How Your Gut Bacteria Affects Your Athletic Performance

The human gut is home to hundreds of thousands of bacteria that are critical to everyday bodily functions. The composition of this collective – known as the microbiome – are impacted by diet, lifestyle, medications, and other factors. As a result, no two people share the same microbiome.

The wrong kinds of gut bacteria has been linked to everything from Alzheimer’s to anxiety, but until recently, it was unknown whether the microbiome could have a positive impact on the body in terms of physical performance.

“At the start of this project, we hypothesized that the microbiomes of elite athletes must have highly adjusted bacterial species in common that could help with their performance and recovery, and that, once identified, these could become the basis of highly validated performance-enhancing probiotics,” said co-first author Jonathan Scheiman, a former postdoctoral fellow who co-initiated the project.

Researchers have pinpointed one specific group of bacteria, called Veillonella, in the gut microbiomes of elite Olympic athletes and in Boston Marathon runners after they completed their competitions.

This was also the case for lab mice, who were given Veillonella bacteria. They scored 13 percent higher on treadmill tests compared to mice with control bacteria.

“We were able to demonstrate that the Veillonella-driven performance boost was due to the bacteria’s ability to break down lactate, a metabolite known to accumulate with prolonged strenuous exercise, and to produce propionate, a short-chain fatty acid (SCFA), that in turn enhances the body’s resilience to exercise stress,” said Kostic, a co-corresponding author.

Researchers say this new data can help them better understand the human gut and become the basis of performance-enhancing probiotics.