Athletes’ Microbiome May Be Conditioned For Performance Interview with:
Dr. Orla O’Sullivan

Computational Biologist,
Teagasc Food Research Centre,
Moorepark, Co. Cork,
Ireland What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Previously we had demonstrated that professional rugby players had significantly increased microbial diversity compared to both low and high BMI controls. This microbial diversity correlated with creatine kinase levels in the blood (which we had used as a proxy for exercise) and protein intake. In this present study we went a step further and demonstrated that these same athletes had distinct functional potential in their gut microbes compared to controls and furthermore both the host derived ( urine) and bacterial derived ( faecal water) metabolites were also distinct in the athlete group. In particular we found that the athlete’s microbiome is primed for tissue repair and to harness energy from the diet, reflecting the significant energy demands and high cell-turnover evident in elite sport.

Thus, the state of physical fitness is not limited to the host alone; it appears to also include conditioning of the microbiota. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: While the increased diversity in the microbiome maybe as a result of a lifetime of fitness and good nutrition we noted that that the low BMI group were functionally closer to the athletes than the high BMI group. Our low BMI group tended to be engaged in moderate physical activity perhaps suggesting that positive alterations to physical activity levels and diet in high BMI individuals can benefit your gut bacteria. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: We have an on-going study in non-athletes to further investigate the impacts of exercise and associated dietary changes on the microbiome. We also intend to expand our athlete pool to varying types of sports to determine is the type of sport (e.g. endurance athletes) differently impacting your gut microbiome.

Elaboration and further exploration of the components of this exercise and diet-microbiome paradigm may inform the design of exercise and fitness programs, including the area of tailored nutrition for both athletes and non-athletes. Thank you for your contribution to the community.


Barton W, Penney NC, Cronin O, et al
The microbiome of professional athletes differs from that of more sedentary subjects in composition and particularly at the functional metabolic level
Gut Published Online First: 30 March 2017. doi: 10.1136/gutjnl-2016-313627

Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions.

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Last Updated on April 10, 2017 by Marie Benz MD FAAD