Do Athletes Need to Take Probiotics?

Did you know that the bacteria in your body outnumber your body’s cells 10 to 1?  Most of these critters are located in your gut.  In fact, 90% of our genetic makeup comes from these bacterias that live in our guts.  Having the right kinds of bacteria living in the gut is incredibly important for our overall health.  All disciplines of medicine are now looking to the gut as the root cause of whatever ailment a patient may be suffering from.  Your gut and all of the bugs that live there are your first line of defense.  They dictate what is allowed into the bloodstream and into your body for use.  Having the right bacteria in there has been linked to weight loss, improved digestion, enhanced immune function, better skin and a reduced risk of many diseases.  So what do probiotics have to do with all of this?  Probiotics are foods or supplements that contain the “good” bacteria and help to colonize your gut with health-boosting microorganisms.  The importance of this ecosystem, known as the microbiome, can not be stressed enough.  In fact, taking care of your gut and this ecosystem of bacteria may be the single most important thing you can do for your health.  Click here to learn more about the microbiome and if you’re suffering from a leaky gut.

In order to perform at your peak, you have to be healthy overall.  Rigorous training regimens, especially for the endurance athlete, challenge the gut and the microbiome and often lead to a weakened immune system and inadequate digestion and absorption of nutrients.  Maintaining gut health is extremely important for healthy digestion.  Without it, harmful proteins, bad bacterias, chemicals, GMO’s, partially digested foods, and more can enter into the blood stream and set off immune reactions and increase inflammation throughout the body.  These immune reactions can stay locally, which leads to gut-related symptoms, or they can go elsewhere in the body leading to a multitude of non-gut related symptoms.  Decreasing gut health leads to a weakened immune system, which leads to compromised overall health.

Thankfully, restoring healthy gut function is possible and is not too difficult to do.  Adding in probiotics to your daily regimen is one of the safest and most effective ways to improve gut health and boost immune system function.

Benefits of Probiotics to Athletes

  • Improved Recovery Times – Probiotics improve antioxidant absorption.  As an athlete through your training, you’re being exposed to and creating a multitude of free radicals, which lead to cell death in the body.  Antioxidants help to neutralize free radicals, thus protecting the cells and improving health.  Adding in probiotics to your post workout nutrition plan allows for increased antioxidant activity.
  • Support Immune System Function – All athletes, but endurance athletes especially, suppress the immune system simply from training.  Athletes who are fatigued and overtrain have definitely stressed this system and have shown decreased levels of a natural virus fighter, interferon, in blood analysis.  The addition of probiotics helps restore these interferon levels, thus improving immune system function.
  • Increased Healthy Bacteria – Probiotics improve overall digestion by increasing the bioavailability and absorption of proteins and fats.  These good bacterias can improve digestion of these nutrients throughout the digestive system.  Athletes have higher nutrient needs than anyone else.  How many of you, especially my endurance athletes out there, ever deal with GI symptoms?  These can include gas, bloating, indigestion, diarrhea, constipation, pain, etc.  All of these symptoms are indications that your gut is not properly functioning.  As a result, you’re not going to be digesting your foods and absorbing the nutrients adequately.  Probiotics will help heal your gut and restore proper digestion.  They actually will help reduce those symptoms plus nausea, intestinal inflammation, bloating and can even decrease hypersensitivity to foods, which are all common complaints among athletes during and after training.

How to Get more Probiotics in Your Diet

  1. Consume natural, fermented foods and drinks.  These would include your Greek yogurts (get plain as sugar kills good bacteria), kefir, kombucha, miso, sauerkraut, and kimchi.  There are a ton of recipes online for making your own fermented foods as well.  Variety is key as it will stimulate different strains of bacteria to grow in your gut.  Having more diversity of the good bacteria in your gut helps to keep you more resistant to infection and disease.
  2. Functional foods that contain probiotics and prebiotics.  Inulin is a prebiotic fiber that helps to feed the good guys and is found in many of these food options.
  3. Add a high-quality probiotic to your daily regimen.  When looking for a probiotic, look for dosing that contains at least 1 billion live organisms per serving.  For potency levels to remain high through use of the product, look for probiotics that are individually blister-packed.  Anytime you open a bottle of probiotics, you’re exposing them to oxygen.  Oxygen kills these creatures even if you’re storing them in the refrigerator.  Only buy supplements from natural healthcare providers or at your local health food stores for best results.

If you want to be a better athlete, perform at your peak and improve your overall health and wellbeing, add probiotics to your daily routine.  It’s one very easy way to make a big impact on immune system health, digestion and improved recovery times.

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