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Do You Have Performance-Enhancing Microbes In Your Gut?

Laura Kunces, PhD, RD
Onegevity

Just about every day new microbiome research is being published. In fact, there are way more than 365 research articles published every year, so it's even more often than a new daily finding. Although many scientists are looking at the microbiome to solve big health concerns in disease states, it’s refreshing to read those who are looking to optimize health status through exercise and positive lifestyle changes.


Do athletes have an ‘athletic’ microbiome?

There is now research that supports the proposition that athletes tend to have a higher abundance of five common taxa: Veillonellaceae, Bacteroides, Prevotella, Methanobrevibacter, and Akkermansia1 – found initially in a study of competitive cyclists. Interestingly, Prevotella seems to be positively correlated with the amount of time a person exercises, meaning the more exercise you do, the more Prevotella tends to be present. 


This sort of finding begs the question:  which comes first, the chicken or the egg? Does being active improve your microbiome, or do those who have a “better” microbiome gravitate toward exercise?


Prevotella is a large genus and some species within it can be considered inflammatory or are associated with an increased risk for diarrhea.2 Some species, however, in this larger umbrella can be considered beneficial; for example, increases in Prevotella are seen with a diet that includes copious amounts of fruits and vegetables and prebiotics. 


Do marathoners have an ‘athletic’ microbiome?

Researchers at Harvard took this concept one step farther by looking at runner’s microbiomes. They compared a group of marathoners who ran the Boston Marathon (n=15) to a group who watched (n=10) by collecting daily fecal samples from each person the week before the race and the week after.3 The study aimed to see if the runners had a different microbiome than the non-athletes and if the microbiome would change as a result of such an immense athletic feat. Samples were analyzed using 16S sequencing technology – the technology that was considered cutting-edge in 2015 when this study took place. Read more about why 16S is not as specific or advanced as Onegevity’s next-generation whole-genome shotgun sequencing. 


Only one major genus stood out from the data: the bacterial genus Veillonella. In the runners, Veillonella was the most differentially abundant microbiome feature between before and after the race and overall was found to be more prevalent in the runners than the spectators.3 Although this data is correlative, the theory behind the relationship warrants further investigation.


What may be going on in an athlete’s microbiome?

The bacterial genus Veillonella is a product of high lactic acid levels in the blood from exercise. How exactly? Lactic acid is a byproduct of carbohydrate (energy) metabolism that typically limits a person’s ability to do continuous, high-intensity exercise. However, lactic acid can cross-over to the lumen through the epithelial cells that line the gut. Once there, lactic acid serves as fuel for the Veillonella (in the presence of other important microbes) to produce acetate and propionate – short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) that are known to have positive (direct and indirect) effects on mood, energy, and metabolism.


In particular, propionate has been found to increase maximum heart rate and improve oxygen capacity in mice,4 and to increase resting energy expenditure (calories burned to ‘stay alive’) and increase fat burning in humans5 – all supporting exercise capabilities. In follow-up studies, mice with higher propionate in the gut also had improved treadmill performance.3


Researchers can agree we aren’t exactly sure which came first – do athletes have an ‘athletic’ microbiome or does an ‘athletic microbiome’ make someone a good athlete? But so far, the research done on microbiomes and exercise does show that benefits go far beyond aesthetics (losing weight and gaining muscle), sleeping better, and feeling better. And many (if not all) of these benefits might have to do with the way our gut responds to exercise.


What does this mean for you?

No one study can fully explain the complex and dynamic interconnected pathways in our bodies. But you can better understand your own microbiome with an advanced microbiome analysis, like Onegevity’s Gutbio™. Gutbio will measure your Veillonella, providing you an understanding of your gut’s SCFA-producing capabilities, thus helping you manage a chronic health condition or allowing you to take better advantage of your physical capabilities.


Gutbio’s results directly measure your stool sample’s Veillonella and the associated microbes present that are necessary to produce SCFAs. Whether you’re a competitive cyclist, a marathon runner, a weekend warrior, or a couch potato, SCFAs can impact a variety of your cardiovascular characteristics, including heart rate, blood pressure, inflammation, and circulation.



1.     Petersen L, Bautista E, Nguyen H, et al. Community characteristics of the gut microbiomes of competitive cyclists. Microbiome 2017;5(1):98.

2.     Su T, Liu R, Lee A, et al. Altered intestinal microbiota with increased abundance of Prevotella is associated with high risk of diarrhea-predominant irritable bowel syndrome. Gastroenterol Res Pract 2018;2018:6961783.

3.     Scheiman J, Luber J, Chavkin T, et al. Meta-omics analysis of elite athletes identifies a performance-enhancing microbe that functions via lactate metabolism. Nat Med 2019;25(7):1104-1109.

4.     Pluznick J. A novel SCFA receptor, the microbiota, and blood pressure regulation. Gut Microbes 2014;5(2):202-207.

5.     Chambers E, Byrne C, Aspey K, et al. Acute oral sodium propionate supplementation raises resting energy expenditure and lipid oxidation in fasted humans. Diabetes Obes Metab 2018;20(4):1034-1039.