You may have heard of probiotics — or even taken some of the live bacteria and yeast — and the benefits they can have for your gut. Some foods, such as yogurt and sauerkraut contain these live cultures. Research into gut health and its overarching benefits is still underway and recent studies suggest certain gut bacteria may actually improve your running.
GUT HEALTH AND MARATHONERS
Published in June 2019, in Nature Medicine, the study done by Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University researched the bacteria present in the digestive tracts of 15 Boston Marathon runners. Lead postdoctoral researcher Jonathan Scheiman, a former research fellow at the Wyss Institute and now the CEO and co-founder of Fitbiomics, says marathoners fit the selection criteria due to their level of exercise (research has also been done by the team on ultramarathoners and rowers training for the Olympic trials). Stool samples were collected two weeks before and two weeks after the race to look at the bacteria present during periods of intense exercise and recovery.
When compared against the bacteria present in 10 non-runners, the team was able to identify a strain of bacteria — the genus Veillonella — which was more abundant in that of the Boston runners. The breakthrough was that strain of bacteria actually feeds on lactate (which is produced in the muscles and can cause fatigue, soreness and inflammation in runners). This, Scheiman notes, was a lightbulb moment.
“Imagine you had a relationship between bacteria and host that can eat something like lactate and convert it into something beneficial to the host,” he continues. “With more research we were able to look further into functional pathways of it; [it] converts lactate into short-chain fatty acids.”
The additional research took a strain of the bacteria — V. atypica — which was placed in the gut of mice. The mice were actually able to run longer and had lower levels of inflammation. Of course, more research needs to be done to further the science, but that is where Fitbiomics comes in. Scheiman says the company’s goal is to develop consumer probiotics to help support an active lifestyle.
“Research suggests that an improved gut health may help us to better digest, absorb and utilize nutrients,” acknowledges Katie Hake, RDN, a dietitian and personal trainer. “If we can improve this, one can assume that our performance may improve as an outcome as well.”
Scheiman points out that as Fitbiomics continues research born from this study, the probiotics developed won’t be a magic pill that overrides your diet and overall health. In fact, Hake notes a big misconception she sees is that all you need to do to achieve good gut health is take a probiotic.
“Everyone can benefit from taking a probiotic, however all of our gut microbiome is different,” Hake continues. “There is not a one size fits all. I always recommend taking a food-first approach when possible before resorting to expensive pills and potions that may not contain all that they claim.”