Improved sports performance

Does eating a wider variety of vegetables improve sports performance?

Researchers studied elite endurance athletes to assess whether an imbalance in microbial diversity could affect performance during a time trial.

Prior reserach has shown that a diverse gut microbiome is a marker for health and can affect many body systems. This study looked at athletes who followed a short term high protein diet to assess whether it altered the diversity of the gut microbiome and if this affected performance.

Those that followed the high protein diet were seen to suffer not only a disruption to the diversity of their gut microbiome, but also a 23.3% drop in performance in a time trial situation compared to those following a high carbohydrate diet.

Dr Justin Roberts, Associate Professor in Health and Exercise Nutrition at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) and co-author of the study, said: “These results suggest that athletic performance may be linked with gut microbial stability, where athletes who had more stable microbial communities consistently performed best in each dietary intervention compared to those with a more turbulent gut microbiota.

“While we cannot be certain that the high amount of protein in the body was entirely responsible for the significant drop in time-trial performance, it was found that there were certainly changes to the gut microbiome following a short-term high-protein diet which appeared to be associated with performance.

“These results suggest that consuming a high-protein diet may negatively impact the gut via an altered microbial pattern, while a high-carbohydrate intake, for example containing a variety of grains and vegetables, was associated with greater gut microbial stability.

Whilst other factors may be at play here, this does suggest that a rapid change in diet can influence the host microbiome within the gut and could result in loss of performance.

What can we take from this? Well, even with recreational or age group athletes, this highlights the need for a well balanced nutrition plan. If you’re looking to make significant changes to your diet then it’s important to understand that this can influence multiple body systems, and ultimately performance. Seeking professional advice on how to structure your nutrition alongside your training programme, particularly around upcoming events is key to optimising your potential.

Matthew J. W. Furber, Gregory R. Young, Giles S. Holt, Simone Pyle, Glen Davison, Michael G. Roberts, Justin D. Roberts, Glyn Howatson, Darren L. Smith. Gut Microbial Stability is Associated with Greater Endurance Performance in Athletes Undertaking Dietary Periodization. mSystems, 2022; 7 (3) DOI: 10.1128/msystems.00129-22

Athletic performance may be linked to gut microbial stability