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Athletes Get a Gut Check

Good reasons to catch the “exercise bug."

Microbiome of athletes

We hear a lot about the role our microbiome plays in everything from digestion to immunity to brain health—and, in turn, we learn the importance of fostering a robust population of beneficial bacteria within our gut. Beyond dietary measures like eating more fiber and fermented edibles, here’s one way to do this: Work up a sweat more often.

A narrative research review in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition tells us that athletes typically have greater amounts of desirable gut microbes—and a better diversity of them, too. It’s thought that this microbiome makeup can help athletic people perform and recover better by aiding in everything from improving fuel metabolism to reducing muscle inflammation.

What remains to be seen is whether something in the diet of active people brings about a healthier microbiome or whether the exercise itself is the cause (perhaps higher levels of lactic acid produced during frequent training sessions cause an uptick in beneficial bugs, for example). Whatever the cause, it’s another good reason to encourage the general population to lace up their shoes more frequently.

See also: Understanding the Human Microbiome


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Matthew Kadey, MS, RD

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD, is a James Beard Award–winning food journalist, dietitian and author of the cookbook Rocket Fuel: Power-Packed Food for Sport + Adventure (VeloPress 2016). He has written for dozens of magazines, including Runner’s World, Men’s Health, Shape, Men’s Fitness and Muscle and Fitness.

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