Recently, scientists discovered that diet creates more variety of bacteria in the gut, ultimately decreasing the risk of obesity and complications associated with weight gain, and now they’ve also found exercise plays an important role. Researchers from the University College of Cork and the National University of Ireland collaboratively published their findings in the British Medical Journal, which show exercise helps boost the diversity of gut bacteria.

Fecal and blood samples were taken from 40 professional rugby players while they were in the midst of a rigorous training program in order to evaluate gut bacteria influenced by exercise. Human guts are made up of trillions of bacteria, and the variety and proportions influence how the body metabolizes and extracts energy from food.

Samples from the elite athletes were compared to 46 healthy yet non-professional athletes. Researchers found a highly diverse and wide range of gut bacteria in the athletes, and a much higher percentage of Akkermansiaceae, a bacterium that has been linked to lower rates of obesity and other metabolic disorders.

"Our findings indicate that exercise is another important factor in the relationship between the microbiota, host immunity and host metabolism, with diet playing an important role," the authors wrote.

Researchers also found the athletes had higher levels of creatine kinase (CK), an enzyme that indicates muscle or tissue damage, which was to be expected of high-performance athletes. Trauma and other conditions that are common among athletes are associated with CK, but elevated CK levels can also signal a heart attack because they form in response to skeletal muscles or brain damage.

Both groups were also given food frequency questionnaires in order to evaluate how often they had eaten 187 different food items. They were also asked what the their normal physical exercise routines were in the four weeks leading up to the study.

The results showed that rugby players ate more of all the food groups, so in addition to exercise playing an influence on gut bacteria variety, there was also significant variety in the athlete’s diet. Protein accounted for 22 percent of their caloric intake compared to the normal group, whose dietary proteins made up 15 to 16 percent of their daily calories. The athletes also took a lot of protein supplements and ate more fruit and vegetables and fewer snacks than the normal group.

"Understanding the complex relationship among what we choose to eat, activity levels and gut microbiota richness is essential," Dr. Georgina Hold, a researcher from Institute of Medical Sciences, Aberdeen University in Scotland, said in a separate editorial. "As life expectancy continues to increase, it is important that we understand how best to maintain good health. Never has this been more important than in respect of our resident microbiota."

There is a combination of diet and exercise impact on the variety of gut bacteria. More than one-third of adults in the United States are either overweight or obese, which means lifestyle changes need to be implemented in order to create a healthier gut environment.

Source: Shanahan F. British Medical Journal. 2014.