Exercise and Friendly Bacteria

Everyone knows about “friendly bacteria.” The probiotics industry made $21.6 billion globally in 2010, mostly from food sales (like yogurt). The benefits are numerous: Gut-dwelling bacteria keep pathogens (harmful microorganisms) in check, aid digestion and nutrient absorption, and contribute to immune function. But there might be even more good news for gym-goers.

A recent Irish study conducted at the Alimentary Pharmabiotic Center at University College Cork found that frequent exercise might alter your gut bacteria for the better.


The study consisted of three groups. The first was comprised of 40 professional rugby players. The second consisted of healthy non-athletic men, and the third of sedentary, overweight men. The men in the last group had body mass indexes similar to the rugby players, but essentially without all the muscle.

It turned out that the athletes had more diverse intestinal microbes than the other two groups–but especially the group of heavier, non-active men. They also had a higher level of a certain bacterium called Akkermansiaceae (try saying that three times fast). Akkermansiaceae has been linked to a reduced risk of obesity, but also in systemic inflammation. The researchers basically found that the rugby players were exercising intensely (it was preseason training time) but recovering well.

It was a small study and so the results should be taken with caution. For example, the rugby players consumed considerably more calories and protein than the other two groups. Nutritional makeup was, however, not taken into account. Rugby players are also ridiculously athletic. Their fitness and endurance levels are well above those of a normal gym-goer.

So don’t throw away that yogurt just yet. But this could all be just another reason why you should stick to your workout routine.


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