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Can Probiotics Help Me Get in Shape?

It’s not just New Year’s when people decide to ditch bad habits and get into shape – changing their diets and beginning exercise programs. Birthdays are good incentives, so are upcoming weddings and reunions. Or that moment when the clothes get too tight and the mirror is unkind.

Getting in shape is not merely dropping pounds – starvation (not recommended) will do that. Moving, working out, playing ball, exercise in general is a huge part of sculpting your body to not only look good but feel great. For example, did you know that working with weights (what trainers call “resistance training”) not only burns calories but enhances bone and joint health?

There are always fad diet products and diets that come and go in a flash, but to get into great physical shape you just need to do some simple math. According to one study that examined where the fat disappears to during weight loss, the solution remains irrefutable – “eat less, move more.”

That single muffin for breakfast may be deceiving – if you think it’s not much. A typical muffin supplies you with approximately 20% of average daily energy needs. And then you eat lunch and dinner, and likely a “healthy” snack in between. It all adds up. The authors write, “Physical activity as a weight loss strategy is, therefore, easily foiled by relatively small quantities of excess food."

A calorie is an energy unit, and counting calories makes sense when committing to get into shape. In fact, in human clinical studies looking at the calorie equation – called “overfeeding” studies – all of them found that when people consumed more calories than they used (via exercise) they gained weight. One meta-analysis validated this, noting that studies where participants counted and monitored calorie intake had effective weight loss.

It’s not difficult to do. But you do need to commit to learning about foods as well as reading and interpreting labels. There are many internet resources. Try the Calorie Control Council.

Calorie counting and monitoring your diet is important when starting to work out and adding exercise to your lifestyle.

Beginning to exercise is the hardest part, but as it becomes routine and people see and feel results, they become more devoted as their fitness levels rise – increased strength, agility and endurance will increase enthusiasm and commitment to working out. And eventually, you become more athletic.

Working with a personal trainer is the best way to stick with a fitness routine and develop musculature and aerobic endurance. One study showed that women who used a personal trainer had greater strength values than those who worked out without one.

In general, building your fitness and athleticism requires both aerobic and strength/resistance training. Strength coach Christopher Smith, CSCS writes, “An effective athlete should have a balance of strength, explosiveness and conditioning.”

Aerobic exercise is a lower-intensity exercise that builds endurance, such as cycling, walking/jogging/running. Strength training is anaerobic, which is weight lifting or sprinting. Smith asserts, “Contrary to what some internet gurus have been trying to say recently, development of both systems is vital to overall athletic performance and maximum physique results.”

To develop an athletic physique, you would want to burn fat to improve your lean body mass (muscle to fat). Lean body mass is comprised of bones, ligaments, tendons and organs, and the higher this is, the more in shape you are. Women have more body fat than men due to inherent physiology, and thus even athletic women have lower levels of lean body mass.

Athletic women typically have lean body mass percentages between 81 and 91 percent and athletic men have between 84 and 94 percent.

What Sports Supplements Work?

Creatine: Creatine is a supplement widely studied and shown to enhance energy for performance. It helps create adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the energy molecule that supplies muscles. One review showed that creatine supplementation can provide up to 15 percent greater gains in strength and fat-free mass, as well as performance.

Citrulline malate: The amino acid citrulline (found in watermelon) has several actions beneficial for fitness and athletics. It increases the amino acid l-arginine, which increases exercise performance, and also helps increase nitric oxide synthesis, promoting blood flow. When combined with malate, this supplement may accelerate stores of adenosine triphosphate, increasing aerobic energy production, which enhances performance.

Protein: Protein is a macronutrient (composed of amino acids) and there are different types, with whey (from dairy) being the most popular in the athletic community. However, more plant-based proteins, such as pea, soy, and others are gaining popularity, especially for those fitness enthusiasts who have difficulty digesting whey protein. Protein is needed for muscles to build, maintain and repair. Working out accelerates protein oxidation and breakdown, followed by an increase in muscle protein synthesis (building muscle). This cycle requires you to consume more protein.

BCAAs: Branched-chain amino acids – valine, leucine and isoleucine – help build muscle by preserving glycogen stores (glycogen is a form of glucose the body uses for energy), allowing for extended workouts. Another benefit of BCAAs’ ability to preserve glycogen is sparing muscle protein as glycogen stores prevent muscle protein breakdown.

What Probiotics Help Enhance Exercise and Fitness?

Probiotics are not yet immediately thought of or embraced by athletes and trainers, but this is changing and for several reasons. The realm of strains provides immune support, as well as sports performance enhancement and promotion of muscle recovery. In short, probiotics are a well-rounded “BFF” for any athlete or fitness enthusiast.

People who train and compete vigorously are more likely to increase the number of upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs) – evidence shows, for example, that runners who logged higher mileage per week and year had increased risk of URTI.

One randomized controlled trial aimed to determine the effectiveness of probiotics on the number, duration and severity of infections in 30 elite union rugby players, for four weeks. During the supplementation period, 14 out of 30 never had a single URTI compared to 6 out of 30 during the placebo period.

Lactobacillus casei Shirota has been demonstrated to reduce URTIs in both men and women who engaged in endurance activities during four months of winter training. The placebo group had an overall 36% higher rate of one or more weeks with URIT symptoms than those in the probiotic group.

Probiotics also support an athlete’s diet. Because protein supplementation is de rigeuer for fitness enthusiasts and athletes, they can likely achieve better results from taking probiotics. One strain  Bacillus coagulans GBI-30, 6086 – was shown in a study to increase protein absorption (essential amino acids) and to maximize the health benefits associated with protein supplementation. It can do so because it survives the stomach’s acidic environment to colonize or germinate in the small intestine, where it expedites absorption of protein.

Bacillus coagulans GBI-30, 6086 was also shown to have a recovery-increasing effect when taken with protein. In one study of 29 athletic men, those taking a combination of the probiotic with casein experienced significantly increased recovery at two and three days after a bout of intense, muscle-damaging exercise, versus those in the placebo group. The authors concluded that “probiotic supplementation in combination with protein tended to reduce indices of muscle damage, improves recovery, and maintains physical performance subsequent to damaging exercise.”

Other probiotics can help shorten post-play or post-workout recovery. One double-blind placebo-controlled trial of resistance-trained men showed that taking a combination of Bifidobacterium breve BR03 (DSMZ 16604) and Streptococcus thermophilus FP4 (DSMZ 18616) for 21 days prior to a muscle-damaging exercise reduced inflammatory markers post-exercise and reduces the effects of performance decrements.


Exercise loses its “chore” characteristic when you see and feel gains. Then, working out becomes something to look forward to, as you continually meet and exceed new goals you set forth for yourself. This confidence feeds over into other areas of your life. Watching your diet (being conscious of the caloric equation) and enjoying your fitness creates a state of health and well-being that increases your quality of life in numerous ways. Probiotics are an essential part of your fitness lifestyle.


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