How to Harness the Power of Probiotics
You’ve almost certainly heard of probiotics.
There are dozens of products on the market that advertise how great they are for your digestive system. Perhaps you’ve even tried them. But most people don’t realise just how much of a difference they can make to your overall health and fitness.
If you’re looking for a nutritional way to get more out of your workouts or to help you lose weight, then probiotics are the answer.
This article will take a deep dive into what probiotics are exactly, why they are so important for overall health and how to build them into your diet for healthier living.
What are Probiotics?
Probiotics are ‘healthy’ bacteria and yeasts that live in your gut. The main health benefits come from two types of probiotic bacteria:
Lactobacillus – the most common type of probiotic that is found in fermented foods such as yogurt. It can help overcome problems such as diarrhoea and lactose indigestion.
Bifidobacterium - commonly found in dairy products. It has been shown to help treat irritable bowel syndrome, easing many of the systems.
Although researchers are still trying to find out exactly how probiotics work some assumptions have been made. It’s believed that they work in the opposite way to antibiotics. Antibiotics kill off bacteria, which can be a good thing if you have an infection caused by ‘bad’ bacteria.
Probiotics, on the other hand, stimulate the growth of ‘good’ bacteria. It has been shown that probiotics can help prevent diarrhoea after taking a course of antibiotics – a common side-effect.
The 3 Big Fitness Benefits of Probiotics
The research is still in its early days when it comes to the advantages of probiotics, but some studies have shown that they can have major health and fitness benefits.
In this article, we’re going to concentrate on the main fitness benefits, in particular: how they can help before, after and during fitness workouts.
1 | Improved nutrient absorption
Getting a healthy dose of probiotics in your diet, either naturally through certain foods or in supplements, can make a big difference in the way your intestines absorb nutrients, increasing the number of nutrients assimilated into the body. Probiotics can even create extra nutrients in the gut.
The increased intake of healthy nutrients translates into some major workout benefits such as higher energy levels, stamina and faster recovery times. In fact, probiotics are believed to synthesise B-vitamins which directly affect energy levels. Many gym enthusiasts report that frequent intake of probiotics helps them to overcome the effects of a post-workout comedown as they are less prone to fatigue.
Probiotics can also help to reduce muscle inflammation which really helps with post-workout recovery and help to prevent exercise-related muscle injury.
All of this adds up to enhanced workouts and recovery, meaning you can train harder and more frequently.
2 | Increased motivation
You’ve probably heard of the ‘happy’ hormone serotonin. What you probably don’t realise is that 90% of it is produced in the gut, not the brain. Probiotics actually help to maintain serotonin levels by keeping gut bacteria nicely balanced. When they are out of balance, which can be exacerbated by intense exercise (think ‘marathon runner’s trots’) it can lead to feelings of depression and demotivation.
Probiotics can reverse these effects, keeping you and your gut happy which in turn increases your motivation levels and boost the post-workout ‘high’.
3 | Boost your immunity
There is growing evidence to support the theory of exercise-induced immunosuppression. What this means is that people who regularly do intense workouts can be more prone to illnesses such as colds and flu. Basically, intense or extreme workouts can put the body into a state of stress which weakens the immune system.
Studies have shown that probiotics can help reduce the effect that physiological stress has on the immune system, meaning that cold and flu systems will be reduced and won’t last as long. Lactobacillus has been shown to be particularly effective in this regard.
Building Probiotics into your Diet
Ok, now you’re up to speed on how probiotics can boost your workouts, general fitness and well-being. The next question is, how do you make sure you’re getting enough in your diet?
There’s no simple answer to this. Some people will prefer to get them through certain food types; others prefer supplements. It really comes down to personal preference. In this article, we’ll look at both ways - listing food types that are high in probiotic cultures, as well as give advice on what to look for in probiotic supplements.
6 Common Foods that are Probiotic-rich
The following foods can easily be found in general grocery or health-food stores. If you increase consumption of each or most of these, especially on workout days, you should notice the difference in your energy levels and recovery pretty quickly.
1 | Yogurt
Let’s start with the obvious one. Pretty much everyone knows that certain types of yogurt contain active probiotic cultures. Not all shop-bought yogurt does, however. The majority of yogurts undergo a manufacturing process that kills them off. If you’re going to rely on yogurt as your main source of probiotics, make sure you look out for ones that contain both lactobacillus and bifidobacterium to get the most health and fitness benefits.
2 | Sauerkraut
Originating in Germany, Sauerkraut is a famous shredded-cabbage garnish that is often added to hotdogs or used as a side-dish. It’s a pretty healthy dish all-around, with plenty of fibre, iron as well as vitamins B, C and K and of course a healthy dose of probiotics.
Make sure to buy the unpasteurised version of sauerkraut, as pasteurisation kills off the important active cultures.
3 | Tempeh
Tempeh is a popular meat substitute for vegetarians as it can be easily formed into burger or sausage shapes and has an earthy flavour. It’s made from soybeans that are fermented, a process that creates probiotics and also B12 which is usually only found in meat, fish and dairy products.
4 | Pickles or Gherkins
You may be surprised to find out that the humble gherkin contains probiotics. When the cucumbers are pickled, they are left to ferment for a while which creates lactic acid bacteria which is probiotic-rich.
Be careful though, as gherkins that are pickled in vinegar (i.e., most shop-bought ones) don’t contain probiotics as they are killed off. Your best bet is to look in health food stores or make your own.
5 | Cheese
Certain types of cheese contain live probiotic cultures. The food labels will normally tell you which ones, but as a guide, the following cheeses often contain probiotics: Cheddar, Mozzarella, Gouda and some types of cottage cheese.
6 | Miso
Check out the international food aisle in your local food store, and you’re sure to find Miso – a popular Japanese seasoning. It’s made from fermented soybeans, salt, and fungus and usually comes in a paste that is high in active probiotic cultures.
The Japanese often have miso soup for breakfast which may explain why they are renowned for having good digestive health and longevity.
Choosing the Best Probiotic Supplements for Workouts
There is a bewildering choice of probiotic supplements these days. It can be difficult to know where to start, especially as many of them boast of containing different types of healthy bacteria.
The following types of probiotics are the best ones to enhance your workout performance and recovery, so check out the labels and make sure that you choose supplements that contain one or more of them.
- Bacillus coagulans (BC30) – enhances nutrient absorption, reduces inflammation and boosts immune system.
- Lactis - helps to balance glucose levels, reduces fat production and cholesterol levels.
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus (GG) – reduces fat gain and GI symptoms during endurance exercise
- Gasseri – increases metabolism and enhances weight loss
- Casei – reduces inflammation and helps balance insulin levels
- Fermentum – reduces inflammation and helps with overall digestion
- Acidophilus – enhances nutrient absorption and suppresses bad bacteria growth.
Although research into probiotics is still in its infancy, there’s no doubt that probiotics are highly beneficial for your overall health and fitness. That’s why most serious athletes and bodybuilders make sure they add them to their diet or take extra supplements.
They are especially important for people that regularly take part in endurance exercises or high-intensity strength workouts, as the benefits are compounded. They can help to enhance energy levels, improve motivation and increase recovery speed and efficiency.
For people that don’t take part in intense exercise, there are still plenty of health benefits. This article from Harvard Medical School outlines the many benefits in detail.
Hopefully, this article has given you some idea as to how to introduce them into your diet and the various ways to do it. So, what are you waiting for? It’s time to stock up on the yogurt and sauerkraut and get to the gym! Alternatively, you can invest in some supplements or try some of the new probiotic-enhanced drinks available on the market.