Probiotics are everywhere you look right now, and for a good reason. While an increased number of people are turning to probiotics to help improve their general health, athletes specifically are discovering probiotics ability to help improve their athletic performance too.
Overall, probiotics keep ‘bad’ bacteria at bay by delivering ‘good’ bacteria to your gut, helping support body functions including optimal digestion, immune balance, and even weight regulation. That’s helpful for athletes and non-athletes alike, but probiotics are especially important for those of us who pound out miles on the pavement, swim laps before work every morning, hit every WOD at the Crossfit gym, or are bulking up for the next fitness show. So if you don’t already, you should consider adding a probiotic into your daily supp routine because, guess what? Your workouts can actually harm that delicate balance of gut microbiota, and a probiotic will help bring your gut back to where it needs to be to feel and be your best.
Our gut is populated with trillions of bacteria. In fact, it’s known that each one of us can have up to 500 different species of bacteria in us and each person has a unique set. While understanding the exact makeup of each species isn’t crucial, the ratio between the ‘good’ species v. the ‘bad’ species is. The ideal ratio is 90% good to 10% bad bacteria. But that ratio can get thrown off due to everything from antibiotics to the foods we choose to eat daily.
Gut flora imbalance, also known as dysbiosis, can be the root cause of many illnesses. We literally feel the most common signs of imbalance in our gut in the form of bloating, gas, or cramps but signs of imbalance can also manifest into larger issues such as frequently getting sick, headaches, and joint aches.
As athletes, we’re constantly compromising our immune system when we put our body through vigorous high intensity (or high frequency) exercise and this stress often results in a weakened gut. A damaged or continuously stressed gut can eventually lead to what’s known as ‘leaky gut,’ resulting in that bacteria leaving (or leaking) from the gut and into the bloodstream, especially during strenuous activity. Leaky gut is to blame for many of those symptoms mentioned earlier, like brain fog, bloat, and more frequent bouts of colds. But, as an athlete, you should specifically care about leaky gut due to its capacity to delay muscle recovery, increase the frequency of illness, and inhibit proper nutrient absorption.
Research supports the ability of probiotic supplementation to lessen the side effects of antibiotics, prevent GI-associated illnesses, provide general immune support and more. There is also interest in the use of probiotic for athletes to not only support your everyday health but also balance the added stress put on your body from working out, and thus supporting – and even improving – your overall fitness and performance1.
While long-term exercise regimens tend to reduce the overall level of body inflammation, we do see acute (temporary) inflammation in the body, often in the gut, after each bout of strenuous exercise. Inflammation is the body’s response to the stress of training, and while this is ultimately what allows us to increase our endurance and strength, it also compromises our health when the inflammation becomes persistent and chronic, impeding your natural ability to recover. Chronic inflammation can lead to inflammatory bowel, decreased nutrient absorption, general sickness and more.
You can control the effects of inflammation on your gut by making sure that you give yourself plenty of rest between workouts and also nutritionally by regularly taking a probiotic supplement, which has been shown to produce an anti-inflammatory response 2.
We absorb nutrients when the digested foods from our gut enter our bloodstream and tissues, supplying necessary vitamins & minerals for various cellular processes. Improper absorption, sometimes called ‘leaky gut,’ can be the result of inflammation in the body and can cause harmful bacteria to be absorbed into the body as well as reducing the number of nutrients absorbed. Further, exercise releases free radicals into our bodies, and we rely on these nutrients to pick them up and remove them from our systems.
A daily probiotic supplement can promote gut performance, and when your gut is performing at its best, you’re able to absorb more nutrients (i.e. vitamins and minerals), that help fight off those harmful free radicals that have been released into your bloodstream from exercise. Probiotics have also been shown to promote the digestion and absorption of specific nutrients in the body, including calcium and iron, both of which are critical for athletes’ health 3, 4.
A daily probiotic will increase the overall level of good gut microbes present in your body, thus crowding out the bad and bringing the body back to that ideal 90 – 10 ratio. This increased level of ‘good’ gut microbes is associated with immune function, helping to keep you from getting sick during heavy training, when your immune system naturally struggles to keep up on its own. A strong and healthy immune system is key for absorbing those nutrients, helping you recover faster from training, and repair and rebuild your muscles.
Probiotics are naturally found in fermented foods including yogurt, kefir, kombucha and kimchi, but eating those foods is best recommended for maintaining the gut flora versus changing it. To really ensure you’re populating your gut with enough beneficial bacteria a probiotic in supplement form is recommended. Look for a probiotic brand that has testing backed by science and offers multi-strains per capsule or powder. Just like you throw back your daily multi, consider adding a probiotic capsule into that routine as well. If capsules aren’t your thing, you can easily find a drinkable supplement or open a capsule into your daily smoothie or bowl of oats.
Probiotics can help anyone feel better, but their ability to help athletes perform better has been generally underutilized. If you really want to unleash your athletic potential, as well as unlock the nutrition potential of your regular multi, you should consider adding a daily probiotic to your routine. Not only will you notice improvements in your digestive functioning and general health, but you’ll see improvements in your performance.
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