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Are Probiotics Helpful for Athletes?

Are you ready for some football? This month, the National Football League kicked off its official 2019-2020 season and fans are all in.

In honor of all pro, college and weekend football players, as well those who play rugby, soccer, volleyball, and more—games that require adept performance in both speed and power—this September’s blog kick-off will discuss how probiotic supplementation can help gain a competitive edge.

In American football, you can see various body types on display soaring, leaping, lumbering, tackling, and gracefully kicking on the field.

The linesmen tend to be the bulkiest, squatting to defend and protect the quarterback and trying to create space for a back to carry the ball through, or ready to block the run and penetrate the offense to prevent the quarterback from launching the ball. According to Bodybuilding.com, these players are the, well, fattest. But underneath the suet lies an armor of muscle. They need to not only be large and inherently forceful, but exhibit short bursts of incredible strength.

On the opposite end of the physical spectrum are the wide receivers and defensive backs; these are usually lithe and also muscularly defined. People who play in these positions rely on speed as well as agility to leap high, almost ballet-like, to ensnare the ball.

The players who tend to be bulky yet lean at the same time are the tight ends (for the offense) and the linebackers, who block opposing players from gaining yardage and keep an eye out to try to catch the ball should it be in their vicinity. These players rely on both speed and strength as they tackle, catch the football, as well as run to the center of activity.

Quarterbacks and kickers need to be in overall outstanding physical shape, and need more strength and agility than they do runner-type endurance.

Rugby players, meanwhile, are like statue of David specimens and need power, strength and endurance.

Probiotics can be helpful aids in both fat loss and muscle-building—of course with a diet high in protein and good fats. Complex carbs such as those found in fruits and vegetables help provide leaning fiber.

There is an obvious visual difference between power athletes and marathon/endurance athletes similar to NFL linesmen and receivers. There are physiological differences, and individuals tend to fit into one rather standard body type or another.

One research team hypothesized that endurance athletes have lower muscle strength than power athletes, but their longer endurance is attributable to more effective oxygen extraction—a higher muscle oxidative capacity and larger stroke volume. These scientists studied physiological comparisons between the types of athletes. Endurance athletes in the study (distance runners, cyclists, skiers and paddlers) had larger VO2max (maximum rate of oxygen consumption measured during incremental exercise) than in power athletes (body builders, sprinters, throwers and combat sports). Additionally, they found that endurance athletes had a higher aerobic:anaerobic power ratio than power athletes (14.0-15.3%). Meanwhile, they observed, power athletes had stronger, but not faster, muscles than endurance athletes.

For endurance athletes (and for bodybuilders), maintaining low body fat is imperative, while for power athletes, building muscle mass increases strength ability. And believe it or not, probiotics can benefit both!

Probiotics and Fat Loss

The term fat loss may be a bit misleading in that when engaging in calorie-burning exercise, fat cells don’t just magically disappear – they shrink. The number of cells remains the same, it’s the size that changes.

The body first breaks down carbohydrates into glucose molecules in a process known as glycogenolysis; the body then disassembles fats into glycerol in a process called lipolysis. The more you move, (the more calories spent) and the less you eat (the less calories consumed), equals more fat cell shrinkage, ergo, fat loss. And this is energy cycle is what endurance athletes rely on to maintain physical output for great lengths of time.

Researchers have previously shown that modification of gut microflora impacts the energy cycle which can affect and modify body composition. In one double-blind placebo-controlled study, researchers analyzed how consumption of Lactobacillus amylovorus and Lactobacillus fermentum in yogurt affected body fat in healthy overweight individuals. They found that L. amylovorus was responsible for a total body fat loss of 4% while L. fermentum conferred 3% total body fat loss.

Another study found similar results—study participants who consumed 6 ounces of yogurt containing Lactobacillus gasseri SBT2055 experienced significantly greater abdominal fat loss than those in the placebo group.

How Probiotics Support Athletes

Researchers are finding that there are strains specific to endurance and strength.

A new study has shown that marathon runners and other endurance athletes have more amounts of the genera Veillonella in their gut microbiomes after they exercise than non-athletes. Further, the team isolated a strain of this genera, injected it into colons of lab mice; those mice ran 13% longer on a treadmill than those mice that didn’t have the strain.

The team later found high levels of Veillonella in 87 ultra-marathoners and Olympic-trial rowers and hypothesized that the it creates propionate, a compound that elevates athletic performance by consuming lactic acid produced in the muscle during exercise.

One Bacillus coagulans strain (BC30) was found in a pilot study to increase protein absorption and anabolic (muscle mass) potential of the protein. Typically, after a workout, power athletes turn to proteins to enhance muscle growth. Slow-digesting proteins such as casein do not provide desirable muscle protein synthesis as whey, which is a faster-absorbed protein. The researchers wanted to see if taking a probiotic with casein will improve its muscle protein synthesis in 10 power athletes. They consumed either casein alone or casein plus the probiotic for eight weeks while training. They found that the power athletes who consumed the casein with the probiotic had increased vertical jump power than the protein-only group.

Another strain, Lactobacillus plantarum TWK10, has been shown to benefit athletic endeavors by increasing muscle mass, increasing exercise performance and extends time to fatigue. In a six-week study, scientists evaluated the effects of L. plantarum TWK10 supplementation on exercise performance, and fatigue-associated biochemical profiles in mice. The results showed the strain extended time to fatigue during athletic activity through reducing plasma lactate, ammonia, creatine kinase (CK) and serum glucose levels, which boosts exercise performance.

A spore-forming probiotic, Bacillus subtilis (DE111), was studied in female collegiate athletes. In the study, 23 female division 1 soccer and volleyball players consumed either the probiotic or a placebo daily while training for 10 weeks. Those who took the supplement exhibited significant improvements in deadlift exercises as well as reduction in body fat percentage.


Conclusion

No matter what level or type of athlete you may be – or want to work to become – proper training techniques and a mindset squared on long-term health are a must. A great first step to get your head in the game can be to add probiotics to home-made smoothies (there are many recipes you can find for free on the internet).

Feeling and seeing your results from fitness is a heady experience as it nourishes self-confidence. And self-confidence nourishes the motivation to continue your chosen sport and athletic gains. Now get out there!

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