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Scientists are studying the stools of elite athletes to make you better runner

The bacteria that populate our intestine, also called as a whole microbiome, are demonstrating in recent years have an important role in our health, also in areas where we never would have suspected: from mental health to our physical performance.

The athletes train hard to excel in their disciplines, but they could also receive a boost from the bacteria that live naturally in their digestive tracts. That suggests an investigation, which will be presented at the next meeting of the American Chemical Society, which has taken a look at the microbiomes of runners and exceptional rowers, and have identified some bacteria that can improve the performance of these athletes.

“When we started thinking about this, someone asked me if it would be possible to use genomics to find the next Michael Jordan.” My answer was that the real question would be if it is possible to extract the biology of Michael Jordan and give it to others to create the next Michael. Jordan “, explains Jonathan Scheiman, one of the authors of the investigation.

In the guts of athletes

To answer that question, the microbes seemed like a good place to start. The bacteria in our intestines affect how we metabolize energy, facilitating the breakdown of carbohydrates, proteins and fiber. So, the scientists thought, they could have applications in resistance and recovery , as well as in mental strength.

To find the bacteria that could have an effect on the performance of the athletes, the scientists collected faecal samples from 20 athletes training for the 2015 Boston Marathon , every day one week before the race until a week later . The idea was to track changes in the microbiome during training and recovery.

The researchers sequenced the genome of the collected bacteria to determine what type it was. When they compared the samples from before the race with those from after, they found a peak in the population of a certain type of bacteria after the marathon.

Bacteria involved with lactic acid

The specific function of this bacterium is to break down the lactic acid , which the body produces in larger amounts than usual during intense exercise. This can produce muscle fatigue and pain , something for which this bacterium in question could be a remedy, at least partial.

The team managed to isolate this bacterium and is beginning to evaluate its properties. Their results so far show that it is also good at processing lactic acid in vitro, and that it remains reliable after passing through the digestive system of a mouse. At this time, scientists are administering it to mice to analyze and measure their effects on lactic acid levels and on fatigue.

In other experiments, researchers are comparing the microbiome of ultra marathoners with that of rowers training for the Olympic Games . So far they have found a type of bacteria in the first that help to process carbohydrates and fiber, something key to a race of this magnitude, which however are not present in the rowers, suggesting that different sports favor different niches of bacteria .

The final objective is to analyze if supplements can be created for athletes based on the results of these investigations . “In short, we are crumbling the biology of the healthiest and fittest people in the world and extracting that information to see if we can help others like that.”

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