Diet, Exercise, and the Gut Microbiome: Recent Discoveries and Practical Applications

Dr. Gabrielle Fundaro

An overview of the interactions between dietary pattern, the gut microbiota, and exercise performance highlighting the moderating effects of diet on exercise-related changes to the microbial community. Practical applications will be provided based on the apparent importance of adequate dietary fiber and macronutrient balance to support exercise-associated enhancements in microbial diversity and the production of beneficial postbiotics.

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Course Syllabus

Intense physical activity exerts mechanical and chemical stressors on the gastrointestinal tract, modulating pH, oxygen levels, and nutrient availability as blood flow is directed to working muscles and sympathetic nervous system tone increases. Dietary patterns of athletes tend to differ from sedentary or recreationally-active individuals, though interindividual variability exists within athletes as well. Because the microbiota play integral roles in nutrient assimilation, immune activity, and metabolic flexibility, they are an obvious target for research into exercise performance.

The remaining data in humans is observational, having compared individuals with varying levels of cardiovascular fitness and physical activity levels. Currently, a few groups of bacteria have been highlighted with some consistency, including species found within the Prevotella, Akkermansia, Lactobacillus, Lachnospiraceae, and Ruminococcus groups. These groups appear to be either enriched in physically active individuals, associated with cardiovascular fitness, or increased after an exercise intervention. In most cases, the bacterial strain’s ability to produce butyrate correlated with positive effects on both human and rodent participants.

Cardiovascular fitness as assessed by VO2max has been associated with enhanced microbial diversity and increased numbers of bacteria that produce butyrate. A diet-microbiome-exercise relationship has emerged in recent years based on data examining the dietary patterns and microbial profiles of endurance and resistance-trained athletes. Observational data has illustrated an inverse relationship between dietary protein intake and overall diversity in endurance athletes. In bodybuilders, this inverse relationship was observed between dietary fat intake and levels of Bifidobacteria. In a recent study examining the effects of probiotic supplementation in bodybuilders, researchers found that microbiome diversity in athletes with inadequate habitual fiber intake was no different from healthy controls. In contrast, athletes consuming at least the RDA of fiber exhibited greater diversity than healthy controls or fiber-deficient bodybuilders. Thus, a prudent dietary pattern may be required to fully realize the relationship between microbial diversity and exercise.

-  Define key terms associated with gut microbiome research: microbiome vs microbiota, diversity, dysbiosis, prebiotics, postbiotics
-  Explain potential bidrectional relationship between physical activity and gut microbiota
-  Explain the effects of athlete dietary patterns on the gut microbiome
-  Provide practical tips about dietary patterns to support a diverse microbiome

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