Probiotics Improve Athletic Performance, Recovery Times
The microbes in our bodies not only affect our gut – they can also affect our athletic performance. This is not just me saying this. Multiple recent studies have come to this conclusion.
Athletes tested with probiotics
The first of the two studies comes from the New Zealand School of Sport and Exercise and Texas Christian University. The researchers tested 15 athletes that began with a three-week wash-out period (a period of time that tests the subjects before any supplementation) then three weeks of testing. The research was placebo controlled, but also had a crossover design.
For each three weeks of supplementation, the researchers gave the athletes a placebo or a daily supplement of containing five billion CFUs of Streptococcus thermophilus and Bifidobacterium breve. Then after another washout period, the probiotics were given to those who took the placebo and a placebo given to the supplementation group for another three weeks.
Then the researchers tested the athletes before and after some vigorous workouts.
After and before the workouts, the researchers tested each athlete’s muscle strength, muscle soreness, muscle range of motion and muscle girth. They also tested inflammation and muscle recovery factors, which included interleukin-6 (IL-6) and creatine kinase (CK) concentrations. They tested these factors at 24 hours, 48 hours and 72 hours after the workouts.
The researchers found that the probiotic supplementation resulted in decreased circulating IL-6. This means they had less inflammation, which means their reduced recovery times, as inflammation levels tend to spike during the workout recovery phase.
This effect of reduced inflammation lasted for two days after the workout for the probiotic group.
The probiotics also increased the athletes’ muscle strength during the recovery period. The strength increases ranged from 8 to 12 percent.
The probiotic groups also had decreased fatigue compared to the placebo groups.
The scientists concluded:
“These data suggest that dietary supplementation with probiotic strains S. thermophilus FP4 and B. breve BR03 attenuates performance decrements and muscle tension in the days following muscle-damaging exercise.”
Results confirmed by other research
These results were not a fluke. A 2015 study from Louisiana State University tested 67 young men and women. They were divided into four groups. For 15 weeks, one group did endurance training and drank kefir. Another group did the endurance training and drank a placebo beverage. The other group was active but didn’t do the training and drank the kefir. The last group was also just active and drank the placebo beverage.
At the end of the 15-week period, the researchers found that the training increased 1.5 mile run times and the kefir consumption decreased levels of CRP (C-reactive protein) – which is a marker for inflammation – for these runners. The fact that CRP levels were reduced in the kefir group illustrated better athletic recovery – and thus better performance in the long run.
A 2014 study from the University of Tasmania tested ten male runners for four weeks. They were given either 45 billion CFUs of probiotics or a placebo. After the four weeks, those who took the placebo took the probiotics for another four weeks.
The researchers tested the runner’s blood, ventilation capacity, fatigue levels and intestinal permeability levels.
The study found that the probiotics significantly improved running times to fatigue. The probiotics groups averaged 37:44 minutes while the control groups averaged 33:00 minutes. (More is better, because this is time running until fatigued.)
Other studies have found similar results. A review of the research by the Australian Institute of Sport found that probiotic supplementation also helped decrease illnesses among athletes, and helped their ability to travel and compete.
Legal performance enhancement
While supplementing with probiotic foods and supplements won’t turn you into a hulk or superman (or superwoman), they can certainly give you an edge. That edge comes in the form of improved recovery times and, less fatigue, slightly increased endurance and even some slight improvements in muscle strength.
This of course is predicated upon training during your supplementation.
Jäger R, Purpura M, Stone JD, Turner SM, Anzalone AJ, Eimerbrink MJ, Pane M, Amoruso A, Rowlands DS, Oliver JM. Probiotic Streptococcus thermophilus FP4 and Bifidobacterium breve BR03 Supplementation Attenuates Performance and Range-of-Motion Decrements Following Muscle Damaging Exercise. Nutrients. 2016 Oct 14;8(10).
O’Brien KV, Stewart LK, Forney LA, Aryana KJ, Prinyawiwatkul W, Boeneke CA. The effects of postexercise consumption of a kefir beverage on performance and recovery during intensive endurance training. J Dairy Sci. 2015 Nov;98(11):7446-9. doi: 10.3168/jds.2015-9392.
Shing CM, Peake JM, Lim CL, Briskey D, Walsh NP, Fortes MB, Ahuja KD, Vitetta L. Effects of probiotics supplementation on gastrointestinal permeability, inflammation and exercise performance in the heat. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2014 Jan;114(1):93-103. doi: 10.1007/s00421-013-2748-y.
Pyne DB, West NP, Cox AJ, Cripps AW. Probiotics supplementation for athletes – clinical and physiological effects. Eur J Sport Sci. 2015;15(1):63-72. doi: 10.1080/17461391.2014.971879.
Case Adams is a California Naturopath and a Board Certified Alternative Medicine Practitioner with a PhD in Natural Health Sciences, and diplomas in Homeopathy, Aromatherapy, Bach Flower Remedies, Blood Chemistry, Clinical Nutritional Counseling and Colon Hydrotherapy. He has authored 26 books on natural healing strategies.