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PhD - Jamie Pugh Joins The Team

After 3 years of research and studies, it’s great to be approaching the final stages of my PhD at Liverpool John Moores University. All that is left to do is write up the studies into my thesis, and then defend the work in a viva (practical interview/debate about the findings from the studies).

During the 3 years, I have been researching the gut, how it functions during exercise, how we can measure the damage it incurs during exercise, and then the reasons why some people seem to suffer more with gut symptoms like nausea, or feeling the need to run to the toilet.


To do this I have had people in the laboratory at Liverpool John Moores University running on treadmills. I’ve had people cycling for 2 hours while drinking nearly 2 litres of fluid and around 180 g of carbohydrate. I have also had people running around an athletics track 105 times to complete a marathon. I’ve even asked Premiership footballers and international rugby players about their toilet habits. I’ve collected hundreds, if not thousands, of blood samples, questionnaires, and urine samples along the way.

Despite all of this work, and more, I still can’t say that I have all the answers, but I feel I do have some. That is something that might be difficult for other people to understand – 3 years is a long time and surely I could have figured it all out by now. But this is typical of most PhD projects, typical for most of science.

Credible studies take time, and often may only go so far to help in our understanding of something.

As an example, it took me 6 months to study if I could measure intestinal permeability (leaky gut), using a blood marker instead of a urinary marker. We found that we could, but it’s not perfect, and neither is the urinary measure. So we have to take this into consideration.

This is one small part of the entire PhD study, and even for a single study like this there are many things that can slow it down.

The Challenges Faced:

-  Getting ethical approval – we can’t just study anything we want and do anything to a willing participant.

-  Recruiting participants – getting people to give up their free time, for no money, while either running to exhaustion, giving blood and/or urine samples, is tough. Add to that some people will inevitably drop out of your study before it is finished.

-  Analyse the samples – once the last participant has finished the study, you can start to measure whatever it is you are interested in. This can take anything from a day to weeks depending on what type of measurements you’re doing.

-  Interpret the data – once all that is done, there is just the small issue of going through all of the data and making sense of it. Putting participants into respective groups, looking to see if there was any significant effect over time, or between treatments.

Despite all of this, during the 3 years, I managed to complete 6 studies, from which I have managed to produce 3 publications in scientific journals (which are referenced below). I also have 2 more under review at the moment. So from all of this, I can go onto...

Main Conclusions I Made:

-  Exercise will cause some measurable damage to the gut

-  Although this probably isn’t a big deal for most people as it will quickly reverse once you stop exercising

-  This damage probably doesn’t relate to gut symptoms people have during exercise. One caveat here is that it may do during prolonged, extreme exercise

-  If you want to prevent some of the damage, glutamine supplementation appears to have some effect

-  Gut symptoms are common in recreational runners – during racing and training. They are also common among elite athletes. The reasons why though are unclear, and probably due to more than one factor.

-  Probiotics appear to be beneficial in reducing the incidence of gut symptoms in runners, during training and racing.

These findings are simplified here, as they are complex issues. There is often no black or white when it comes to research. Information and knowledge through research today is often advanced in tiny steps, building upon what is already known. It is important to take the important initial findings that we have made so far and keep working and building and researching.

With that, I am also very happy to continue the work with Aliment and PRP. As the PhD has come to an end, I have been impressed with their commitment to research-informed products, and the keen interest in further studies. Going forward, I am excited to build upon the research we have already done, and help to communicate the benefits of a scientific approach to sports nutrition.

Studies Acomplished To Date:

Pugh, J. N., Impey, S. G., Doran, D. A., Fleming, S. C., Morton, J. P., & Close, G. L. (2017). Acute high-intensity interval running increases markers of gastrointestinal damage and permeability but not gastrointestinal symptoms. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 42(9), 941-947.

Pugh, J. N., Sage, S., Hutson, M., Doran, D. A., Fleming, S. C., Highton, J., ... & Close, G. L. (2017). Glutamine supplementation reduces markers of intestinal permeability during running in the heat in a dose-dependent manner. European journal of applied physiology, 117(12), 2569-2577.

Pugh, J. N., Fearn, R., Morton, J. P., & Close, G. L. (2017). Gastrointestinal symptoms in elite athletes: time to recognise the problem?. BJSM