While the way diet affects the composition of the gut microbiota is widely documented, this is not yet the case for physical activity (e.g. running, dancing, cycling, rugby or boxing). This article will allow you to learn more about the influence of these different physical activities on your gut microbiota.
Paul Cotter and his team at the University of Cork (Ireland) are interested in the impact of food and sport on the gut microbiota. The way in which intense sports, such as rugby, modulate the gut microbiota and how to distinguish the effect of diet from sport effect have been their subject of study for a long time. Today, researchers are studying athletes for the impact of sports activities of varying intensity on the intestinal microbiota and the derived and human metabolites composition.
Cotter’s team had already identified differences in the composition of the intestinal microbiome of athletes in comparison with the one from sedentary individuals
23 male and 14 elite female athletes practicing 16 different types of sport were recruited. Sports were classified according to the required contraction intensity and oxygen requirement during exercise:
– High muscle contraction/high oxygen consumption: cycling, boxing,
– High muscle contraction/low oxygen consumption: judo,
– Low muscle contraction/high oxygen consumption: sports walking and field hockey.
At the same time, the researchers evaluated participants’ diets using a food questionnaire and analyzed the microbiota and intestinal metabolites (residual molecules from cell activity) produced either by athletes or by their microbiota from fecal and urine samples.
The researchers were able to identify differences in the composition of the athletes’ microbiota sorted by type of sport. Some bacteria, such like Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus, Provetella and F. prausnitzi are more abundant in the “low contraction/high oxygen” group for example.
Physical activity through muscle contraction and the oxygen consumption can induce changes in the profile of the gut microbiota
“Our team had already identified differences in the composition of the intestinal microbiome of athletes in comparison with the one from sedentary individuals. However, the differences were strongly related to the diet,” said the first author of the article, Ciara O’Donovan. “In this cohort of high-level athletes, even though the effect of diet on the gut microbiota has been eliminated, we manage to show variations in the composition of the gut microbiome.”
Can the practice of a given sport also affect the functions of the intestinal microbiome of athletes? By studying the molecules present in the stool or urine of athletes, Dr. Cotter’s team was able to bring together athletes playing the same type of sport (requiring similar muscular contractions and oxygen intake), showing the relation between sport and the metabolism of intestinal bacteria.
In conclusion, physical activity through muscle contraction and the oxygen consumption it generates can induce changes in the profile of the gut microbiota, helping to explain the health benefits of exercise. Ciara O’Donovan adds: “Physical exercise has been identified as beneficial in relieving symptoms of many diseases, although the role of the gut microbiome in the contribution of these benefits still need to be determined. A field of research opens up for the future.”
O’Donovan CM, Madigan SM, Garcia-Perez I, et al. Distinct microbiome composition and metabolome exists across subgroups of elite Irish athletes. J Sci Med Sport. 2020; 23(1):63-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jsams.2019.08.290.