Science 3 min read

Performance-Enhancing Bacteria, Veillonella, Found in Guts of Athletes

Kateryna Kon /

Kateryna Kon /

According to a new study, a type of bacteria in the microbiome of elite athletes improves their capacity for exercise. As you can imagine, these bacteria – a member of the genus Veillonella – are not present in the guts of sedentary people.

During a detailed examination, the researchers at the Joslin Diabetes Center noted how the Veillonella bacteria metabolize lactic acid produced by exercise into propionate. The human body then uses this product to increase exercise capacity.

Speaking on the discovery, co-author of the study, Aleksandar D. Kostic Ph.D. said:

“Having increased exercise capacity is a strong predictor of overall health and protection against cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and overall longevity.”

Findings from this study can help develop probiotic supplements that’ll increase exercise capacity. With this ability, people would ultimately increase their protection against chronic diseases such as diabetes.

How the Researchers Discovered the Performance-Enhancing Bacteria

Back in 2015, Harvard Medical School researcher, Jonathan Scheiman, Ph.D. collected fecal samples from Boston Marathon runners.

The runners were required to submit the sample one week before the marathon, and one week after the race. For control, Dr. Scheiman also collected samples from sedentary individuals.

He then took the samples to Dr, Kostic for analysis. They wanted to determine the species of bacteria present in both groups.

Dr. Kostic noted:

“One of the things that immediately caught our attention was this single organism, Veillonella, that was enriched in abundance immediately after the marathon in the runners. Veillonella is also at higher abundance in the marathon runners [in general] than it is in sedentary individuals.”

Using mouse models, the researchers were able to confirm the improved exercise capacity which the bacteria provides. There was just one question on everyone’s mind.

How does it work?

How Veillonella Improves Exercise Capacity

Upon further analysis of the bacteria, the researchers noted its uniqueness in the human-microbe. Veillonella uses lactate or lactic acid as its primary source of carbon, says Kostic.

The muscle produces lactic acid during strenuous exercise, and the bacteria use this product as its primary source of food.

To further understand the link between the bacterias lactic acid intake and improved exercise capacity, the researchers ran a metagenomic analysis. In other words, they tracked the genetics of all the organisms in the microbiome community.

At this point, the researchers noted the presence of enzymes linked with the conversion of lactic acid into the short chain fatty acid propionate in the post-marathon fecal samples.

“Then the question was maybe it’s not the removal of lactic acid, but the generation of propionate,” says Dr. Kostic. “We did some experiments to introduce propionate into mice [via enema] and test whether that was sufficient for this increased running ability phenotype. And it was.

While more research is necessary to determine how propionate affects exercise capacity, this finding raises other possibilities. Perhaps, soon, a probiotic capsule containing Veillonella can exist to provide an additional boost for adequate exercise.

Read More: Effect of Morning Exercise is Different from Evenings’

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Sumbo Bello

Sumbo Bello is a creative writer who enjoys creating data-driven content for news sites. In his spare time, he plays basketball and listens to Coldplay.

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