We all know that Irish rugby players are an incredibly gutsy bunch but few would have thought it possible to scientifically prove it.
Yet that is exactly what a group of scientists at the Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre in University College Cork and Teagasc Food Research Centre, Moore-park, have shown — that our elite players do indeed have exceptional guts.
Researchers conducting the study travelled to Carton House Hotel in Maynooth prior to players’ departure for the last Rugby World Cup in 2011. With the blessing of the Irish Rugby Football Union, they were given access to 40 players.
The purpose of their research was to assess the impact of exercise and diet on the diversity of gut microbiota — the name given to the trillions of microorganisms living in our intestine which have a direct impact on our health.
What they found was that our national rugby team had a higher diversity of gut microbiota than the two groups of healthy males of similar age with whom they were compared. As principal investigator Paul Cotter of Teagasc points out, high microbial diversity has been associated with better health.
The researchers linked the higher diversity of gut microbiota found in the rugby players to their exercise and their diet, specifically protein consumption.
He said their findings — just published in the international journal Gut — suggest that eating specific proteins and/or exercise can provide a means of increasing microbial diversity.
Dr Cotter said the scientists are now prospectively studying the impact of exercise on the microbiota in amateurs of various degrees of fitness.
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