Athletes are always looking for ways to improve their performance and elevate their game. Right now many athletes are getting in and/or trying to stay in olympic form as the 2020 summer games were postponed to 2021. Beyond traditional supplements, probiotics are a clean and possibly superior supplement to help athletes reach peak performance.
Probiotics and Performance
Probiotics work holistically to strengthen and maintain a healthy body. Unlike other supplements that give a temporary and superficial boost, probiotics work from the inside out. Some supplements are like a cortisone shot for a bum knee, they give a boost and can temporarily improve performance. In contrast, probiotics work in a way that is analogous to healing and strengthening the knee thereby improving performance from the inside out. Effective probiotics can help athletes reach peak performance in these six ways: 1. supporting and creating a healthy immune system, 2. improving muscle recovery, 3. reducing gut issues, 4. enhancing gut barrier integrity, 5. optimizing nutrition, and 6. heightening mental cognition.
“Exercise-induced alterations in the gut microbiome can influence health parameters crucial to athletic performance, specifically, immune function, lower susceptibility to infection, inflammatory response and tissue repair. Consequently, maintenance of a healthy gut microbiome is essential for an athlete’s health, training and performance.” 
1. Supporting and Creating a Healthy Immune System
The gastrointestinal (GI) tract houses 70-80% of our immune system, so an imbalance in our gut microbiome often leads to unwellness. Effective probiotics, with the right strains and proper dosing, work to balance the gut microbiome which in turn supports and creates a healthy immune system. A healthy immune system prevents unwanted illness and keeps the body firing on all cylinders.
Athletes naturally suffer from immune depression due to high training load, stress, disrupted sleep, and environmental extremes. This immune depression combined with being in high exposure situations — crowd exposure, travel, training or competition locations, etc. — is a recipe for potential sickness. Nevertheless, a double-blind, placebo-controlled study conducted among 20 healthy elite male distance runners illuminated the beneficial impact that an effective probiotic has on immune function. The study found that runners taking a probiotic, compared to runners taking placebo, reported less than half the number of days with respiratory symptoms along with reduced illness severity.
Getting sick and getting sick for an extended period of time can seriously setback athletes’ training and performance. Lost muscle, lost weight, and lost training time due to illness are huge disadvantages for athletes competing at any level. An effective probiotic can create and support a healthy immune system that can prevent potential sickness and mitigate the negative effects of sickness in order to keep you on the path to peak performance.
Takeaway: Probiotics can create and support a healthy immune system, keeping athletes healthy and on the path to peak performance.
2. Improving Muscle Recovery
Probiotics assist in proper nutrient absorption, and one of the nutrients they help absorb properly is protein. Dietary protein is key for building and maintaining muscle. Strenuous training for athletes is designed to strengthen and build muscle; probiotics can help in that process.
As an example, a 2016 study analyzed and recorded the perceptions, athletic performance, and muscle damage following an exercise bout for 29 recreationally-trained males after two weeks of supplementation either with 20g of casein (protein) or 20g of casein plus probiotic (in this case, 1 billion CFU Bacillus coagulans). Results from this study yielded evidence that “probiotic supplementation in combination with protein tended to reduce indices of muscle damage, improve recovery, and maintain physical performance subsequent to damaging exercise.”
“In response to muscle-damaging resistance exercise, probiotic supplementation (paired with protein) can expedite recovery and decrease soreness and other indices of skeletal muscle damage.”
In addition, a 2018 study “showed that probiotic supplementation significantly reduced postexercise blood lactate concentration.” Postexercise blood lactate concentration is a key indicator in measuring the amount of lactic acid production and accumulation in muscular cells. The delayed onset of muscle fatigue due to reduced lactic acid production and accumulation directly relates to improved muscle endurance and the ability to better sustain high performance levels.
Another study states, “Long-term supplementation with [Lactobacillus plantarum] may increase muscle mass, enhance energy harvesting, and have health-promotion, performance-improvement, and anti-fatigue effects.”
Takeaway: An effective probiotic can reduce muscle soreness, decrease muscle damage, and improve muscle recovery.
3. Reducing Gut Issues
Generally speaking, about 30-50% of athletes experience some sort of gut distress as a result of and/or during exercise. Gut issues can hamper training and recovery. These gut issues usually manifest as a result of prolonged workouts, when for long periods of time blood is directed away from the gut as the body responds to the needs of the activity.
