Changing the conversation about health

Bacteria found in the gut of top athletes could improve physical performance

New research has suggested that high performance athletes have different biomes to those who exercise more moderately or not at all.

A special type of gut bacteria, veillonella, was found in the digestive microbiomes of elite athletes and scientists believe it could play a role in boosting their performance while playing sports.

Research that put a gut bacteria, veillonella, found in the microbiomes of top athletes, into the colons of lab mice saw them run for 13 per cent longer on a treadmill than those without it

The Havard study, which was published in Nature Medicine, carried out research on the stools of marathon runners and endurance athletes after rigorous physical activity and found that they have higher levels of veillonella in their digestive microbiomes compared to individuals who don’t exercise.

After isolating a strain of veillonella from a marathon runner, they put the bacteria into the colon of mice and found the rodents given it could run 13 per cent faster than those without it.

A second round of testing analysed the microbiomes of 87 ultra-marathoners and Olympic-trial rowers and similarly high levels of veillonella were found.


Researchers say the performance-enhancing link could be centered around how bacteria break down lactate, a substance linked to fatigue during exercise. It’s present when the body uses up glucose to produce energy under low levels of oxygen.

Co-author of the study, Prof George Church of Harvard University said clinical trials in humans would now follow.