|
|↑6||The benefits of probiotics bacteria.
|↑7||Cerdá, Begoña, Margarita Pérez, Jennifer D. Pérez-Santiago, Jose F. Tornero-Aguilera, Rocío González-Soltero, and Mar Larrosa. “Gut microbiota modification: another piece in the puzzle of the benefits of physical exercise in health?.” Frontiers in physiology 7 (2016).|