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Gut Microbiome and Athletic Performance

Study adds clout to relationship between gut health and mental, physical health.

Woman holding her belly to show link between gut microbiome and athletic performance

New findings add light to the importance of a healthy gut microbiome and athletic performance.

University of California Riverside researchers conducted a study on mice to tease out the relationship between a healthy gut microbiome, athletic performance and mental motivation. “We believed an animal’s collection of gut bacteria, its microbiome, would affect digestive processes and muscle function, as well as [act as] motivation for various behaviors, including exercise,” said senior investigator Theodore Garland, PhD, evolutionary physiologist at UC Riverside. “Our study reinforces this belief.”

Researchers treated running-trained mice and normal mice with antibiotics to evaluate the impact on athletic behavior. The running mice reduced activity by 21% and did not recover running behavior even 12 days after antibiotic treatment stopped. The only difference after the antibiotic treatment was gut bacteria composition. Researchers concluded microbiome damage was responsible for the significant reduction in athletic activity.

Translating this advice to humans, study lead author Monica McNamara, PhD, evolutionary biology research fellow at UC Riverside said, “A casual exerciser with a minor injury wouldn’t be affected much. But on a world-class athlete, a small setback can be much more magnified. That’s why we wanted to compare the two types of mice.”

Scientists note that while this is an animal study, mice physiology is similar to humans. “We do know from previous studies that the western diet, high in fat and sugar, can have a negative effect on biodiversity in your gut and likely, by extension, on athletic ability and possibly even on motivation to exercise,” said Garland.

The research is reported in Behavioural Processes (2022; 199 [104650]).

See also: Iron Levels for Athletic Performance

Shirley Archer, JD, MA

Shirley Archer, JD, MA, is an internationally acknowledged integrative health and mindfulness specialist, best-selling author of 16 fitness and wellness books translated into multiple languages and sold worldwide, award-winning health journalist, contributing editor to Fitness Journal, media spokesperson, and IDEA's 2008 Fitness Instructor of the Year. She's a 25-year industry veteran and former health and fitness educator at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, who has served on multiple industry committees and co-authored trade books and manuals for ACE, ACSM and YMCA of the USA. She has appeared on TV worldwide and was a featured trainer on America's Next Top Model.

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