Scheiman collected fecal samples from 20 athletes training for the 2015 Boston marathon, a week before and a week after the big race. “For two weeks I was driving around Boston collecting fecal samples and putting them on dry ice in the car…. We followed athletes longitudinally to capture how the microbiome changes between performance and recovery.”
Training and anatomy play a big role in the performance top athletes are able to wring from their bodies. But they may get a boost from bacteria that populate their guts. Researchers have examined the microbiome of elite runners and rowers, ID’ing strains of bacteria that may help sports performance.
Said Scheiman: “When we first started thinking about this, I was asked whether we could use genomics to predict the next Michael Jordan…. 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?”
“We are more bacteria than we are human,” he added. “The bugs in our gut affect our energy metabolism, making it easier to break down carbohydrates, protein and fiber. They are also involved in inflammation and neurological function. So perhaps the microbiome could be relevant for applications in endurance, recovery and maybe even mental toughness.”
Scheiman and colleagues sequenced the DNA of the bacteria. Comparing the samples before and after the marathon, they found a spike in on strain following the race. “This bug’s natural function is to break down lactic acid,” Scheiman explained. Lactic acid is produced by the body in intense exercise and has been blamed for muscle fatigue and soreness. Scheiman speculates this bacteria could potentially help the body break it down. His team is now feeding the bacteria to mice to measure what effect if any it has on their fatigue and lactic acid levels. A goal would be to develop a probiotic supplement that could help amateur and pro athletes alike bounce back from tough workouts, or better turn nutrients into energy. He’s helped start a company called Fitbiomics to commercialize the research.
Said Scheiman: “I would like to think that a year after we launch, we could have a novel probiotic on the market…. But in parallel we’ll also be expanding our cohort of elite athletes from numerous sports to generate a larger microbial data and strain bank of novel probiotic candidates. 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.”