Elite athletes often work their entires lives to excel in their sport, but new research shows they may also get a slight edge from their digestive tracts.

Scientists have tapped into the microbiome of elite runners and rowers to identify certain bacteria that may be responsible for a boost in their athletic performance.

“When we first started thinking about this, I was asked whether we could use genomics to predict the next Michael Jordan,” says Jonathan Scheiman, Ph.D., fellow in the laboratory of George Church, Ph.D. at Harvard Medical School. “But my response was that a better question is: Can you extract Jordan’s biology and give it to others to help make the next Michael Jordan?”

To identify which bacteria support athletic performance, researchers collected daily samples of 20 athletes training for world-reknown Boston marathon in 2015. The microbiomes were then examined for changes between performance and recovery.

In studying the samples, researchers noticed key changes in the microbiome that suggest the athlete’s guts had adapted to help aid the body in recovery.

One type of bacteria that spiked after the athletes completed their daily training aids in the break down of lactic acid — a substance body produces during workouts that can cause muscle fatigue and soreness. Another type of bacteria found in ultamarathoners helps to more easily break down carbohydrates and fiber — a crucial process for a body running extreme distances. But this same bacteria wasn’t present in rowers, suggesting that athletes in different sports can foster niche microbiomes to aid in their particular athletic feats.

The research was presented at the 254th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

Researchers hope that continued studies in this area will lead to the development of probiotic supplements that can help athletes and fitness enthusiasts recover from tough workouts more quickly.

“In essence, we’re mining the biology of the most fit and healthy people in the world and then extracting that information to help them and others,” said Scheiman.

Read more at Science Daily.

(h/t Science Daily)

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Meghan is a full-time writer exploring the fun facts behind food. She lives a healthy lifestyle but lives for breakfast, dessert and anything with marinara. She’s thrown away just as many meals as she’s proud of.