Preparation involves more than having top of the line gear. If you’re going to be the best you need to optimize every element of your training. What you put in your body serves as the foundation for your performance. Probiotics reinforce that foundation ensuring you are ready to go on game day.
The 4 Keys to the Performance-Enhancing Gut:
1. Improved immune function: Athletes are more susceptible to impaired immune function, and subsequent illness, due to the shear amount and intensity of their training and competition. Probiotics can prevent illness in athletes in several ways:
Physical barrier - L. fermentum and L. plantarum have been shown to increase the production of mucin, which is a substance produced in the gut that inhibits the bad bacteria from attaching to the intestinal wall. Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium have also been shown to reduce GI permeability (“leaky gut”) which occurs during times of intense exercise and heat and can lead to impaired immune function and poor recovery as well.
Cellular changes - probiotics stimulate anti-inflammatory proteins.
Systemic immunity - probiotics can increase the number and activity of cells that fight off infection.
2. Maintenance of optimal glucose levels
The gut microbiota ferments complex carbohydrates into short chain fatty acids (butyrate, acetate, and propionate). The type and amount of SCFAs produced depends on our age, diet (e.g., availability of prebiotics), composition of gut microbiota, gut transit time and pH of the colon. The probiotic bacteria that produce SCFAs include:
The SCFAs, propionate and acetate serve as fuel sources for the liver and muscle tissue, allowing for the maintenance of optimal glucose levels to meet the body’s demands during exercise.
3. Reduce inflammation thereby reducing fatigue
Probiotics can reduce inflammation in several ways. One mechanism was evaluated in a study performed with runners taking a probiotic with Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains. The researchers found the runners had reduced inflammatory markers following running in heat. In turn, these runners were able to run longer in the heat without becoming fatigued.
Another mechanism that has been studied involves the fact that intense exercise generates a high amount of reactive oxygen species (ROS) (i.e., free radicals), especially during exhaustive and long-lasting exercise. Subsequently, the intense exercise and increased oxygen consumption (which also leads to oxidative stress) results in athletes with greater amounts of ROS circulating in their body.
Probiotics can fight ROS by stimulating antioxidant activity, which can facilitate better recovery from oxidative stress. In turn, it would appear that probiotics, through their antioxidant activity, have the ability to augment recovery from intense exercise.
4. Nutrient production and absorption
Various bacterial strains improve our nutrition status by aiding digestion, enhancing absorption and synthesizing nutrients. Certain probiotics can:
- Synthesize some B vitamins and vitamin K
- Increase absorption of calcium, iron and vitamin D
- Enhance dietary nitrate conversion to the vasodilator nitric oxide (e.g., beetroot juice)
By enhancing nutrient production and absorption, probiotics are important players that bring together nutrition, gut health and human performance.
The gut is as vital to your performance as any other organ system. Whether it is reducing GI symptoms or improving nutrient production and absorption, taking care of your gut with proper nutrition and probiotics will ensure your best on game day.
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