Health & Wellness
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Probiotics for Athletes & Fitness
Written by Lou Bowler BHSc (Naturopathy),
BASc (Psych & Eng)
Athletes and the Immune System
Research suggests that training and exercise can put a significant strain on the immune systems of athletes, with many athletes often experiencing an increased susceptibility to minor illnesses such as upper respiratory tract infections. There is a general consensus among exercise immunologists, that various immune cell functions are impaired following sessions of continuous and prolonged heavy exercise. This potentially negative effect of strenuous exercise is of obvious concern to athletes and sports enthusiasts in general, as even minor infections may result in a drop in exercise performance and an inability to train and compete.
Probiotics and Immunity: Clinical Research
There is strong evidence that probiotics improve immune system parameters in both adults and children. A recent Cochrane review found that compared to placebo, probiotics were better at reducing the incidence of URTI Ten relevant randomized and controlled studies were included in the review with a total of 3451 participants, including infants, children, and adults. There is also research which specifically explores probiotics and immunity in athletes. One study found that supplementation with L. acidophilus LAFTI. After one month of taking the probiotics, secretion of IFNtly (P= 0.01) to levels which are normally seen in healthy athletes. Another double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover study, revealed that prophylactic administration of Lactobacillus fermentum PCC to long-distance runners was associated with a significant reduction in the length and severity of respiratory illness. The subjects reported less than half the number of days of respiratory symptoms during treatment with the probiotic combination (p< 0.001) and severity of illness was also lower for episodes which occurred whilst taking PCC. This strain was also given to a group of professional cyclists in a randomized, double-blind,placebo-controlled, parallel-groups study of 88 participants, and was shown to reduce the severity and duration of lower respiratory tract infections by 30% in the male participants. There was also a reduction in the severity of gastrointestinal symptoms
and athletes used cold and flu medication less frequently.
Regular Exercise and Digestive Symptoms
Many studies suggest that gastrointestinal problems such as heartburn and diarrhea are a common occurrence among athletes. Strenuous exercise can inhibit gastric emptying and interfere with gastrointestinal absorption. In a recent study, Austrian scientists conducted a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial to examine the effects of probiotic supplementation on markers of intestinal permeability, oxidation and inflammation in male endurance athletes at rest, and after strenuous exercise. The researchers found that levels of zonulin (a protein which mediates tight gap junction permeability in the gut) in the athlete's stool decreased significantly in the group taking the probiotic, compared with placebo. This research suggests that probiotic supplementation can, therefore, improve the integrity of the gastrointestinal epithelial barrier and reduce the incidence of digestive symptoms like bloating or diarrhea.
The Rise of Protein Powders
Many sports and fitness enthusiasts supplement their diets with protein powders as a way to improve muscle growth and recovery after exercise. There has been a recent focus on the potential ability for probiotics to improve protein utilization and enhance absorption of other key nutrients. A current in vitro study investigated the potential for Bacillus coagulans GanedanBC to enhance protein utilization. The combination was found to improve protein absorption, with a 25% increase in utilization of leucine, an amino acid which plays an important role in increasing post-workout effects on muscle synthesis. The above formulation also aided in the digestion of lactose and fructose, two substances which are often present in protein powder formulations. Although preliminary, this research suggests that probiotics may hold the potential to improve digestion of protein and other key nutrients in sports supplements. Well-researched strains in the Probiotics range such as Bifidobacterium breve Rosen-70, Lactococcus lactis Rose11-1058, and Lactobacillus casei Rose11-215 are all galactosidase positive. This means that the probiotics are able to aid the body to degrade and digest starch and may also help to reduce bloating and flatulence.
The GanedanBC research also suggests that fitness enthusiasts may be able to consume lower amounts of whey protein without losing the physiological benefit, or may continue to use similar quantities of protein powder and avoid gastrointestinal problems. Probiotics may also allow those with lactose sensitivity to still experience the benefits of dairy- based protein powders. People who have lactose intolerance, have a deficiency in a class of enzymes known as s (lactase belongs to this class) Probiotics are ase positive, meaning that they have the potential to aid in the digestion of lactose.
How Probiotics Benefit Endurance Athletes
• They improve recovery by increasing antioxidant absorption. Since free radicals are abundant after training, it’s important that athletes meet them head-on with high amounts of antioxidants in recovery and throughout each day. When eaten during recovery, probiotics increase antioxidant absorption, and thereby promote extra free radical fighting just when you need it. Probiotics support immune function by promoting higher levels of the natural virus fighter, interferon, which is decreased in fatigued athletes. Ever notice how some endurance athletes are sick more often than less-healthy individuals who don’t exercise as much? With endurance training, many athletes cross the line from improving health with exercise to hurting it, in some areas, anyway. One area of suppression is the immune system, and specifically interferons, which are proteins made and releasedby cells in response to the presence of pathogens such as viruses, bacteria, parasites, and tumor cells. Studies have shown an increase in interferons in fatigued athletes with the supplementation of healthy bacteria, and thereby a decrease in illnesses such as mononucleosis.
• Healthy bacteria improves digestion by increasing the bioavailability and absorption of proteins and fats. Healthy bacteria can improve the digestion of these nutrients in the stomach and intestines. Athletes have some of the highest nutrient needs of anyone, and these needs are best met when digestion is improved. What’s more, they can acutely reduce nausea, intestinal inflammation, bloating and hypersensitivity to foods—common complaints among athletes during and after training.
How to Get More Probiotics in Your Diet
1. Eat natural, fermented foods and drinks each day. Options include plain and Greek-style yogurts, kefir, kombucha, miso, high-quality aged cheese, sauerkrauts, and kimchi. The more types of fermented foods, and different strains of probiotics you include, the better.
2. Eat functional foods with added probiotics. One example is a dark chocolate bar like Attune Dark Chocolate Probiotic Bars. These are great if you tire of fermented dairy or you can’t tolerate it, but want another tasty option for daily probiotics. In fact, many of these foods also contain inulin, a prebiotic fiber that serves as probiotic food (yes, your healthy bacteria need to eat, too).
3. If needed, add a high-quality probiotic supplement to your FOODS RICH regimen. Look for ones that are 1 N PROBIOTICS freeze-dried and don’t require refrigeration. Or, if you’d like to reduce the number of pills, use a multivitamin that contains them.