With the quadrennial mega sporting event taking place in Brazil this month, you can almost feel the sense of awe we exude collectively as a planet while observing the miracle that is the human body. As we watch the best athletes in the world compete for their countries, we cannot help but revel in the beauty and power of both triumph and possibility.
We all—serious athletes and weekend warriors alike—can appreciate the kind of training, dedication, and perseverance it takes to reach our performance goals, whatever they may be. And new research is uncovering an often-overlooked aspect of athletic training that may in fact be a secret weapon to peak performance: the health of our microbiome.
What is a Microbiome?
Simply put, our microbiome is the collective colonies of bacteria in and on our body. From unique populations in our gut and urogenital system to bacteria in our mouth, nose, throat, and breasts, our body is host to trillions of microbes.
The good news is that the vast majority of these microorganisms—around 85% in a healthy microbiome—have a helpful, symbiotic relationship with our body. In other words, we provide them with food and a place to live, and in return, they help to support our health in a myriad of ways. From balancing our blood sugar and regulating our emotions to helping with digestion and boosting our immune function, friendly flora perform countless functions in our body that benefit our health and well-being.
5 Ways Probiotics Benefit Athletes
Everyone needs a plentiful supply of good bacteria (aka probiotics) for optimal health, but probiotics can be especially beneficial for athletes. And the good news? It works both ways—not only do probiotics boost athletic performance, but athletes tend to have healthier and more diverse microbiomes than non-active folks1.
So, how do probiotics help the athlete in all of us? Probiotics can:
1. Strengthen your immunity. With 80% of your immune system in your gut, it’s no wonder that the good microbes living there help to regulate immune function. But, endurance exercise and heavy training can suppress your immune system, leading to upper respiratory issues that could keep you from training2. Fortunately, studies show that regular probiotic supplementation can reduce the incidence, severity, and frequency of these types of health issues in athletes3. In one study, researchers discovered that concentrations of immune and antibody agents—which often decrease during intense training—returned to normal levels after just one month of probiotic supplementation4.
2. Boost your antioxidants. Due to the increased amount of unstable molecules—or oxidative stress—produced during endurance exercise, heavy training can overwhelm the body’s innate ability to counteract, leading to cell damage and health challenges. The good news is that just four weeks of probiotic supplementation can increase antioxidant levels in athletes, effectively neutralizing the free radicals5.
3. Increase your energy and endurance. By improving nutrient absorption and optimizing digestion, probiotics help you assimilate all the healthy nutrients in the foods you eat, so you have the energy you need to train. Some strains of beneficial bacteria also produce short chain fatty acids that provide an additional source of energy for working muscles6. Did you know that probiotics can also improve your endurance? It’s true! In one trial, researchers discovered that a month of probiotic supplementation increased runners’ time to fatigue in extreme heat7.
4. Reinforce your gut lining. High-intensity exercise can lead to gastrointestinal flare-ups like temporary diarrhea, cramps, bloating, and gas. Scientists theorize that these uncomfortable occurrences are likely due to increased permeability of the gut barrier, which enables toxins and unwanted bacteria to slip into the bloodstream. Fortunately, probiotics work with your own cells to line and reinforce your gut barrier, blocking out molecules that can keep you from training at your best8.
5. Reduce temporary inflammation and support bone health. Exercise in and of itself can lead to temporary inflammation as overworked muscles repair and heal. By reinforcing your gut barrier, regulating your immune system, and secreting short-chain fatty acids, probiotics can modulate your body’s inflammatory response, speeding recovery time so you can train at your best9. Probiotics can also support your bone and joint health by synthesizing vitamins that help metabolize calcium, and by producing enzymes that can increase mineral absorption10.
Now that we know all the ways probiotics can work to improve athletic performance, how do we incorporate them into our training?
Probiotics for Athletes
Unfortunately, the good bacteria in our microbiome are under constant attack from modern factors like processed foods, antibiotics in the food supply and as medicine, antibacterial cleaners, overzealous hygiene habits, and even stress and aging.
So, to feel and function our best, we must proactively (and consistently) replenish the good guy bacteria throughout our body. The easiest and most effective way to introduce probiotics into your training regimen is to take a daily, high-quality multi-strain probiotic formula that delivers live organisms deep into your system where they can get to work improving your health and your training. Hyperbiotics makes several formulas ideal for athletes:
• PRO-15 includes 15 targeted strains, providing broad-spectrum support for your gut and overall health. If you are looking for extreme support, PRO-15 Advanced Strength incorporates three times more bacteria!
• Immune is a daily wellness formula with zinc, echinacea, vitamin C, and EpiCor® for comprehensive immune system support to keep you well.
• PRO-Dental includes targeted strains for oral and upper respiratory health and is an excellent adjunct to any of the gut-specific formulas.
In addition to taking a probiotic supplement, eating a whole foods diet, high in plant-based foods (and rich in prebiotics) while steering clear of chemicals, unnecessary medications, and toxins that can deplete your populations of good bacteria will go a long way towards supporting optimal microbial health.
We all have an inner athlete that strives to be the best we can be. Whether you are a champion marathoner, or you count your daily exercise in the number of minutes spent chasing your toddler in the yard, the health of your microbiome is a critical determining factor in both the quality and quantity of your training. Living a gut-healthy life that is in harmony with your microbes can keep you at the top of your game, if not at the top of the podium.References:
Emily Courtney is a Writer and Editor at Hyperbiotics and mom to two fun and active boys. Emily is passionate about natural wellness and helping others learn about the power of probiotics for vibrant health! For more ideas on how you can benefit from the power of probiotics and live healthier days, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter.