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The Gut-Fitness Connection

Trying to improve your fitness, stamina and endurance? You might be surprised to find out that exercise is closely connected to gut health! 

We know that the health of your gut microbiome influences your metabolism, hormonal and immune system.1 It is clear that our food choices influence the kinds of bacteria we can host. 

But does physical activity affect your gut microbes, and vice versa? 

The answer is yes! Mounting evidence suggests that exercise can actually modify the types of bacteria that reside within our guts.2

Let’s look at the evidence.

One thing we know about elite athletes is that they have great microbial diversity – this means that their gut ecosystems are full of many different strains of beneficial bacteria. Research shows that the more you exercise, the greater the number of helpful microbial species that will populate your gut. Exercise = gut diversity!3

Why should you care? Gut microbiome diversity matters because:

  1. Clinical studies confirm that microbial diversity is a marker of good health. The higher your diversity score, the lower the risk of developing obesity4 and type 2 diabetes.5
  2. Good diversity helps reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases6 and some cancers.7
  3. Microbes in the gut and the airways communicate through the “gut-lung axis”. This means that wide diversity in the gut microbial ecosystem supports lung health. Good diversity inside your gut can actually shorten the length of a cold or flu.8

Train for gut health! 

Here are some tips for exercising with your gut in mind: 

  1. After training, drink kefir. Research shows that drinking kefir improves recovery after intensive endurance training. The study, which examined endurance athletes who drank kefir twice a week, suggests that kefir may also be involved in improving the risk profile for cardiovascular disease.9
  2. Just get moving – every little helps! Microbiome changes can even be seen following quite modest exercise regimes. One study found that women who performed at least three hours of light exercise – such as a brisk walk or swim – per week had increased levels of beneficial bacteria Faecalibacterium prausnitzii, Roseburia hominis, and Akkermansia muciniphila compared with sedentary individuals.10
  3. Celebrate small improvements. Some people’s guts take longer to respond to the benefits of exercise. That’s normal! Health and disease sit on a spectrum that moves every time we eat, move, or change our mindset. Studies have shown people who exercise tend to have higher levels of butyrate (the anti-inflammatory short-chain fatty acid/SFCA produced by bugs like Faecalibacterium and Roseburia). More butyrate means better blood sugar control. Exercise can help with both improving butyrate production and insulin sensitivity.11 But it won’t happen overnight. If you’ve just started your exercise regime, allow some time for these changes to kick in.
  4. Increase your fibre intake. Athletes in training are coached to increase their prebiotic fibre, because it boosts species like Bifidobacterum and/or Lactobacillus species.12 These bacteria in turn, produces SCFAs, which have been extensively investigated for their effects on gut health, metabolism, immune and appetite regulation, as well as potential anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.13 SCFAs may also play a role in improving the absorption of certain minerals like calcium, magnesium, and iron in the colon, as well as modulating bone mass and protection from inflammation-induced bone loss.14 Source 18 different types of prebiotic fibre, quickly and easily, in our Complete Prebiotic

So when it’s time to roll out from under that duvet and lace up your trainers, inspire yourself with the thought that it’s not just you –  you’re also benefiting trillions of your tiny gut bug friends! ; ) 

Questions? Talk to a Nutritional Therapist on live chat!