Continuing on, any gut issues can be devastating for training and performance. Even if the gut issues are not caused by training or exercise they can stop an athlete from properly recovering and performing. All the energy and nutrition humans use is dependent on the gut’s ability to do its job. A gut that can’t properly digest food or absorb water for hydration leaves your body starved and dry (e.g., diarrhea will not allow your muscles to receive the nutrients and hydration they need to perform and recover).
Probiotics balance the gut microbiome which is essential for a healthy gut. A healthy microbiome can mitigate the gut distress that is faced as a result of exercise or otherwise.
Takeaway: Gut issues affect training and performance, a beneficial probiotic can mitigate or eliminate these issues.
4. Enhancing Gut Barrier Integrity
Athletes are especially susceptible to increased gut permeability due to intense and prolonged exercise, especially when done in the heat. Taking an effective probiotic can eliminate the potential damage to the gut by improving the integrity of the gut barrier. Probiotics can protect you from gut troubles without you having to sacrifice your performance or training.
Probiotics can strengthen your gut and improve its overall functionality. During intense, prolonged exercise—particularly in the heat—your gut can become permeable and not function as efficiently. When the tissue of the gut becomes loose and permeable, toxins exit the GI tract and enter into the bloodstream.
When toxins are released into the bloodstream, it can wreak havoc on the body, including developing possible infections. This activates your immune system to produce inflammation in an attempt to remove the toxins.
For both optimal sports performance and overall health, consider protecting your gut with a probiotic. Consuming certain probiotic strains may improve the health of the cells that make up the gut lining, thus strengthening the gut barrier and setting you up for a safe and successful workout.
Takeaway: Gut barrier integrity is important for limiting gut and inflammation issues, an effective probiotic works to enhance gut barrier integrity.
5. Optimizing Nutrition
The gut microbiomes of athletes are vastly different than those of sedentary individuals. Athletes’ microbiomes seem to innately possess the capacity to boost their muscular power, aerobic capacity, and energy expenditure.
“The athlete microbiome presents a functional capacity that is primed for tissue repair and to harness energy from the diet with increased capacity for carbohydrate, cell structure and nucleotide biosynthesis, reflecting the significant energy demands and high cell-turnover evident in elite sport.”
Adding a probiotic to your daily lifestyle can help capitalize on your gut’s ability to harvest energy. After all, a balanced gut with diversified bacteria can help harness energy from your diet. Probiotics unfortunately do not provide a dose of energy, but they can help your body absorb it, spend it, and store it wisely, giving you the push you need to finish your workout strong.
Takeaway: Athlete microbiomes seem to naturally adapt to support the athlete, adding a probiotic can capitalize on these natural changes to further support the athlete.
6. Heightening Mental Cognition
Every sport and performance has a mental component to it. Having sharp cognition is key for making split-second in-game decisions, seeing the path to victory, and firing on all cylinders.
The gut-brain axis is of great intrigue to many. The way the bacteria in our gut affect the thoughts and functioning of our brain, and vice versa, is fascinating. In fact a 2015 peer-reviewed article states, “There is increasing evidence that probiotics may be beneficial by reducing depressive and anxiety-like symptoms.”
The idea that probiotics can help to quell the symptoms associated with depression and anxiety should be a boon to many (disclaimer: not stating probiotics will cure depression or anxiety). Oftentimes those who are experiencing depressive and/or anxiety-like symptoms have a harder time making decisions, especially snap decisions like those required in sporting competitions, and being focused.
Furthermore, a study cited by the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that 3 weeks of probiotic supplementation increased feelings of clear-headedness, confidence, and elation. With a clear head, confidence, and focus athletes can perform at their peak.
Takeaway: A balanced gut microbiome can potentially heighten mental cognition and reduce depressive and anxiety-like symptoms.
Ultimately, there are many ways probiotics can directly benefit athletes and optimize workout performance. But perhaps the biggest takeaway is that not all probiotics are created equally. Supplementing your diet with probiotics will only be effective if they contain the right amount and combination of strains.
The strains contained in LYVECAP have been selected not only for their individual characteristics, but also for their synergistic activities. They work as a close team to perform what single strains or other combinations of strains may not do, and have been clinically proven to make a difference. Give your body the boost it deserves and start getting the most out of your workouts.