The Role of Gut Bacteria in Sports

Can gut bacteria affect your performance in sport? The answer is—somewhat surprisingly—yes. Learn more here.

Your gut is amazing!!! This complex network of tubes, tunnels and digestive juices not only breaks down our food but also plays host to trillions of bacteria which play a central role in controlling our health. Good bacteria such as Bifidobacteria also have an important role to play in sports performance. For any sportsman or woman ensuring you have a healthy balance of the different types of bacteria in your gut should be a key part of your training and nutritional programme. The essential functions of friendly gut bacteria include:

Energy release

Though the body is capable of digesting and absorbing many nutrients, some foodstuffs require the intervention of bacteria to fully extract their nutritional benefits. For instance, some low-glycaemic carbohydrates e.g. fibre (a common feature of many nutritional supplements) can only be fully broken down and utilised once they are digested by ‘good’ bacteria into their basic constituents, e.g. simple sugars and short chain fatty acids, providing an additional source of energy.

Regulation of a healthy immune system

It is an astounding fact that more than 60% of the body’s immune system is based in the gut and the bacteria (particularly Bifidobacteria) that reside there play a key role in controlling and modulating the immune response.

One of the ways in which they do this is interacting directly with special tissues on the lining of the gut to regulate and temper the immune response. The presence of large numbers of ‘friendly’ bacteria also helps prevent disease causing bacteria from becoming established, something called colonisation resistance.

The production of essential nutrients

Though many athletes rely on nutritional supplementation for their vitamin intake, few people realise that the good bacteria in the gut are able to produce a number of different types of vitamins including;

  • B-vitamins which are required for the release of energy from fats and carbohydrates
  • Vitamin K which is an essential co-factor in the blood clotting process and has implications for sustained exercise where micro capillary damage can occur around the muscles




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