If you’re training hard, but don’t feel like you’re improving your athletic performance, then enriching your gut health could be the missing link.
In this article, I explain what probiotics are, how they’re classified, and how probiotics can impact your athletic performance and general wellbeing.
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are live microorganisms, mainly bacteria, and yeasts, that naturally reside in your gut (microbiome) and convey a health benefit. Your microbiome typically contains over 1000 different organisms, both beneficial and pathogenic.
Because a healthy gut microbiome strengthens your immune system and enhances your recovery from fatigue and overtraining, taking care of your gastrointestinal system is vital. This will enhance your general health and help to improve your athletic performance.
We consume probiotics via gut friendly fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, kimchi, kombucha sauerkraut and through supplements.
Probiotics are different to prebiotics. Prebiotics are carbohydrates and fibres such as inulin and other fructo-oligosaccharides found in foods like artichoke, bananas, and asparagus. The microorganisms in your gastrointestinal tract use prebiotics as fuel.
A diet rich in pre and probiotic foods support your gut to develop a robust immunity.
Understanding probiotics for athletes
As the popularity of ‘gut health’ supplements for athletes increases, a basic knowledge of the assortment of beneficial probiotics in your supplement is helpful.
Probiotics are classified by their unique microorganism strain, which includes the genus, species, subspecies (if applicable), and an alphanumeric strain designation.
The seven core probiotic genera are Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, Saccharomyces, Streptococcus, Bacillus, Enterococcus, and Escherichia.
Lactobaccillus rhamnosus, Lactobaccillus acidophilus, and Saccharomyces boulardii are common commercially produced probiotic and yeast species.
Scientific research on specific probiotic strains has expanded our knowledge of the health benefits and targeted treatments of probiotics for athletes. However, probiotic supplementation may not be appropriate or necessary for all athletes.
What are the best probiotics for athletes?
Certain probiotic species impart significant anti-inflammatory effects within your gut. In particular, Lactobacillus strains produce lactate, which is then converted into short-chain fatty acids by your gut bacteria. Butyrate is a pivotal short-chain fatty acid for intestinal homeostasis due to its anti-inflammatory properties and beneficial effects on intestinal cells, gut barrier function, and permeability.
Over thirty years of research supports the widespread use of Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (LGG) for common gut-related issues such as diarrhoea, antibiotic use, infections, e.g., Clostridium, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, respiratory tract infections, and allergies in athletes.
Studies also show certain probiotics can improve vitamin D levels in athletes.
LGG along with L. acidophilus, and B. bifidum has been shown to improve exercise-induced gastrointestinal symptoms. In fact, almost 60 percent of runners and endurance athletes who train intensely experience gut microbiome upsets and unwanted symptoms. Probiotics offer relief by supporting immune function and intestinal cell proliferation and function, as well as shortening the duration of gastrointestinal symptoms.
Probiotic strains interact favourably with other probiotic species in the microbiome to improve the overall balance and composition of beneficial bacteria in your gut.
New research demonstrates that probiotics can enhance sports performance. Runners taking Bifidobacterium longum (OLP-01) for five weeks significantly increased their running distance in a timed test. Bifidobacterium longum (OLP-01) also provided other health benefits such as increasing the abundance of gut microbiota in the runners.
Choosing probiotics for athletes
There are a few final points to keep in mind before you add probiotics to your diet.
First, the quality of your probiotic supplement may vary significantly. Be careful about your choices as the label “probiotic” doesn’t necessarily mean this option will be suitable for your microbiome.
Second, a probiotic combination or an inappropriate supplementation duration may exacerbate unwanted symptoms in some situations. Therefore, it’s vital to consume high-quality, well-characterised live probiotics that deliver a therapeutic dose over an effective length of time.
Finally, the best probiotics for endurance athletes are selected case by case to improve your performance, recovery, immune and gut health. Be sure to seek professional advice for the most suitable probiotic therapy for your training and health circumstances.
Unsure if a probiotic supplement could help you?
Speak with Clinical Nutritionist Christine Bardajian about your health and performance goals today.
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Effects of probiotic yogurt on performance, respiratory and digestive systems of young adult female endurance swimmers: a randomized controlled trial (nih.gov)
Acute high-intensity interval running increases markers of gastrointestinal damage and permeability but not gastrointestinal symptoms – PubMed (nih.gov)