Fuel Hot Topic – Gut health and the microbiome in elite athletes

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Bronwen Charlesson is an Accredited Sports Dietitian who is currently completing her PhD through Edith Cowan University (ECU) and the Western Australian High Performance Sport Research Centre at the Western Australian Institute of Sport (WAIS).  She is also employed at WAIS as a Performance Dietitian.

Gut health and the microbiome in elite athletes

Can you share with us the basis of your PhD work to date?

My PhD came about from my experiences working with athletes in elite sport settings.  In the daily training environment (DTE), I was noticing the importance of an athlete’s ability to tolerate training and complete the majority of their planned training loads.  The resilience to injury and illness I was seeing in some athletes, and their less fortunate counterparts who were missing days in the DTE got me thinking about the role of gut health in athletes, and whether gut health can have an impact on  an athlete’s resilience.  Expanding on this idea, I also wanted to find out if we can improve an athlete’s gut health and consequently increase their resilience to illness and injury.

What is unique about your research?

A unique feature of my research is that they are the first longitudinal studies examining training loads and their effects on the gut microbiome.  I’m looking at a number of gut markers such as short chain fatty acids, transit time and stool consistency, and I’m also assessing the effect of an athlete’s diet quality on their microbiome as well.  My first study involved highly trained rowers and looked at 2 time points – one during high training loads prior to the national championships and the other during the off-season with very low training loads.

What is the most challenging part of these studies?

The amount of data I am collecting!  Due to the enormity of the gut microbiome, I have approximately 7000 data points to analyse.

What’s next?

I am currently recruiting high level endurance runners for my second study which will be an intervention study conducted over a 14 week period.  The intervention is an enzyme-rich malt extract and I’ll be looking to see the impact it has on the gut microbiome in our experimental group.

We look forward to reporting on the results of your research when you publish Bronwen!