Objective: The commensal microbiota, host immunity and metabolism participate in a signalling network, with diet influencing each component of this triad. In addition to diet, many elements of a modern lifestyle influence the gut microbiota but the degree to which exercise affects this population is unclear. Therefore, we explored exercise and diet for their impact on the gut microbiota. Design: Since extremes of exercise often accompany extremes of diet, we addressed the issue by studying professional athletes from an international rugby union squad. Two groups were included to control for physical size, age and gender. Compositional analysis of the microbiota was explored by 16S rRNA amplicon sequencing. Each participant completed a detailed food frequency questionnaire. Results: As expected, athletes and controls differed significantly with respect to plasma creatine kinase (a marker of extreme exercise), and inflammatory and metabolic markers. More importantly, athletes had a higher diversity of gut micro-organisms, representing 22 distinct phyla, which in turn positively correlated with protein consumption and creatine kinase. Conclusions: The results provide evidence for a beneficial impact of exercise on gut microbiota diversity but also indicate that the relationship is complex and is related to accompanying dietary extremes.
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