Probiotics: What’s the Buzz?
In the last decade, probiotics have become a health buzzword. Research shows that probiotics have numerous benefits, including boosting the immune system, increasing absorption of micronutrients, and improving overall health. While there is still a lot to be learned about probiotics and their implications most professionals agree that when consumed properly, probiotics are a safe, natural way to improve one’s health. The other benefits–there are currently clinical trials evaluating the effects of probiotics on ADHD, based on this research— have yet to be determined.
Athletes- whether elite professionals or everyday folks passionate about their sport of choice- are often in search of healthy, approved ways to boost their performance. This often includes searching beyond training techniques to investigate nutrition tweaks and supplementation. So how can probiotics boost athletic performance, either directly or indirectly? Read on to find out.
First, Let’s Stop at the Gut
We all know our gut is important. That’s where the action happens when we eat, right? But did you know that our gastrointestinal tract is often called our second brain? Look at it this way: our GI tract compromises 75% of our immune system. It even has its own nervous system, known as the enteric nervous system, which contains 200-600 MILLION neurons. Talk about a gut feeling, huh?
Probiotics and Athletic Performance
Now that you know a bit about probiotics and how underrated your GI system is, you’ll be able to understand how all these things work together. Here’s how probiotics can help you become a better athlete:
Reduces Post-Exercise Respiratory Infections
Exercise is a great way to reduce stress while improving one’s health. The endorphins released during a training session have a mood boosting effect that has been proven to combat anxiety and depression. However, exercise is a form of physical stress on our bodies. That’s not to be taken negatively. This stress just means you are challenging your body; it’s not the same as the stress of paying bills or an annoying coworker.
While the benefits of exercise far exceed the negatives, high-intensity training, overtraining, and prolonged periods of exercise can result in temporary immunosuppression. Have you ever come down with a cold after an intense day of training? That’s because there’s a window after intense exercise in which you are more susceptible to respiratory infection. Probiotics have shown a reduction in both frequency and length of respiratory illness in athletes. This means that not only are athletes less likely to get ill with probiotics, but they’re able to return to their training faster, increasing their performance.
Inflammation has become another buzzword in the health and fitness world as of late. Many people are keen to combat inflammation in their body (good!) without entirely comprehending what it is (not so good). In very basic terms, inflammation occurs when your immune system is trying to correct a problem. You cut your hand, and it’s a little red and swollen? That’s inflammation. On the other hand (pun not intended) chronic diseases, joint pain, and other not so fun disorders are forms of inflammation as well. While short-term inflammation on a cut is a good thing, long-term inflammation is not.
Exercise can cause muscle inflammation, as your body tries to recover and regenerate. As we know from above, intense exercise can have an adverse effect on the immune system. Probiotics can reduce both acute and chronic inflammation, though more research needs to be conducted on the former to make the studies statistically significant.
Fatigue in training is as it sounds: when you’ve passed the point of diminishing returns. This form of exhaustion can be both physically and mentally draining, resulting in the inability to complete your exercises to the best of your normal ability. Overtraining, improper nutrition, and lack of sleep are just a few contributors to fatigue.
There’s a study that shows a certain strain of probiotic can reverse the effects of fatigue. This is a small study but creates the foundation for further explanation in this area. As we consider this claim with the evidence provided above, and a basic understanding of how probiotics work with our bodies, it makes sense that probiotics have some effect on athletic fatigue. Of course, it’s better to look at preventative measures (nutritional support and adequate rest days) rather than treatments, but it’s something to consider when training for your next big event.
How to Boost Your Performance
While studies haven’t been conducted to assess the performance metrics of athletes using probiotics versus those who aren’t, the documentation provides adequate information supporting probiotics as having an indirect effect on athletic performance. It’s also clear that a lot more research needs to be done regarding dose, strains, and sport-specific applicability for anaerobic or aerobic dominant sports. You can, however, start incorporating more probiotics into your diet today.
My personal opinion is that you should try to get as much of your nutritional benefits as possible through your diet before taking a supplement. Here are a few probiotic rich foods to get you started:
- Soft cheeses (especially blue)
- Miso (Sushi date anybody?)
- Some yogurts
The average person should try to incorporate one or two servings of probiotic rich foods per day. Of course, that’s not always possible. That’s where supplements come in.
When sourcing probiotics, aim for supplements that offer a minimum of 3 to 5 billion live organisms. Find a reliable brand by talking to your doctor or nutrition coach. They will better be able to help find the right solution for your goals.
The Holistic Approach
The best thing you can do to boost your athletic performance is giving your body what it needs. Proper rest, sleep, nutrition, and a social life balance will help you in the long run, both in your athletic goals and quality of life. Proper self-care is the best form of preventative medicine!
Do you take a probiotic? How has it impacted your performance?