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Guinea pigs: Irish cricketers were tested as they travelled to Zimbabwe, Namibia, Australia, the UAE and India. PHOTO: Jekesai Njikizana/Sportsfile

Guinea pigs: Irish cricketers were tested as they travelled to Zimbabwe, Namibia, Australia, the UAE and India. PHOTO: Jekesai Njikizana/Sportsfile

Guinea pigs: Irish cricketers were tested as they travelled to Zimbabwe, Namibia, Australia, the UAE and India. PHOTO: Jekesai Njikizana/Sportsfile

Globe-trotting athletes must endure a downside - new research has shown the travel plays havoc with their gut.

A study which tracked Irish cricket players around the globe found the bacteria normally present in their gut changed during international travel.

The organisms were replaced by microbes more often associated with symptoms of diarrhoea, cramping, bloating and changes in the frequency of bowel movement.

The research also found an increase in the number of antibiotic-resistant microbes in the digestive systems of travelling athletes, particularly in those experiencing digestive problems abroad.

The study followed the Irish cricket players as they prepared for the 2016 ICC Twenty20 World Cup.

Researchers at the APC Microbiome Ireland SFI Research Centre partnered with the Sport Ireland Institute and Cricket Ireland to study the gut microbiome - the term for the collection of organisms such as bacteria in the gastro-intestinal tract.

Based at UCC and Teagasc Food Research Centre, Moorepark, researchers tracked changes in both male and female cricket players' gut microbiomes as they travelled to Zimbabwe, Namibia, Australia, the United Arab Emirates and India in the run-up to the tournament.

"We found the type of gut-microbes present in cricket players while at home differed from those present during travel periods, in particular after travel to India," said the lead author of the report, Dr Ciara O'Donovan.

Although research on the gut microbiome of other athletes such as rugby players had been carried out previously, the researchers chose cricketers for this study because of the range of destinations they visit as a team.

"Importantly, those microbes that were different have previously been associated with symptoms of gut distress and, notably, several of the athletes we studied did encounter such symptoms.

"This research was observational, to see what was changing in the gut in order to lay the groundwork for the prevention of such microbial changes in the future, through the use of probiotics or through diet," she added.

The findings have implications for how athletes manage their lifestyle while away from home, according to Dr Sharon Madigan, head of performance nutrition at the Sport Ireland Institute.

"Athletes travel all over the world to train and compete and it's crucial that they remain healthy," she said.

"If we can plan evidence- based strategies which can maintain health we are giving athletes a better chance of performing to their optimum.

"Months of training can be lost if an athlete picks up a bug that can stop them from competing at an event. This is devastating if this event is only every four years like a World Cup or Olympic and Paralympic Games."

Irish Independent