Probiotics have become the latest health buzzword. These “good” bacteria found naturally in fermented foods and yogurt that contains active cultures have a variety of health benefits that are causing health conscious people to take notice. Even athletes and people who work out can benefit from getting more of these healthy bacteria. Here’s why.
Benefits of Probiotics for Athletes and Active People
At one time, researchers questioned whether probiotics might act as an ergogenic aid to boost sports performance, but research has failed to confirm this. Probiotics don’t seem to enhance speed, power or endurance in athletes, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have benefits.
Training puts enormous stress on the body, especially people who work out more than once a day or do endurance exercise like long distance running. One of the consequences of this stress is a weakened immune system that puts athletes at risk for cold and flu viruses. That’s where probiotics come in.
In one small study, twenty endurance athletes who took a probiotic supplement experienced half the number of days coughing and sneezing due to colds and other viral infections as those who didn’t take probiotics. When they looked further, they found that levels of gamma interferon, a component of the immune system that helps to fight infection was higher among the athletes that took probiotics.
If you work out in a public place like a gym, you’re constantly exposed to cold and flu viruses. How many times have you heard someone sneezing or hacking away on the treadmill? Some people are so addicted to exercise that they won’t take a day off even when they’re sick, so they spread their virus around the gym. Probiotics may help to keep viruses in check while creating a healthier environment in the intestines.
Another problem some women experience when they work out frequently are vaginal yeast infections caused by Candida. Yeast thrive under the warm, moist conditions created by tight athletic clothing and sweat. There’s some evidence that probiotic bacteria help to keep Candida in check so they’re less likely to cause an unpleasant yeast infection.
Some research even shows that probiotic bacteria help with weight loss, at least after pregnancy. When Finnish researchers gave pregnant women a probiotic supplement during their first trimester of pregnancy, they were able to lose the weight they gained during pregnancy more quickly than women who didn’t take probiotics.
How to Get the Benefits of Probiotics
You can get the benefits of probiotics by eating yogurt that contains active cultures. Other good sources of probiotics are fermented foods like miso, tempeh, kimchi, kefir and sauerkraut. If none of these appeal to you, there are probiotic supplements available at most health food stores. Look for a probiotic supplement that contains at least a billion bacteria per gram, and choose one that’s enteric-coated to keep the bacteria viable when they reach the acidic environment of your stomach. Buy from a reputable manufacturer and refrigerate to protect them from heat. Talk to your doctor before taking a probiotic supplement. If you have immune problems, you may not be a candidate.
Probiotics for Athletes: The Bottom Line?
Taking probiotics won’t help your endurance or make you stronger, but it may give you extra protection against colds, viruses and yeast infections, which are common problems among athletes. Start the day with a container of plain yogurt with active cultures that you’ve sweetened naturally with chopped fruit and berries. You’ll benefit from the protein, calcium, and the antioxidants in the fruit as well as the probiotics.
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