The present study evaluated the potential beneficial effect of kefir (KF) against fatigue. Furthermore, the composition of the gut microbiota is related to health benefits in the host; therefore, the study also investigated the effect of KF on the gut microbiota composition. Male ICR mice from four groups (n = 8 per group) were orally administered KF once daily for four weeks at 0, 2.15, 4.31, and 10.76 g/kg/day and were designated as the vehicle, KF-1X, KF-2X, and KF-5X groups, respectively. The gut microbiota was analyzed using 16S rRNA gene sequencing. The results showed a significant clustering of cecum after treatment in the vehicle, KF-1X, KF-2X, and KF-5X groups. The KF-2X and KF-5X groups showed a decreased Firmicutes/Bacteroidetes ratio compared with the vehicle group. In addition, anti-fatigue activity and exercise performance were evaluated on the basis of exhaustive swimming time, forelimb grip strength, and levels of serum lactate, ammonia, glucose, blood urea nitrogen (BUN), and creatine kinase (CK) after a swimming exercise. The exhaustive swimming time for the KF-1X, KF-2X, and KF-5X groups was significantly longer than that for the vehicle group, and the forelimb grip strength of the KF-1X, KF-2X, and KF-5X groups was also significantly higher than that of the vehicle group. KF supplementation also decreased serum lactate, ammonia, BUN, and CK levels after the swimming test. However, tissue glycogen content, an important energy source for exercise, increased significantly with KF supplementation. Thus, KF supplementation can alter the gut microbiota composition, improve performance, and combat physical fatigue.
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