Top sports and the gut microbiome

A lot of time and energy is put into training and preparing top athletes. Nothing is left to chance, lots of things are considered: training, coaching, mentoring, physio, nutrition, etc.

Yet one important aspect is often forgotten ... the gut microbiome.

While the gut microbiome is largely responsible for producing (building) substances the body needs for peak performance.

How do those bacteria convert the nutrients, often specially selected, into those needed for peak performance? And do they do so sufficiently effectively and at the right time? How do you ensure optimal performance throughout the season?

The role of the gut microbiome in health

The gut microbiome influences many things. The most obvious, of course, is the conversion of food into substances such as proteins and sugars that are then burned in the body when performing physical labor, or used for muscle building and recovery.

But the gut microbiome also has a lot of influence:

  • Condition
  • Endurance
  • Restorative power
  • Peak load
  • Stress
  • Mental strain

To measure is to know and to know is to steer

Each elite athlete has a unique gut microbiome and produces his/her own unique combination of substances from ingested food. It is that specific combination of substances that largely determines muscle building, recovery function(s) and mental health (including stress resistance and motivation).

By closely monitoring the structure and function of the gut microbiome, strengths and weaknesses in the gut microbiome relative to athletic performance can be identified. It is also possible to adjust the gut microbiome and keep it in the right condition over a longer period of time.

"The better the condition of the gut microbiome, the faster the elite athlete can return to peak performance."

This may vary for different phases throughout the year. The gut microbiome must remain in top condition throughout that period. This allows the athlete to achieve stable performance throughout the season. But because of the intense training and the long competition season, the chances of disruption in the gut microbiome are high. Besides the strain on the body during training stages and tough competitions, such a disruption can also be caused by different (sports) diet, travel, injuries, medications or just a flu. The better the condition of the gut microbiome, the smaller the impact of such a disruption and the faster the gut microbiome recovers and the athlete can continue to perform at top level.

Also perform better?

Wondering what we can do for you or your sports organization? Contact us today!

The NL lab sports program

NL-Lab develops special programs for various sports with which the intestinal microbiome of an athlete can be monitored accurately and over longer periods of time. Especially focused on the athlete and his/her intestinal microbiome.

We offer programs for:

  • Field and indoor sports
  • Strength sports
  • Endurance sports

These programs are based on 4 building blocks:

  • Personal circumstances
  • Intended performance
  • The seasonal program
  • Periodic monitoring

The weighting of each of these building blocks is adjusted by sport to maximize the intended effect.

Some examples

Footballer A

A young soccer player is playing at a high international level for the third season. In the previous two seasons, the soccer player suffered from fatigue during the season, which was followed by intestinal problems such as diarrhea and stomach cramps after a few weeks/months. For the 3rd season, NL-Lab's sports program will be used.

During the monitoring program, it is quickly determined that the soccer player is dealing with an imbalance (dysbiosis) of the gut microbiome, in which the amounts of a certain group of bacteria are elevated. At the beginning of the season, this imbalance is still reasonably under control and the otherwise top fit athlete is not affected.

As the season progresses, however, the imbalance slowly gets worse, as the soccer player gets a little too much animal protein and a little too little complex carbohydrates through his diet. From that protein, the bacteria (of which there are too many) produce all sorts of neuroactive biomolecules that can cause fatigue.

The prolonged and worsening imbalance of the gut microbiome is the cause of the gut problems that occur. Timely intervention ensures that the player's diet can be adjusted early in the season so that the situation does not get out of hand and the imbalance of the gut microbiome is reduced rather than made worse.

Cyclist B

A cyclist with several years of experience always experiences intestinal problems after a rest period. As a result, returning to normal performance levels takes longer than desired. Adapted training and nutrition do not deliver the desired results.

With the NL-Lab sports program, the influence of the gut microbiome on his situation is mapped. After a period of intense effort during the competitive season, there is a decrease in the colonization resistance (stability) of the gut microbiome during a rest period. With deteriorated stability of the gut microbiome, a yeast (Candida albicans) sees an opportunity to colonize the gut in greater quantities. Too much of this yeast disrupts carbohydrate digestion, delaying the rider's recovery.

Early intervention can prevent a further decline in stability and the rider will be back to her old level quickly(er).


Skater C

A skater's performance is excellent one time and moderate to poor the next. A reason for this is not easily determined and it seems to be subject to randomness. Until the skater comes into contact with NL-Lab's gut microbiome monitoring program for endurance athletes.

Periodic monitoring reveals chronically reduced colonization resistance resulting in a variety of microbiological passives (some of which are potentially pathogenic) temporarily colonizing the microbiome on a continuous basis. This results in unpredictable, but often negative, effects on various sport-related bodily functions.

With some minor modification in diet and nutritional supplements, the problem can be made manageable and performance becomes much more stable.

Wondering what we can do for you or your sports organization?

NL-lab is happy to visit to explain the gut microbiome program and develop a customized monitoring program together with the medical staff or athlete. In joint consultation, the athlete (or athletes) regularly submits a sample that is extensively examined by NL-Lab. A dashboard is created per athlete in which changes and advice are clearly and practically communicated. The results are reviewed in detail by NL-Lab's experts together with the medical staff, and customized guidance is provided on content.

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