  1. BMJ - "Role of the gut microbiota in nutrition and health". Written by Ana M Valdes, associate professor, Jens Walter, CAIP chair for nutrition, microbes, and gastrointestinal health, Eran Segal, professor, Tim D Spector, professor on June 13, 2018
    link to article
  2. The Conversation - "Gut health: does exercise change your microbiome?". Written by Rachael Rigby, Karen Wright on June 16, 2020
    link to article
  3. Oxidative medicine and cellular longevity - "Exercise Modifies the Gut Microbiota with Positive Health Effects". Written by Monda, V., Villano, I., Messina, A., Valenzano, A., Esposito, T., Moscatelli, F., Viggiano, A., Cibelli, G., Chieffi, S., Monda, M., & Messina, G. on March 5, 2017
    link to article
  4. Oxidative medicine and cellular longevity - "Exercise Modifies the Gut Microbiota with Positive Health Effects". Written by Monda, V., Villano, I., Messina, A., Valenzano, A., Esposito, T., Moscatelli, F., Viggiano, A., Cibelli, G., Chieffi, S., Monda, M., & Messina, G. on March 5, 2017
    link to article
  5. Jama Network - "Association of Insulin Resistance and Type 2 Diabetes With Gut Microbial Diversity, A Microbiome-Wide Analysis From Population Studies". Written by Zhangling Chen, MD, PhD; Djawad Radjabzadeh, MSc; Lianmin Chen, MSc, et al on July 29, 2021
    link to article
  6. Life (Basel, Switzerland) - "Association of Gut Microbiome Dysbiosis with Neurodegeneration: Can Gut Microbe-Modifying Diet Prevent or Alleviate the Symptoms of Neurodegenerative Diseases?". Written by Tan, L. Y., Yeo, X. Y., Bae, H. G., Lee, D., Ho, R. C., Kim, J. E., Jo, D. G., & Jung, S. on July 15, 2021
    link to article
  7. Trends in Cancer - "The Cancer Microbiome: Distinguishing Direct and Indirect Effects Requires a Systemic View". Written by Joao B. Xavier, Vincent B. Young, Joseph Skufca, Fiona Ginty, Traci Testerman, Alexander T. Pearson, Paul Macklin, Amir Mitchell, Ilya Shmulevich, Lei Xie, J. Gregory Caporaso, Keith A. Crandall, Nicole L. Simone, Filipa Godoy-Vitorino, Timothy J. Griffin, Katrine L. Whiteson, Heather H. Gustafson, Daniel J. Slade, Thomas M. Schmidt, Marina R.S. Walther-Antonio, Tal Korem, Bobbie-Jo M. Webb-Robertson, Mark P. Styczynski, W. Evan Johnson, Christian Jobin, Jason M. Ridlon, Andrew Y. Koh, Michael Yu, Libusha Kelly, Jennifer A. Wargo on February 7, 2020
    link to article
  8. Frontiers in cellular and infection microbiology - "The Gut-Lung Axis in Health and Respiratory Diseases: A Place for Inter-Organ and Inter-Kingdom Crosstalks". Written by Enaud, R., Prevel, R., Ciarlo, E., Beaufils, F., Wieërs, G., Guery, B., & Delhaes, L. on February 19, 2020
    link to article
  9. Journal of dairy science - "The effects of postexercise consumption of a kefir beverage on performance and recovery during intensive endurance training". Written by O'Brien, K. V., Stewart, L. K., Forney, L. A., Aryana, K. J., Prinyawiwatkul, W., & Boeneke, C. A. on August 20, 2015
    link to article
  10. PloS one - "Differences in gut microbiota profile between women with active lifestyle and sedentary women". Written by Bressa, C., Bailén-Andrino, M., Pérez-Santiago, J., González-Soltero, R., Pérez, M., Montalvo-Lominchar, M. G., Maté-Muñoz, J. L., Domínguez, R., Moreno, D., & Larrosa, M. on February 10, 2017
    link to article
  11. Cell metabolism - "Gut Microbiome Fermentation Determines the Efficacy of Exercise for Diabetes Prevention". Written by Liu, Y., Wang, Y., Ni, Y., Cheung, C., Lam, K., Wang, Y., Xia, Z., Ye, D., Guo, J., Tse, M. A., Panagiotou, G., & Xu, A. on November 27, 2019
    link to article
  12. BarBend - "The 5 Types Of Dietary Fiber Athletes Should Know About". Written by Hennis Tung on August 19, 2019
    link to article
  13. Critical reviews in food science and nutrition - "The behavior of dietary fiber in the gastrointestinal tract determines its physiological effect". Written by Capuano E. on November 2, 2017
    link to article
  14. Nature communications - "Short-chain fatty acids regulate systemic bone mass and protect from pathological bone loss". Written by Lucas, S., Omata, Y., Hofmann, J., Böttcher, M., Iljazovic, A., Sarter, K., Albrecht, O., Schulz, O., Krishnacoumar, B., Krönke, G., Herrmann, M., Mougiakakos, D., Strowig, T., Schett, G., & Zaiss, M. M. on January 4, 2018
    link to article

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