Probiotics are tiny micro-organism’s that reside within us and pack a punch when it comes to our health and wellbeing. They do far more than supporting our immune system, helping with our mood, sleep and, what they are most associated with, improving our gut health. In a nutshell – a probiotic is an organism beneficial to health.
They assist with the provision of energy to the body, take care of our mental wellbeing, reduce localised and systemic inflammation, produce vitamins, anti-microbial and anti-bacterial substances to prevent the adherence of opportunistic pathogenic bacteria that may enter the body from food, drink, the environment; their list of healthful benefits is a long one.
Probiotics are generally found in naturally fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, miso, kombucha; their development brought about by the natural fermentation processes. Probiotics can also be found in supplemental form – typically a multi-strain probiotic or a specific strain of probiotics as recommended by a Nutritional Therapist to help alleviate symptoms of acute or chronic health complaints.
The most common strains of beneficial bacteria that you may have heard of are Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus. However, there are also non-bacterial beneficial microorganisms that are often recommended such as Saccharomyces Boulardii, a beneficial yeast which naturally resides within the body but is sometimes recommended when addressing symptoms of IBS.
In my personal opinion, probiotics are beneficial to the health of anyone and everyone of any age, especially when you consider the endless list of health benefits they elicit. I could write a whole other blog on this topic.
Probiotics help to protect the epithelial barrier of the intestinal wall ensuring that Increased Intestinal Permeability does not arise. They compete with pathogenic bacteria to ensure they do not dominate the intestinal tract and they enhance the effects of the immune system by regulating antibodies and inflammatory cytokines.
What are the benefits of probiotics in Athletic Performance?
We know that high intensity, prolonged exercise places stress on the GI tract that increases various symptoms associated with an imbalanced gut microbiome and a decreased performance, including abdominal cramping, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, and increased intestinal permeability (“Leaky Gut”).(1)
Probiotics have been shown by research to decrease inflammation, improve body system functions and harness the ability to positively improve various aspects of an athlete’s performance and recovery. Below is a summary of some studies demonstrating the positive effects of probiotics in athletes from various sporting backgrounds.
Adolescent Female Endurance Swimmers were given a multi-strain probiotic yoghurt over 8 weeks. They observed a reduction in the number and duration of Upper Respiratory Tract Infections(2).
10 Male Runners received a multi-strain probiotic over 4 weeks, their time to fatigue improved whilst running in the heat(3).
Female Division 1 Soccer and Volleyball Players - 23 female athletes of multiple sports were given a probiotic with the Bacillus subtilis strain during offseason. There was no performance improvements observed in their resistance training but there was a significant improvement in body composition compared to those given a placebo(4).
Division 1 Baseball Players in a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized control trial, athletes given Bacillus subtilis DE111 for a 12-week training period demonstrated reduced TNFa (Tumor Necrosis Factor Alpha), an inflammatory cytokine protein that impairs recovery after training (5).
Intense physical activity suppresses the immune system, placing athletes in an immunocompromised state which places them at an increased risk of contracting upper respiratory tract infections or gastrointestinal bacterial or viral infections. Clinical trials have demonstrated that probiotic supplements may help to reduce exercise-induced immune suppression. One study considered the use of Lactobacillus fermentum VRI-003 in 20 elite male runners during a 4-month-long heavy training season. Athletes taking the probiotic supplement reported 40 fewer days of respiratory symptoms, compared to the placebo. The severity of illness was also lower for the supplementation group.
NO GUTS – NO GLORY
Your gut is home to 100 trillion microorganisms, including bacteria and fungi – it’s a crazy thought isn’t it but these microorganisms are pivotal to health. This community of bacteria, fungi and yeast performs many functions that are essential for health, including regulation of the immune system, synthesizing of vitamins, absorption of nutrients for use in the body’s various processes.
An imbalance in the balance of the gut bacteria, termed as “Dysbiosis” is greatly associated with increased localised and systemic inflammation – this can be problematic to health and performance. Dysbiosis is also associated with health conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Metabolic Syndrome, Increased Intestinal Permeability (aka Leaky Gut), Allergies, Food Sensitivities and Mental Wellbeing.
Why do we need probiotics?
To help promote, maintain and increase the number of beneficial, healthful, bacteria within the gastrointestinal tract, it is essential to eat probiotic and prebiotic rich foods and sometimes when necessary, supplementation with a multi or specific strain of bacteria to help address health issues such as leaky gut, IBS, strengthening of the immune system etc.
I hope you enjoyed this post and now have an understanding as to the importance of the microorganisms which our body houses and that these residents have to be nurtured and nourished in order that we can feel healthy, perform well and recover well.
Cox AJ, Pyne DB, Saunders PU, Fricker PA. Oral administration of the probiotic Lactobacillus fermentum VRI-003 and mucosal immunity in endurance athletes. Br J Sports Med. 2010;44(4):222‐226
Rawson ES, Miles MP, Larson-Meyer DE. Dietary supplements for health, adaptation, and recovery in athletes. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2018;28:188–99.
Salarkia N, Ghadamli L, Zaeri F, Sabaghian Rad L. Effects of probiotic yogurt on performance, respiratory and digestive systems of young adult female endurance swimmers: a randomized controlled trial. Med J Islam Repub Iran. 2013;27:141–6.
Shing CM, Peake JM, Lim CL, Briskey D, Walsh NP, Fortes MB, Ahuja KD, Vitetta L. Effects of probiotics supplementation on gastrointestinal permeability, inflammation and exercise performance in the heat. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2014;114:93–103.
Toohey JC, Townsend JR, Johnson SB, Toy AM, Vantrease WC, Bender D, Crimi CC, Stowers KL, Ruiz MD, VanDusseldorp TA, et al. Effects of probiotic (Bacillus subtilis) supplementation during offseason resistance training in female division I athletes. J Strength Cond Res. 2018.
Townsend JR, Bender D, Vantrease WC, Sapp PA, Toy AM, Woods CA, Johnson KD. Effects of Probiotic (Bacillus subtilis DE111) Supplementation on Immune Function, Hormonal Status, and Physical Performance in Division I Baseball Players. Sports (Basel). 2018:6.