Probiotics, Prebiotics And The Athlete

Lately, there is a great interest between athletes and sport enthusiasts about nutrition and supplements that affect the intestinal flora. There are studies and researches that show improvement in health, performance and immune system when probiotics and prebiotics are included in the diet. These functional foods have direct and favourable impact on the “good” bacteria that live in our intestines making us healthier.

When we hear the word “bacteria”, we usually connect it to “bad bacteria” and disease. But not all bacteria are bad. In fact, only a small number of bacteria strains are bad, while the other are basically harmless and some (like lactobacillus and acidophilus) are even good for us. These “good” bacteria that live in our gut are responsible for our good health and immune system, primarily for the efficient functioning of our digestive system.

According to Jürgen Schrezenmeir and Michael de Vrese from the Institute of Physiology and Biochemistry of Nutrition – Kiel, Germany  Probiotics are: “A preparation or product containing viable, defined micro-organisms in sufficient numbers, which alter the microflora of the host intestine and, by that, exert beneficial health effects on the host”

Probiotics can be found in yougurt and probiotic supplement powdes and they contain the bifidus and acidophilus bacteria strains. Studies have shown that the colonies in our gut can grow with increased intake of probiotics,which leads to increased digestive system functionality, increased immune system function and also a bigger resistance of the body to food allergies and food intolerances.

On the other hand prebiotics are the food of our gut micro flora. Increasing the prebiotics intake will also increase our “good” bacteria numbers in the intestines. Prebiotics are basically low molecular weight carbohydrates that can be found in foods like onions, wheat, garlic and chicory root.

So how can these functional foods help the athlete?

Weightlifters, bodybuilders and any athlete that works out very intense has a increased need for protein and calorie intake. As I mentioned before, the bigger the colony of bacteria in the intestines, the more efficient your digestive system will be. In other words you’ll be able to consume more protein and calories without overloading your digestive system, without stomach bloating, upsets and gases. Also the improved immune system function will keep diseases at bay and contribute to faster recovery after an intense workout done in the gym.

With today’s food processing, pollution and antibiotic therapy, the numbers of bacteria living in our gut are greatly reduced. Research has shown that consumption of probiotics and prebiotics has significantly increased “good” gut bacteria numbers were increased and this had favourable impact on the immune system and digestion.

A good way to take protein, prebiotics and probiotics are today’s yogurt drinks. In these drinks bacteria colonies are contained in a prebiotic environment, keeping them more active.

Probiotic supplements are also a good choice because bacteria numbers are quite larger than in yougurt drinks and also more than one kind of useful bacteria are contained in a single supplement capsule.

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