Probiotics and Sports Performance

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, BacillusEnterococcus, and Escherichia.

Lactobaccillus rhamnosusLactobaccillus 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.

christine@eatinginmind.com.au or contact us using the link below

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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)

Do I Need Zinc?

Building a robust immunity is all part of a holistic approach to coaching and training. So how do you minimise your risk of getting sick? 

There are many nutrients that contribute to a healthy immune system.

Today’s focus is on ZINC. Athletes may be more susceptible to being deficient in zinc because exercise, particularly strenuous and endurance exercise, increases zinc requirements, encourages zinc loss through sweating, and changes zinc transportation and metabolism.

In nutrition, zinc plays the most critical role in supporting athletes and immunity.

ZINC SUPPORTS IMMUNITY AND SO MUCH MORE

Zinc regulates several crucial processes in both your innate and adaptive immune system.  Being deficient in zinc can lead to athletes becoming more susceptible to respiratory illness, particularly in the colder months. 

Apart from zinc’s well-established role in immunity, this mineral, contributes to protein structure, regulates gene expression, metabolism and is the second most abundant trace element in the body after iron.  Zinc deficiency can impact an athlete through hormone dysregulation (testosterone, thyroid, and growth hormones to name a few) and may affect erectile function and fertility.

Zinc is essential to maintaining optimum performance due to its function in metabolism and healthy cell division – essential in repairing damaged tissues after you exercise.

Studies show being deficient in zinc can lead to a reduction in the number of fast-twitch muscle fibres and muscle mass and performance decline.  For Masters Athletes this is of particular relevance as aging is also associated with sarcopenia, the age-related loss of muscle mass, muscle strength, and physical performance.

Zinc also helps maintain blood sugar control and assists with muscle contraction during exercise, glucose metabolism, and glycogen storage.

Zinc also plays an essential role in antioxidant production by increasing antioxidant activity and inhibiting free radical production that may damage tissues, impact liver function, and prevent muscle exhaustion.

WHERE TO FIND ZINC 

The most concentrated sources of zinc are contained in animal products, particularly meat, seafood and dairy.   Vegan and plant-based athletes may be more susceptible to zinc deficiency due to reduced dietary intake, lowered gastric acid (which is zinc dependant) and higher phytate consumption.  Phytates found in plant-based zinc rich foods such as legumes can inhibit zinc absorption. 

Soaking nuts and seeds and legumes prior to cooking is a great way to minimise this issue and allow for greater micronutrient absorption.

SUPER CHARGE ABSORPTION

The gastrointestinal tract plays an important role in maintaining total body zinc homeostasis by regulating zinc absorption and excretion. In order to boost your absorption, the addition of a probiotic may be beneficial. Choosing the best probiotic can be confusing.

In certain situations, zinc supplementation may be recommended. The amount ingested, supplement form, and the timing of zinc matters. This is where a qulaified Nutritionist with an interest in sport is beneficial rather than self-prescribing. You’ll definitely want to avoid zinc toxicity. High zinc levels can have a detrimental impact on your performance through anaemia, copper and iron deficiency and unpleasant gastrointestinal side effects.

TESTING FOR ZINC

60% of zinc is stored in muscle and 30% in bone therefore serum may not be the best measure of zinc homeostasis.  A mineral test can be another alternative method of assessing zinc levels and is available through my clinic.

If you need help building a robust immune system, book an appointment today https://eatinginmind.com.au/contact/

Gastro-Intestinal Dysbiosis

Gastrointestinal dysbiosis is now being linked to a myriad of pathological conditions including Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes, Obesity, Anxiety, Autism, Atopic Eczema, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Depression, Metabolic Syndrome, Ulcerative Colitis, Cardiovascular Disease, Coeliac Disease, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Parkinson’s Disease.

Your body is full of colonies of harmless bacteria known as microbiota. Most of these bacteria have a positive effect on your health and contribute to your body’s natural processes.

But when one of these bacterial colonies is out of balance, it can lead to dysbiosis. Dysbiosis typically occurs when the bacteria in your gastrointestinal (GI) tract — which includes your stomach and intestines — become unbalanced.

Some effects of dysbiosis, such as stomach upset, are temporary and mild. In many cases, your body can correct the imbalance without treatment.

A number of factors have been found to negatively impact on the health and balance of the GIT ecosystem.
These include pharmaceuticals: antibiotics, chemotherapy, NSAIDs, proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) and radiotherapy.

High sugar/high processed food diets, high protein/low carbs diets and the keto diet all contribute to dysbiosis.

Common symptoms include:

  • bad breath
  • upset stomach
  • nausea
  • constipation
  • diarrhea
  • difficulty urinating
  • vaginal or rectal itching
  • bloating
  • chest pain
  • rash or redness
  • fatigue
  • having trouble thinking or concentrating
  • anxiety
  • depression

A Comprehensive Stool Analysis is a useful test I use in clinic to determine what bacteria, yeast or funghi are present.

A number of tools can be utilised to improve the balance of the GIT microbiota and to enhance the
growth of specific members of the ecosystem. We always start slow with repopulating the beneficial bacteria.

