Trials conducted at Edge Hill University may ultimately determine whether using probiotic supplements can improve the nutritional intake of athletes during marathon running.

The study is part of an ongoing collaboration between Edge Hill and the internationally renowned Sports Nutrition Research Group at Liverpool John Moores University. Edge Hill’s Dr Andy Sparks, who facilitated the University’s partnership with the group, is working on the project alongside LJMU researchers Jamie Pugh and Professor Graeme Close.

Dr Sparks said: “Running just one marathon, or in fact any prolonged running bouts can damage the permeability of your gut. There’s some evidence that ingesting probiotics may improve general wellbeing but more importantly gut function. We are trying to determine if this can reduce the damage during running, because that might lead to increased fuel intake, which could prove very useful indeed for runners.”

The trial took the form of a track marathon, which saw a broad cross-section of runners take to Edge Hill University’s international competition standard running track for the 105-lap race, which was funded by Aliment Nutrition, and supported by Science in Sport and Contest Sports Network Ltd.

The 26 athletes who took part underwent a 28 day supplementation period. Half of the athletes took a probiotic and the other half were given a placebo. The athletes then consumed a standardised breakfast before the race started. The 18-strong research team took blood and muscle samples before and after the race to test metabolic function and stress.

Dr Sparks said: “We look forward to analysing the results of the blood and muscle samples, so that we can determine the effects of the probiotic supplement and hopefully move on to further stages of this novel applied research. We hope to show that using probiotics can limit gut damage caused by running and therefore have a positive effect on running performance.”