The latest research about the benefits of probiotics has some good news for serious athletes.

Yogurt, kefir and fermented foods have been thrust into the spotlight as of late because of their high probiotic count.  The benefits of probiotics are numerous, with the good bacteria positively affecting everything from our gut and immune health, to our teeth and  even our skin. And now there’s evidence that the benefits of probiotics extend to sports performance as well. 

“We know that athletes all over the world  experience various injuries as well as some type of microbial infections,” says Dr. Pamela Nathan, Doctor of Homeopathic Medicine and founder of Good Gut Solution. “They have excessive exercise and training regimens that often result in wear and tear of body parts. Very often the training schedule may result in disruption in the balance of good to bad gut bacteria.”

Dr. Nathan goes on to explain that the optimal balance of about 85% good to 25% bad bacteria is critical for maintaining good health which is a significant requirement for any athletic body as well as the related performance. Change in the gut microbiota can lead to altered immune responses which need to be restored. “It’s important for any successful athlete to recover quickly.” To find fruitful solutions for both, health problems and performance maintenance, scientists are turning to probiotics.

“What we know now about probiotics and sports performance is that probiotics have been shown to help athletes’ immune system recover from tough workouts and competition,” says Dr. Nathan. “We also know that probiotics can reduce the frequency of upper respiratory tract infections in athletes training during the winter, that probiotic supplementation can reduce the duration and incidence of infections in elite rugby union players and, here’s another interesting fact, in recent study, marathoners who consumed probiotics for three months before a race demonstrated shorter periods of gastro-intestinal trouble.”

Dr. Nathan also highlights the research of Philip Calder, Ph.D.,  a professor of nutritional immunology at the University of Southampton. His work revolves around a syndrome called leaky gut. “One of the side effects of exercise is that it causes the cells of the lining of the intestinal wall to pull apart a little bit. It’s these gaps between cells that allow substances from the gastrointestinal tract to leak into the bloodstream. This leads to various problems, including mid-workout bowel distress. Probiotics have been found to help with this.” One study that was published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition looked at the blood samples from trained cyclists before and after intense exercise and they found significantly less instances of leakage in athletes who had  taken probiotic supplements for a period of 14 weeks in comparison to those who did not.

Lastly it’s worth highlighting the work of Ralf Jaeger who presented promising research at the International Society of Sports Nutrition conference in 2014. “His work was regarded as an exciting innovation in the field of sports nutrition because it was the first of its kind to show that probiotics combined with a slowly digested casein protein actually improved performance in healthy athletes,” explains Dr. Nathan. “This year, Jaeger and his team completed another study that showed that probiotic supplementation reduced the decrease in performance as well as the amount of inflammation that occurs following muscle damaging exercise.”

With the growing interest in the benefits of probiotics for sports enthusiasts, you can be sure to see  more and more research identifying ways that taking probiotics may enhance their performance, so load up on those healthy fermented foods!

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