Want to improve your athletic performance without changing up your workout routine? Adding probiotics to your diet can do just that.
Probiotics—the healthy bacteria in your gut—are important for everyone. Athletes stand to gain even more than the average person. When athletes add probiotics to their diet, they can shorten their recovery time and improve their nutrient absorption and immune function. That’s great news for anyone trying to stay in shape and boost their performance.
Here’s why probiotics should be your new best friend.
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are live bacteria and yeast. They line your intestinal walls, helping your digestive system break down food properly. People who suffer from digestive issues, such as irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s and other gastrointestinal conditions use probiotics to balance their gut biome.
Probiotics can also help with other conditions, like eczema, inflammation, bloating and nausea. Taking probiotics may also help boost your immune response and main proper urinary, vaginal and oral health.
There are two main types of probiotics: lactobacillus and bifidobacterium. Lactobacillus is most common, commonly found in yogurt and fermented foods. This probiotic is especially useful for people who suffer from diarrhea. It may also help digest lactose, the sugar in milk. Bifidobacterium is found in some dairy products. It appears to help with IBS and related conditions.
Probiotics affect the nerves that control your gut movement. Taking probiotics regularly can balance your “good” and “bad” bacteria. They help keep your gastrointestinal system healthy and functioning. This is especially important after you take a round of antibiotics, which destroy your gut biome. Taking probiotics or eating fermented food will help restore your system to normal.
Sometimes probiotics are confused with prebiotics, complex carbohydrates that nourish the helpful gut bacteria. Prebiotics are important, too, but do not offer the same benefits as their counterpart.
Why athletes need probiotics
Athletes need probiotics. Balancing your gut bacteria can actually help improve your overall health and performance.
Here’s what you can expect when you add probiotics to your diet:
- Better immune function: Fatigued athletes have lower levels of interfereon, a virus-fighting protein. Prolonged physical activity can suppress the immune system. This is especially common in endurance athletes, and may be why they’re frequently sick. Increasing interfereons helps balance the gut bacteria, which in turn helps your body fight off viruses, bacteria and other pathogens.
- Faster recovery time: When you regularly consume probiotics, it won’t take as long to recover from your latest workout. Probiotics increase antioxidant absorption. Antioxidants attack harmful free radical cells, which are abundant after exercise. Consuming probiotics during your post-workout meal will help your body fight off free radicals and recover quickly.
- Better nutrient absorption: Finally, probiotics promote the bioavailability and absorption of healthy fats and protein. Both are critical to building healthy muscle. Because athletes require higher levels of nutrients than the average person, adding probiotics to your diet helps you get more out of your meals.
How to get probiotics in your diet
Talk to your medical doctor about whether you should add more probiotics to your diet. They’re commonly found in fermented foods like fermented pickles, sauerkraut, kimchee and yogurt. Kombucha, a fermented beverage, also contains probiotics.
Probiotics also come in supplement form. Supplements may contain live organisms rather than a single strain of bacteria. Because they’re not FDA-regulated, supplement efficacy may vary. Ask your doctor to recommend their favorite brand and variety, or use online reviews to find the right supplement for you.
There is no recommended dosage for probiotic supplements. It’s also important to remember that the bacteria have to be alive to work, and they can die during the product’s shelf life. Therefore, you may wish to consume fermented food and beverages instead.
The bottom line
Ultimately, probiotics are helpful for just about everyone. They’re a key part of the gut biome, which can be destroyed by prolonged physical exercise and antibiotics. Whether you’re training for a marathon or just want to boost your own health and physical performance, you’ll notice a clear difference with regular probiotic intake.
Adding a cup of yogurt, a serving of kombucha or a helping of other fermented foods is the best way to get your daily dose. Athletes can especially benefit from consuming probiotics right after a workout. However, supplements can fill the void—just pay attention to their expiration date and any storage instructions.
Being an athlete takes guts. Now you know why it’s important to nourish those guts with plenty of probiotics.