Probiotics may help athletes of all stripes optimize their workout. While many studies show that probiotics can support gut health, the immune system and even the brain, research into exercise physiology and probiotics is still developing and remains a relatively “new” frontier.
However, David Payne, an exercise physiologist at the Australian Institute of Sport, says there may be “small, variable effects” of probiotics added to an exercise regime . While it is too early to issue definitive guidelines, probiotics may support exercise and whole body health in a variety of ways for the endurance athlete or someone with a more moderate fitness regime.
Exercise and the Body
Strenuous exercise can cause an increase in gut symptoms caused by the redistribution of blood away from the gut and to other parts of the body. Strenuous exercise can also cause a temporary decrease in immunity and we know that almost 80% of our immunity originates from our GI system.
Gut symptoms from exercise can include cramping, bloating, nausea and the need to poop during exercise . But there are significant benefits to the gut from exercise as well. Decreases in constipation and reduced incidence of cecum cancer have been associated with moderate exercise .
Elite athletes enduring strenuous training can suffer even greater upsets to the GI tract [3,5]. Probiotics have been shown to alleviate these symptoms in people with diagnoses like Irritable Bowel Syndrome but have also been shown to be effective in people with GI symptoms that are otherwise healthy.
Probiotics have been shown to significantly reduce the number of respiratory illnesses in elite athletes undergoing repetitive strenuous exercise . Additionally, some studies have shown that the microbiota of athletes has increased diversity. Exercise itself may benefit your gut microbes. One study indicated that elite rugby players had increased gut diversity, however, diet may account for some of that variance [1, 5]. More research is needed to determine how much exercise creates beneficial changes in the gut flora. We are likely to see more results coming soon as exercise physiologists begin to look more closely at how probiotics affect fitness.
Probiotics may be a way to optimize your fitness routine by providing your body with the microbes that stimulate immune function, help prevent upper respiratory and gastrointestinal illness .
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2 Pyne, David P. et al. (2012) Probiotics and Immune Response to Exercise. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, published online June 19, 2012. http://ajl.sagepub.com/content/early/2012/06/11/1559827612449599
4 Cox, A.J. et al. (2010) Oral administration of the probiotic Lactobacillus fermentum VRI-003 and mucosal immunity in endurance athletes. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 44, 222-226.
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