Research Review: What Factors Support or Hinder Your Gut Health?

In partnership with the Collegiate and Professional Sports Dietitians Association (CPSDA), Dr. Kris Osterberg, Principal Scientist at the Gatorade Sport Science Institute recently shared an insightful, review of the evidence related to factors that support & hinder gut health in athletes. Below is a summary of her presentation.

The Role of the Gut Microbiome

  • Food digestion
  • Energy extraction from food
  • Immune system development & training
  • Intestinal cell health
  • Protection from pathogens
  • Synthesis of vitamins B3, B6, B12, and Folate
  • In addition to the areas Dr. Osterberg covered in her presentation, research suggests the gut microbiome also plays a role in mental health1,2

Definition of Heathy Microbiome (vs. Dysbiosis/Unhealthy)

  • High diversity of microbial species vs. poor diversity
  • Positive proportion of beneficial vs. pathogenic bacteria
  • Intact intestinal mucosa/epithelial barrier vs. decreased integrity/increased permeability
  • Normal production of beneficial short chain fatty acids (SCFA) and neurotransmitters vs. an increase in lipopolysaccharide (LPS)

Key Research Findings on the Influences of Dietary Intake Patterns, Exercise & Stress

  • Diets that are high in fiber (fruit, veg, grain), polyphenols, Omega 3 fatty acids, and fermented foods may lead to a more diverse microbiome and improve overall health while diets high in fat (especially saturated fat), protein and sugar and low in fiber may lead to poor gut health.
    • Nutrify Notes: I was particularly intrigued by a large observational research study Dr. Osterberg shared (PMID: 29795809) which supported the idea that we should “eat the rainbow”. The study found that individuals who eat 30+ different plants (fruit, veg, grains, legumes) each week had higher microbial diversity than those that ate <10. Well, challenge accepted! I was very curious what my baseline is and so far, have had 27 different plants in 5 days so while it initially sounded quite challenging as an omnivore, it’s possible to do especially with some solid meal planning (Nutrify can help with this!).
  • Cardiorespiratory fitness (VO2max) and high intensity exercise is linked to more diversity and increased production of beneficial SCFA’s.
    • Nutrify Notes: Did you know that the American Heart Association recommended that Cardiorespiratory Fitness (CRF) be tracked as a clinical vital sign? Their review of the evidence suggested CRF is potentially a stronger predictor of CVD and all-cause mortality than smoking, hypertension, cholesterol or many other traditionally tracked risk factors.3  
  • Stress can impact gut motility, diversity and the production of neurotransmitters and neuropeptides resulting in alterations to the gut barrier and increased inflammation, so it is important to employ methods to reduce psychological stress.

Key Research Findings on Probiotics

  • Some improvement in GI related symptoms with use of a multi-strain probiotic but may require long term supplementation to see the benefits
  • Reduced incidence & severity of upper respiratory tract infections and multi-strain probiotics perform better than single strain
  • Supplementation has positive effects on stress and anxiety in athletes (though a small number of studies)

We are looking forward to continued research on the gut microbiome. Thank you, Dr. Osterberg for sharing this insightful and evidence based review!

At Nutrify, we believe in a whole foods approach to meeting nutrient needs but supplementation may be useful to help our athletes achieve overall health and performance goals. Need help with your nutrition plan, supplementation strategy and meal planning? Schedule a complimentary 15’ call to learn more.


1Shoubridge, A.P., Choo, J.M., Martin, A.M. et al. The gut microbiome and mental health: advances in research and emerging priorities. Mol Psychiatry 27, 1908–1919 (2022).

2Clutter, C. (2020, February 14). Of microbes and mental health: Eating for mental wellness. American Society for Microbiology ( Retrieved December 7, 2022, from

3Ross, R., Blair, S. N., Arena, R., Church, T. S., Després, J.-P., Franklin, B. A., Haskell, W. L., Kaminsky, L. A., Levine, B. D., Lavie, C. J., Myers, J., Niebauer, J., Sallis, R., Sawada, S. S., Sui, X., &amp; Wisløff, U. (2016). Importance of assessing cardiorespiratory fitness in clinical practice: A case for fitness as a clinical vital sign: A scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation, 134(24).