Effect of Intensity and Duration of Exercise on Gut Microbiota in Humans: A Systematic Review

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2022 Aug 3;19(15):9518. doi: 10.3390/ijerph19159518.


(1) Background: The gut microbiota might play a part in affecting athletic performance and is of considerable importance to athletes. The aim of this study was to search the recent knowledge of the protagonist played by high-intensity and high-duration aerobic exercise on gut microbiota composition in athletes and how these effects could provide disadvantages in sports performance. (2) Methods: This systematic review follows the PRISMA guidelines. An exhaustive bibliographic search in Web of Science, PubMed, and Scopus was conducted considering the articles published in the last 5 years. The selected articles were categorized according to the type of study. The risk of bias was assessed using the Joanna Briggs Institute's Critical Appraisal Tool for Systematic Reviews. (3) Results: Thirteen studies had negative effects of aerobic exercise on intestinal microbiota such as an upsurge in I-FABP, intestinal distress, and changes in the gut microbiota, such as an increase in Prevotella, intestinal permeability and zonulin. In contrast, seven studies observed positive effects of endurance exercise, including an increase in the level of bacteria such as increased microbial diversity and increased intestinal metabolites. (4) Conclusions: A large part of the studies found reported adverse effects on the intestinal microbiota when performing endurance exercises. In studies carried out on athletes, more negative effects on the microbiota were found than in those carried out on non-athletic subjects.

Keywords: adults; aerobic exercise; elite athletes; gut microbiota; large intestine.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Athletes
  • Athletic Performance*
  • Bacteria
  • Exercise
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome*
  • Humans

Grants and funding

J.P.-D. is part of the “UGR Plan Propio de Investigación 2016” and the “Excellence actions: Unit of Excellence on Exercise and Health (UCEES), University of Granada”. J.P.-D. is supported by a fellowship awarded to postdoctoral researchers at foreign universities and research centers from the “Fundación Ramón Areces”, Madrid, Spain.