Better digestion is not the only benefit of probiotics. Probiotics can help give you better mood, clearer skin, a stronger immune system, and they can also allow you to get the most out of your workout. Research shows that the bacteria located in your gut have a major influence on your health and athletic performance.
Why Good Bacteria Matters for Bodybuilding
Gut health is a relatively new area of research and all the benefits are still being uncovered. However, it’s already clear that optimizing the ratio of good bacteria to bad bacteria in the gut has a wide range of benefits, including improvements in blood lipid levels, reduced muscle damage and better muscular recovery, better cognitive function and emotional health.
In addition, supplementing with probiotics may help you shed that stubborn belly fat! A study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition investigated whether probiotics help you lose weight.
In this study, each participant was given either a probiotic-enriched or a regular yogurt on a daily basis. The researchers found that those who ate the probiotic-enriched yogurt experienced significantly greater weight loss and abdominal fat loss compared to the placebo group. Researchers hypothesized that the beneficial bacteria inhibited fat storage, leading to weight loss.
If you laid out your intestines, they would cover the surface area of a tennis court, and you would see a thick layer of bacteria on top. We have trillions of bacteria inside us. Some are beneficial or good bacteria, and others are unfriendly bad bacteria.
When the bad bacteria outnumber the good, it can lead to a variety of problems: feeling sluggish and weak, being prone to various diseases, depression, anxiety, poor digestion, just to name a few. It may also be more difficult to build muscle mass.
Therefore, by ingesting a quality probiotic will billions of good bacteria, consisting of various strains, you are slowly but surely restoring your gut health.
Here are some ways that a healthy gut microbiome can help bodybuilders:
- It influences the body mass composition (the proportion of muscle vs. fat)
- It reduces inflammation and the impact of stress athletes put on the body
- It contributes to mental fortitude, increasing pain tolerance, improving your endurance, attitude, mood, all of which are essential for training.
- It can speed up your metabolism
- It can reduce fatigue through better lactic acid breakdown
- It promotes digestion and food absorption for energy production
- It helps you stay hydrated because your body uses water more efficiently
- It can strengthen bones by increasing the mineral absorption of calcium and magnesium, which is especially helpful in recovering from sport-related trauma
In addition, athletes going through intense training are at great risk of infection due to exhaustive exercise, stress, intense training schedules, and lack of sleep. All these factors can increase an athlete’s risk of getting sick. Probiotic supplements may play a significant role in keeping athletes happy and healthy during intense training.
Also, during strenuous exercise, bad bacteria can leak from the gut into the bloodstream to trigger inflammation. By improving the health of the gut lining, probiotics may reduce leakage and control inflammation.
In a 2015 study published in The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, researchers found that subjects with a greater diversity of intestinal flora produced a greater amount of antioxidant enzymes that abate the physiological stresses associated with intense physical activity.
One of the most obvious benefits of probiotics is, of course, digestion. Many bodybuilders eat 5-6 protein-rich meals and consume up to 3000 calories a day. This can lead to indigestion, bloating, fatigue, and constipation. After taking my Rebalance probiotic supplement, many reported almost immediate relief of the above symptoms.
Prebiotics Feed Probiotics
Prebiotics are nondigestible carbohydrates that stimulate the growth of good bacteria. They are usually fibers, like insulin, and are found in a variety of raw (uncooked) foods. Like probiotics, they can protect the intestines from unfriendly bacteria, but unlike probiotics, they are not live bacteria themselves. Prebiotics can complement the action of probiotics by feeding the good bacteria.
Certain food products, such as Kefir, contain both probiotics (live bacteria) and prebiotics (substances to help the growth of good bacteria) and are therefore considered synbiotic products. Likewise, a good probiotic supplement may contain a prebiotic, which will feed the beneficial bacteria that are introduced into your gut, helping the good bacteria survive and increasing its efficacy.
Early studies have also linked prebiotics to weight management. Interestingly, the foods that are considered high in prebiotics are also termed calorie burning foods. Therefore, those of you looking to shed some weight and reveal those awesome six-packs can benefit double from a prebiotic.
Getting the Most Out of Your Probiotics
With so many probiotic supplements out there, how do you choose the right one to give you the benefits you’re looking for? Here is your probiotic cheatsheet.
As a rule of thumb, the more strains, the better. Choose a supplement with at least three strains. There are many types of probiotic bacteria species, but the two most common are lactobacillus and bifidobacterium. You'll find one or both in most probiotic supplements, as well as in fermented dairy, such as yogurt and kefir. Each strain has a unique function in the gut, and multiple strains give you a better chance that several of them will colonize.
Billions of CFU (Colony Forming Units)
Probiotic bacteria work by forming colonies, and you need billions of them for that. Since there are trillions of bacteria in the gut, adding just a few million would be like a drop in the ocean -- that’s not enough to be effective. You need about three billion CFU’s daily if you are in relatively good health and have a normally-functioning digestive system. If you’ve recently taken antibiotics, you’re experiencing higher stress, you can consider going up to 20 billion CFU’s. I suggest starting lower, though, to allow your body to adjust, and working your way up.
As I wrote earlier, a prebiotic will work together with the probiotic, feeding the good bacteria. The good bacteria needs nourishment in the form of prebiotics. You might as well get a probiotic supplement that already has a prebiotic in it rather than trying to get the necessary prebiotics from food alone.
No Additives or GMO’s
If you’re trying to do the right thing for your body by eating right, exercising, and taking a probiotic supplement, you want to make sure that the product you take doesn’t have unnecessary and harmful ingredients, allergens, and fillers, such as corn, soy, gluten, etc. Although there is no reason for them, unfortunately, many products out there contain harmful ingredients.
GMP Certified and Manufactured in the USA
Due to the diligence required to manufacture a quality probiotic supplement with billions of live bacteria, you simply cannot settle for less.
Check the expiration date and refrigeration requirements
Some probiotics need to be refrigerated. Otherwise, the bacteria die out. The products that need to be refrigerated are not necessarily better than the ones that don’t -- it really depends on the specific strains used and other manufacturing processes. However, you still should check the label for any notes regarding possible refrigeration, and check to make sure the product is not close to the expiration date.
Can I Get Probiotics From Food?
Many fermented foods and beverages are probiotic-rich. These include yogurts, kefir, sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi, kombucha, tempeh, miso, buttermilk, and certain cheeses. Although it may be possible to get your ideal dose of probiotics from food alone, you have to be willing to commit to consuming these foods on a daily basis. Keep in mind that some may have a higher than ideal fat, sodium, or sugar content, and may contain gluten or other ingredients that may be undesirable for your bodybuilding goals.
Also, with the current marketing craze around the term “probiotic”, it may be difficult to tell which food products contain a sufficient amount of good bacteria, and which don’t. The simplest way to ensure that you’re getting the probiotics you need without drastically changing your diet is to supplement with a quality probiotic product.
As you can tell, there are many benefits to adding probiotics to your regime in order to help you meet your bodybuilding goals. The game plan for improving your gut health should include a quality probiotic supplement that contains a prebiotic, along with a healthy diet and exercise.
While many probiotic supplements promise the world but fail to deliver the results, with the help of this article I hope you’ll be able to find the needle in the haystack among probiotic supplements to help you look and feel your best.