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Gut Microbial Stability is Associated with Greater Endurance Performance in Athletes Undertaking Dietary Periodization

  • Furber, Matthew J. W.
  • Young, Gregory R.
  • Holt, Giles S.
  • Pyle, Simone
  • Davison, Glen
  • Roberts, Michael G.
  • Roberts, Justin D.
  • Howatson, Glyn
  • Smith, Darren L.
Published Article
American Society for Microbiology
Publication Date
May 17, 2022
DOI: 10.1128/msystems.00129-22
ASM Journals


Dietary manipulation with high-protein or high-carbohydrate content are frequently employed during elite athletic training, aiming to enhance athletic performance. Such interventions are likely to impact upon gut microbial content. This study explored the impact of acute high-protein or high-carbohydrate diets on measured endurance performance and associated gut microbial community changes. In a cohort of well-matched, highly trained endurance runners, we measured performance outcomes, as well as gut bacterial, viral (FVP), and bacteriophage (IV) communities in a double-blind, repeated-measures design randomized control trial (RCT) to explore the impact of dietary intervention with either high-protein or high-carbohydrate content. High-dietary carbohydrate improved time-trial performance by +6.5% (P < 0.03) and was associated with expansion of Ruminococcus and Collinsella bacterial spp. Conversely, high dietary protein led to a reduction in performance by −23.3% (P = 0.001). This impact was accompanied by significantly reduced diversity (IV: P = 0.04) and altered composition (IV and FVP: P = 0.02) of the gut phageome as well as enrichment of both free and inducible Sk1virus and Leuconostoc bacterial populations. Greatest performance during dietary modification was observed in participants with less substantial shifts in community composition. Gut microbial stability during acute dietary periodization was associated with greater athletic performance in this highly trained, well-matched cohort. Athletes, and those supporting them, should be mindful of the potential consequences of dietary manipulation on gut flora and implications for performance, and periodize appropriately. IMPORTANCE Dietary periodization is employed to improve endurance exercise performance but may impact on gut microbial communities. Bacteriophage are implicated in bacterial cell homeostasis and have been identified as biomarkers of disequilibrium in the gut ecosystem possibly brought about through dietary periodization. We find high-carbohydrate and high-protein diets to have opposing impacts on endurance performance in highly trained athlete populations. Reduced performance is linked with disturbance of microbial stasis in the gut. We demonstrate bacteriophage communities are the most sensitive component of the gut microbiota to increased gut stress following dietary manipulation. Athletes undertaking dietary periodization should be aware of potential negative impacts of drastic changes to dietary composition on gut microbial stasis and, in turn, endurance performance.

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