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Exercise drives Gut Biodiversity

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Exercise coupled with a higher protein diet increases the diversity of gut microbiota, according to a recently published study in the journal Gut. The researchers discovered the beneficial impact that higher levels of exercise and higher protein consumption had on the diversity of bacteria populating the gut and suggest that eating proteins and increasing exercise is a means of increasing biodiversity of intestinal microbes.

Faecal and blood samples as well as food and exercise records from 40 professional rugby players were analysed and compared with two control groups; one control group had a comparable body mass index (BMI) to the athletes and the other were of a similar age but with lower BMI scores.

At study completion, the athletes had a significantly wider range of gut micro-organisms, representing 22 distinct phyla, which in turn also positively correlated with higher protein consumption. As expected, protein accounted for more of the athletes’ energy intake (22%) than the control groups (15-16%) providing evidence that dietary protein, in addition to exercise, are key factors driving the level of biodiversity in the gut.

In addition, the athletes also possessed lower inflammatory and improved metabolic markers relative to the controls and had a much higher proportion of Akkermansiaceae, a bacteria known to be linked with lower rates of obesity and associated metabolic disorders.

“Diversity is important in all ecosystems, to promote stability and performance. Microbiota diversity may become a new biomarker or indicator for health,” said study coauthor Siobhan Clarke, PhD.

Low levels of gut flora are associated with conditions such as autism, diabetes and obesity, and a greater variation of organisms is linked to a better metabolic profile and overall health. As gut microbiota significantly affects metabolism and the development of the immune system, greater levels of exercise and a higher protein seem to provide yet another significant benefit to gut function and overall health and wellbeing.


  1. Clarke SF, Murphy EF, O’Sullivan O, et al. Exercise and associated dietary extremes impact on gut microbial diversity. Gut 2014 Dec;63(12):1913-20 [Full Text


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Vanessa Wong
Vanessa Wong holds an Advanced Diploma in Naturopathy and Diploma in Nutrition from Nature Care College. She has been practicing nutrition since 2004, developing nutritional seminars and publications for corporate clients and leading neutraceutical companies. Her passion lies with nutrition, particularly nutritional support for those with diabetes and cardiovascular disease. She is married and a mother to three very food-loving children, each a product of her other area of focus - childhood nutrition!