The relationship between the intestinal microbiota and the athletes overall health and performance

Young woman in gym, smiling.
Young woman in gym, smiling.

How does intestinal microbiota affect athletes’ health and well-being?

Up to 60% of athletes experience exercise-induced stress, leading to gastrointestinal issues, delayed recovery, reduced performance and a lower quality of life. This is particularly prevalent in endurance sports like swimming, cycling and running. Symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, fatigue, mood disturbances, upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs) and chronic inflammation.

Physiological response to exercise

Endurance sports strain the body’s organs and metabolism, directing oxygen to muscles and reducing supply to the intestines. This decreases intestinal motility, causing less nutrient absorption and disrupts the body’s homeostasis – which in turn alters the balance of gut microbiota (dysbiosis). As a result, intestinal permeability and immune system activation increase, resulting in inflammation and higher susceptibility to infection.

The gut microbiota

The gut microbiota significantly modulates the body’s response to exercise-induced stress. Research has shown that during intense exercise, it plays a key role in controlling the oxidative and inflammatory responses as well as improving metabolism and energy expenditure. These factors are interlinked, forming a vicious cycle: imbalance in one affects the others.

Probiotics and sports

Many athletes suffer from gut-related health issues. Targeting gut microbiota with specific probiotics could support athletes during intense periods of training and competition by improving gut health, reducing inflammation and enhancing immune function. Therefore, maintaining a balanced gut microbiota is crucial for athletes to optimize performance and mitigate the negative effects of exercise-induced stress.

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