Exercise and Gut Bacteria Diversity

Optimal health begins in the gastrointestinal system. The GI system maintains function of everything from the immune system and psychological processes, thus affecting a variety of health factors, including weight.

There are different types of bacteria in an individual’s gut, both good and bad bacteria. The good bacteria helps maintain proper bacterial levels, and it competes with the bad bacteria for space, nutrition, and attachment sites, primarily in the colon. The proper balance of your GI system’s bacteria is extremely important, since pathogenic bacteria can cause unwanted effects if they are able to gain control.

In order to help the good bacteria, we recommend that you implement a diet rich in cultured, fermented, or unprocessed foods. However, regular exercise is also shown to have a positive effect on the gut’s bacteria.

Exercise May Promote Bacterial Diversification

Philly.com1, New York Times2, and Time Magazine3 all reported that Irish researchers have discovered that regular exercise, plus a diet rich in protein, increases the amounts and types of bacteria that is found in the GI Tract. This, in turn, may have boosting effects on the immune system4.

In a study with rugby players, the athletes were shown to have a “higher diver higher diversity of gut microorganisms… which in turn positively correlated with protein consumption and creatine kinase." The rugby players were chosen as the athletes for the study because of the intense amount of training and the specific diet that they followed.

A specific species of gut bacteria known as Akkermansia Ceae can be found in increased numbers in the GI tract of athletes. Akkermansia Ceae has also been connected with reducing obesity and inflammation.

The extreme diet that was followed by the athletes is not recommended, or likely, for most of us. However, the researchers involved in the study wanted to discover the intensity in which the right exercise and diet combination can affect the gut’s bacteria.

Who were the controls? The controls were two groups of males

  1. Those with a normal body mass index who participated in regular, light exercise
  2. Sedentary individuals who were obese or overweight

After the control groups were examined, the researchers discovered that exercise does have an impact on gut bacteria, but it is a very complex relationship that also involves an extreme diet5.

The Link Between Diet and Gut Microbiota

The control groups and the athletes (test group) had extreme differences in the daily dietary intake. The test group’s diet had a wide variety of food groups and protein intake was 5-6% higher than the control group. The control group, overall, ate less vegetables and fruits, and they also ate more snack foods.

The researchers discovered that diet plays an extremely important role in immunity, metabolism, and gut bacteria. Exercise was unable to be proved as having an effective role in maintaining bacteria because the diets of the control and test groups were so vastly different. Diet, on the other hand, was proven again to have a vast effect on microbial balance in the GI tract.

Processed foods can have an adverse effect on the bacteria in your gut. Another example is sugar. It promotes the growth of disease causing yeasts and fungi. The athletes indulged on much less processed foods than the control group.

On the other side of the spectrum are fermented foods, which perform as a natural fertilizer. Fermented foods promote the growth of healthy bacteria, while also providing nutrients in your GI system. Fermented foods are also great with helping your body with eliminating unwanted toxins, such as pesticides.

One of the only times to have a high protein diet is when you are a professional athlete, who needs this replenishment from working out several hours a day. A high protein diet does not necessarily result in a better balance of your gut’s bacteria.

Diet Dictates Gut Bacteria

Science News 6 presented an article concerning local diets and their influence on bacterial balance in locals. For example, even though two different people groups – the Malawi and the Guahibos in Venezuela – live in opposite sides of the world, their diet is very similar. This, they have very similar gut bacteria.

On average, Americans are found to have twenty five percent less bacterial diversity in their gastrointestinal tract. The primary difference between Americans and these two tribes are meat consumption. The tribal diets consists of less meats, and a diet high in cassava and corn, whereas Americans have diets high in meats, breads, pasta, dairy products, and potatoes. These vast dietary differences result in the microbial differences seen in the guts of these individuals.

Your community in which you live highly determines the diversity of gut bacteria. However, higher protein consumption has been shown to lead to less diversity of bacteria. Also, the research subjects were not athletes, like the former study, so perhaps exercise is the key to a high protein diet.

Unless You're an Athlete, Be Mindful of Eating Too Much Protein

Protein, protein, protein. We hear that everywhere. Are you getting enough protein? Can I have this protein powder? and more questions like this. The human body does need protein to help with bones, muscle growth, and maintaining hormones. The ability to process proteins decreases with age, so it’s important to eat more protein as you get older.

The average American consumes 3-5 times more protein than is needed to maintain optimal health. There is there rare individual who may require more than 0.5g of protein/lb of lean body mass. However, athletes, those who actively and aggressively exercise, and pregnant women need 25% more protein. Most individuals only need about 40-70g of protein/day.

In order to find your lean body mass, subtract your body fat percentage from 100.To determine your lean body mass, find out your percent body fat and subtract from 100. This means that if you have 20 percent body fat, you have 80 percent lean body mass. Just multiply that by your current weight to get your lean body mass in pounds or kilos.

There is a reason for limiting protein intake. Protein in high levels activate the mTOR pathway (mammalian target of rapamycin). mTOR increases muscle size, but it also increases the risk of cancer. It may also be a regulator for aging, thus the ability to suppress this gene could be the key to living longer. In order to have the optimal diet, it’s important to consume higher quality protein sources and carbohydrates, along with healthy fats.

Translating Ideal Protein Requirements Into Foods

We are going to discuss your protein options further. The highest amounts of protein can be found in eggs, meat, legumes, nuts, and dairy products. In order to discover if you are consuming too much protein:

  1. Determine your lean body mass from the description above.
  2. Write down everything you eat for a couple of daysCalculate protein amounts from your sources
  3. Determine if your protein sources are equaling 40-70 grams/dayIf your daily protein intake is more than 40-70g/day, then you need to adjust the amount of protein in your diet.

Here is a simple chart to get you started (or just Google average protein in an item you are consuming).

  • Red meat, seafood, poultry, and pork (an ideal amount is a 3oz serving) 6-9g/oz
  • Eggs 6-8g/egg
  • Seeds and Nuts 4-8g/one quarter cup
  • Cooked beans 7-8g/half cup
  • Cooked grains 5-7g/cup
  • Veggies 1-2g/oz

Optimize Your Gut Health Through Diet and Exercise

There are two primary things that we have hit on here:

  1. It is extremely important to have the right amount of good bacteria in order to have optimal health. You can’t be healthy if your GI system has an imbalance. In order to maintain this balance, eat a healthy diet of organic and fermented foods and exercise regularly.
  2. A healthy lifestyle is a must. If you are consuming primarily processed foods, not exercising, and using certain types of antibacterial cleansers, these items begin working with one another to decrease the amount of good bacteria in your GI tract.

The most important thing is to maintain the right balance of bacteria in your gut. This increases the ability to remain healthy throughout your life. This consists of a diet containing unprocessed, whole, and unsweetened foods. Also, add in fermented and cultured foods into your diet. Probiotic supplements can also help if you are unable to eat fermented foods regularly.

Non-organic foods contain pesticides that have been used on the plants. These pesticides (example: glyphosate in Roundup) affect your gut’s bacteria. Therefore, eating organic can help with maintaining healthy bacteria. Some other examples of products that affect gut bacteria include:

  • Chlorinated water
  • Antibiotics (also found in store bought meat because of the antibiotics used in cattle. Ensure that the meat you buy is grass fed and finished)
  • Pollution
  • Antibacterial soap

For the complete article by Dr. Mercola, please visit here


1 Philly.com June 10, 2014

2 New York Times June 18, 2014

3 Time June 12, 20144 Gut June 9, 2014 [Epub ahead of print]

5 Gut June 9, 2014 [Epub ahead of print]

6 Science News January 11, 2014

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