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How can probiotics support gastrointestinal functions in elite athletes?

How can probiotics support gastrointestinal functions in elite athletes?

Article 2 of 4. While the Tokyo Olympic games are ongoing, we offer you a series of articles based on the four demonstrated modes of action probiotics can play for athletes to optimize their wellbeing [Jäger 2019], as recognized by the International Society for Sport Nutrition (ISSN). These four effects of probiotics are:

  1. boost natural defenses
  2. maintain gut barrier integrity
  3. improve antioxidant capacity
  4. decrease occasional stress through the brain-gut axis

 Athletes and their perception of the sports nutrition market

About 70% of sports nutrition and dietary food supplements consumers are considering adding probiotics to their diet and 30% are already looking for specific probiotic strains on supplement’s label before purchasing as some of them can help strengthen natural defenses, prevent health issues and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Athletes and active people are health-aware and have a holistic approach: they don’t only look for improving performance, but they also understand that they need to take care of themselves and stay in super shape inside and out.

Probiotics help maintain athletes’ gut barrier integrity

Mild-to-moderate intensity exercise plays a protective role for the gut whereas strenuous workouts, along with some specific diets or poor hydration, can affect gastrointestinal functions. Exercise-induced gut disturbances can impair general well-being and consequently training sessions. During exercise, the blood supply is mobilized to the lungs and heart, to the detriment of other organs. The gut smooth muscles can be deprived of up to 80% of their normal blood flow, thus of sugar and oxygen. This phenomenon can lead to perturbations in gut motility and damage to intestinal epithelial cells, increasing gut permeability [Van Wijck, 2011]. Exercise-induced gastrointestinal disturbances manifest in diarrhea, vomiting and acid reflux, which can impair training and performance.

Probiotics’ ability to help balance and restore the intestinal microbial ecosystems is widely recognized. Their modes of action are increasingly well documented, and it has been shown that probiotic bacteria can adhere to the gut epithelium, preventing the adhesion of opportunistic microorganisms. For example, it has been demonstrated that Lactobacillus helveticus Rosell®-52 reinforces the gut barrier by strengthening the junctions between epithelial cells and maintaining the gut permeability [Sherman, 2005]. The probiotic yeast Saccharomyces boulardii communicates with cells lining the gut (enterocytes) and helps to preserve their integrity and normal metabolism. In addition, this probiotic yeast also shows a positive effect on the junctions of epithelial cells. Lallemand Health Solutions has developed a selection of dedicated probiotic strains and formulas to address various dimensions of gut health and overall well-being, as coveted by athletes.

Published Jul 28, 2021 | Updated Mar 7, 2024

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