How to Stop Cramping

Finding the root cause

Dehydration may contribute to cramping in athletes along with imbalances in electrolytes. Over the cooler months, we naturally reach for comfort warming foods and reduce our consumption of salads packed with magnesium rich leafy vegetables. Also, our natural thirst cues to drink fluids may also be reduced and our thirst mechanism sluggish over winter.

Coffee, alcohol and some drugs (such as oral contraceptives) may also accelerate the excretion or reduce the absorption of water and electrolytes such as magnesium and calcium.

Another factor is stress. It is pretty rare to find a person who can honestly say they are stress free, especially in the current environment. The body uses up Vitamin C, sodium and magnesium during periods of stress.

Get good at the basics

Increasing magnesium rich foods such as spinach, broccoli, squash, legumes, nuts, wholegrains and cocoa (quality chocolate can in fact be beneficial!) may  help reduce cramping in athletes.

Most athletes underestimate their daily fluid needs when taking into account fluid losses from training. Endurance athletes are notorious for skipping hydration opportunities during a session (especially long-distance runners) despite large sweat losses. Many athletes are shocked how many  litres of fluid they lose in a single session and ignore the increased risk of  nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, and other gastro-intestinal problems due to dehydration. However, excessive fluid intake also causes issues such as hyponatraemia (low sodium concentration in the blood). Therefore, knowing your individual sweat rate is the best way to determine how much you should be drinking during and post exercise.

Total Fluid intake

During recovery, you will continue to lose fluids through sweating and urination. Plan to replace 125-150% of this fluid deficit over the next 2-6 hours.  Sip small amount of fluids constantly over a few hours rather than sculling large amounts at once.

Make sure your daily total fluid intake includes both your exercise associated requirements and physiological needs. Although we are led to believe 8 glasses is sufficient as a basic requirement, it is now being suggested that 15.5 cups (3.7 litres) for men and 11.5 cups (2.7 litres) of fluids a day for women is more appropriate for adults living in temperate climates. Typically 20-30% of your hydration needs are obtained through water containing foods and the remainder through liquids.

Athletes with a limited intake of dietary sodium (strictly wholefoods diet) may benefit from adding a small pinch of sea salt to evening meals or drink bottles (except athletes with elevated blood pressure).

If you are unsure about supplementation, it is best to speak with a health professional.

Digestion Basics

I’m sure you’re familiar with the saying “you are what you eat”. It’s a great way to motivate us to eat healthier. However, a more concise way of looking at this proves that you are not what you eat, you are what you digest, absorb and are able to utilize.

So no matter how perfect your diet is, if your digestion isn’t working properly, not only won’t you be able to absorb all the nutrients you think you’re feeding yourself but you’ll be setting yourself up for a host of digestive problems such as heartburn, dysbiosis (the proliferation of abnormal gut flora), IBS, etc. Gas, burping and bloating are not normal!

When Hippocrates said “all disease begins in the gut” he was really on the spot. Today, digestive disorders affect millions of Australians. That’s why digestion is foundational to Nutritional Therapy and is the first thing I address with pretty much every client I work with.

I’d like to leave you with a few facts about digestion and several simple tips to help you improve yours.

Did you know that digestion actually starts with your brain? It starts when you start to think about what you’re about to eat. Digestion is also parasympathetic process. This means you must be in a state of calm and relaxation for digestion to work. If you’re on the run, stressed out, in an argument, you are in sympathetic mode. If you eat in this state, you’re behind the eight ball. All the complex parts of digestion just won’t work. It puts you in a state of fight or flight. When you’re in this state, your body thinks it’s in danger (from our hunter gatherer days) and digestion takes a back seat to other bodily processes designed to get us out of dodge.

So do yourself a favour and chew well (when your food is physically broken down properly, it takes some of the pressure off of other parts of your digestive system so it doesn’t have to work so hard) and let your salivary juices start to flow. These juices in your mouth contain enzymes that start to digest carbohydrates. They also set into motion a chain of events in the rest of your digestive system to prepare for the food that is coming down the pike (they signal for the release of enzymes and hormones necessary to break down and absorb your food) . Here are few more simple tips for you try to help improve your digestion.

• Eat your meals sitting down. Take a few deep breaths to relax and calm your body and mind before you take your first bite. This helps you get into a parasympathetic state prior to eating.

• Try starting your meal with ½ tsp raw apple cider vinegar in ¼ to ½ cup warm water as another digestive tonic.

• Chew your food! It should actually liquify in your mouth before you swallow. A good rule of thumb is to chew your food 20-30 times as a goal.

• Include fermented foods with your meals. This could be a small glass kombucha or water kefir, 1-2 tablespoons of fermented vegetables or sauerkraut to boost your ability to digest your meal. Fermenting foods makes their nutrients more bioavailable (your body doesn’t have to work so hard to make the nutrients available as the fermentation process has done some of the digestion for you). Start slow and build up your tolerance. You can also start with a teaspoon of the brine or “juice” from the kraut if you can’t yet tolerate the vegetables at first.

