Athletes and fitness buffs have a lot to worry about. If we're not careful, the high level of strain our strenuous training and exercise routines place on our bodies can take a significant toll. Nutrient depletion coupled with physical exhaustion can create increased susceptibility to minor illnesses due to impaired immune functions. Immunologists (immune system scientists) are beginning to note the positive effects of probiotic supplements for sports nutrition and health.
What are Probiotics?
Probiotics are bacteria that our bodies need for good health. Your gut is home to trillions of living microorganisms (bacteria). Some of the bacteria is bad, and can cause illness and infection. Probiotics are the good bacteria, which help us stay healthy, absorb nutrients, and perform essential bodily functions. In order to maintain good health during periods of intense exercise, you should ensure that you maintain a positive bacterial balance in the gut. Healthy probiotic bacteria can be found in foods like kefir, yogurt, kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut, and miso. But not everyone can fill their diet with probiotic-containing foods. Probiotic supplements are growing in popularity as people try to fill this dietary gap.
Probiotics & Fitness
When your body is in a weakened state, like after bouts of strenuous training, you are more susceptible to injury and illness. Exercise is a depleting activity. Nutrient depletion is a main concern, but the health of your immune system should be your first consideration. Minor infections or illnesses can cause major problems for athletes and fitness buffs, as even small disruptions in our training program can have disastrous consequences.
Your gut is the first line of defense against harmful bacteria and pathogens. Probiotics effectively starve illness-causing bacteria by consuming all their food sources and preventing them from multiplying. Probiotics also help build and maintain the protective mucosal layer of the digestive tract and support intestinal integrity. Strenuous physical activity can deplete your immune system and leave you vulnerable to invasive pathogens. Many athletes and trainers have started taking seriously the role of probiotics in their dietary planning.
Probiotics & Digestion
Another benefit of probiotics for athletes is the positive effects for digestion. Gastrointestinal disorders such as heartburn and diarrhea are common in the fitness community. When we train hard, we can experience gastric emptying and other conditions that interfere with gastrointestinal nutrient absorption. Gastric emptying (or gastroparesis) occurs when food is not properly emptied from the stomach and causes digestive irregularities. Poor nutrient absorption through the gastrointestinal tract is another digestive conditions that athletes commonly face. These conditions often cause heartburn or diarrhea, and other symptoms.
Probiotics assist digestion by maintaining gastrointestinal health. Probiotics are well recognized for their ability to treat infectious diarrhea, viral diarrhea, and antibiotic-associated diarrhea. There is some evidence that exercise may contribute to irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel syndrome, too. Probiotics can effectively protect against inflammatory bowel syndrome by restraining immune activation in response to bacterial signals. Irritable bowel syndrome is not well understood in terms of causes, but probiotics are able to relieve common symptoms like bloating, cramps, and diarrhea. Although more studies are needed to appreciate the mechanism for how probiotics reduce these symptoms, researchers are confident that alterations in gut bacteria encouraged by probiotics are the main reason.
Probiotics & Nutrient Absorption
When you're training, you want to make sure that you're absorbing all possible nutrients from the food you consume. An unhealthy gastrointestinal tract and digestive system can significantly impair your rate of nutrient utilization. Low absorption can influence the utilization of a number of nutrients, but athletes and fitness enthusiasts are concerned about two things: building muscle and managing weight.
Probiotics can benefit muscle growth by improving the utilization of protein. Supplementing with large quantities of protein can be an essential part of an athletes diet, but it can also cause gastrointestinal distress. Leucine, for example, is a critical post-workout nutrient for muscle protein synthesis. One study found that probiotics increased utilization, with substantial gains (a 23% increase) in the absorption of leucine in particular. By combining probiotic support with whey protein, it is possible that athletes could consume smaller amounts of whey protein while enjoying the same physiological benefits. Athletes with allergies, such as lactose intolerance, could use whey protein sources without the negative gastrointestinal effects.
The benefits of probiotics also extend into the area of weight management. Your gut bacteria balance can be worsened by processed, pasteurized, or sterilized foods. Other factors can influence the health of your gut bacteria, factors such as stress, age, locations, and any number of other health issues. Sugars also tend to encourage the spread of disease-causing pathogens. Microorganisms in the gut have been shown to influence appetite, as microbes that need sugar to grow can stimulate your desire for sweets. What's more, the health of your gut bacteria can determine how your body utilizes nutrients. Changes in gut bacteria can upset a healthy balance and cause an increase in the rate of fatty acid and carbohydrate absorption, which can increase your rate of fat storage. A healthy bacterial balance in the gut should be on the mind of anyone who wants to improve his or her weight management.
Full Body Fitness
Probiotics are what we might refer to as an ‘indirect' sports nutrition supplement. Probiotics don't directly build muscle, replenish electrolytes, or provide fat-burning energy. The benefits of probiotics keep your body healthy through rigorous training sessions, improve how your body utilizes nutrients, and helps you manage your weight.
Chris is a health, nutrition, and fitness writer with AstroNutrition.