• Digestive bitters can also help boost HCL (hydrochloric acid in your stomach that helps you digest proteins) levels. They also stimulate the digestive system to produce digestive enzymes and secrete bile which helps you digest your fats.

 Need some help with digestion and nutrition? Get in touch for a consultation.

Weekend Rest & Recovery Slice

For me, the weekends are for recharging and recovering from the demands of the week.

Many of us lead busy lives with fitting in exercise either before or after a day’s full of work, as well as running a busy household.

I am dedicating this slice to my fellow gym-going, inspirational superhumans who are consistently performing at their peak and living their best lives. Because sometimes, you just need a good cuppa and a slice of this gorgeous sweet potato, apple and blueberry cake to recover and recharge for the week ahead.

Raw Sweet Potato in the food processor

Ingredients

300 grams raw sweet potato

3 free range eggs

2 Tbs honey (3tbs if you prefer sweet)

2 Tbs peanut butter

1 Tbs Vanilla extract

2 Tbs ground cinnamon

1 Tsp baking powder

1/2 cup rolled oats

1/2 cup shredded cococnut

1/2 cup almond meal

1/2 cup blueberries (I used frozen)

1 large diced apple (I used Pink Lady)

Handful of chopped walnuts

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 170Degrees. Line your baking tray with baking paper. I used a 16cm x 26cm slice tin
  2. In a food processor, process the sweet potato into fine pieces.
  3. Add the remaining ingredients (without the apple and blueberry) and combine well in the food processor. The mixture will be a bit runny and grainy. That’s fine.
  4. Dice the apple skin on and fold apple and blueberries and walnuts through the sweet potato mix.
  5. Bake for 40 – 50 minutes or until golden brown (depending on how hot your oven gets, check at 35mins). Test with a wooden skewer.
  6. Cool it down before slicing.

Enjoy your recovery slice!

What is coaching anyway?

Let’s play a game. Can you answer ‘yes’ to any of these questions?

There’s a gap between where I am now and where I want to be

I can make and keep appointments to work on my goal(s)

I’m committed to do the work required and take action to get to where I want to be

I’m willing to change any self-defeating behaviours and beliefs that limit my success

I am willing to try new things, even if I’m not yet 100% convinced they will work

More than three yes’s? Then coaching is what you need.

So what is coaching anyway?

Essentially, coaching is a future-focused conversation with a trained professional. A conversation that’s 100% about you and helping you think differently about things you’ve previously felt stuck or unclear about. It’s action-oriented. Coaching gets you results.

Why do I need a coach?

Continue reading “What is coaching anyway?”

Grain Free Chocolate Zucchini Brownies

The school holidays are the perfect time to get in the kitchen with the kids and get creative. And we all know how hungry the kids are during the holidays!

These chocolate brownies have been a hit in our house this weekend.

Slightly tweaked recipe from previous brownies and it has taken a bit of trial and error – but that’s what baking is all about for me. I love experimenting with flavours and recipes.

Ingredients

Continue reading “Grain Free Chocolate Zucchini Brownies”

Magnesium – are you getting enough?

Magnesium is a mineral essential for over 300 enzymatic systems in the body, many of which relate to brain and nervous system function. Inadequate intake of magnesium is linked to cardiovascular disease, metabolic diseases, skeletal disorders and neurological abnormalities.

Magnesium and mental wellbeing

Magnesium comes up a lot when talking about muscle cramp relief, exercise recovery and sleep. However, magnesium is also a very beneficial mineral when it comes to supporting your body to adapt to stress and promoting mental wellbeing.

Magnesium has been shown to help reduce the release of hormones, which lead to over activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, which plays a role in our stress response. Over activation of this axis is associated with increased stress and lower stress tolerance, which can lead to poor mental health such as increased anxiety and low mood.

Magnesium is also an important co-factor necessary to help synthesise neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine, a deficiency in either of these can lead to symptoms of depression, nervousness, inability to concentrate and anxiety.

Continue reading “Magnesium – are you getting enough?”

Intermittent Fasting – is it right for me?

Intermittent fasting is the voluntary abstinence from food for a prolonged period of time.

Traditionally many cultures and religions have used fasting in their practises.

Some Christians follow lent.  The Muslim religion has Ramadan where fasting is observed for 29-30 days during the daylight hours.

Buddhist monks and nuns following Vinaya rules commonly do not eat each day after the noon meal, aiding in meditation and good health.

Intermittent fasting is an umbrella term for various eating diet plans that cycle between a period of fasting and non-fasting over a defined period. Intermittent fasting is under preliminary research to assess if it can produce weight loss comparable to long-term calorie restriction.

Many believe that fasting is the most ancient secret to good health.

There have been many studies on various intermittent fasting diets that show that intermittent fasting can improve health and successfully aid in weight loss.

For the purpose of this paper I would like to further explore:

  • Periodic fasting (where, once every few months you cut your food intake down for 5 days in a row)
  • The 5:2 approach (where you restrict your calories for 2 days a week)
  • Time Restricted Eating (where you restrict your eating to a narrow time window)
Continue reading “Intermittent Fasting – is it right for me?”