Why Probiotics Are a Must-Have for Athletes – Top 9 Ways They Can Help

By Ross Pelton

Scientific Director, Essential Formulas

Ross Pelton is a pharmacist, nutritionist, author and a health educator who is widely recognized as the world’s leading authority on drug-induced nutrient depletions. He was named one of the top 50 most influential pharmacists in the United States by American Druggist magazine for his work in Natural Medicine.

When you’re looking for an edge for better athletic performance, it’s easy to be enticed by all the different products that claim they’ll build muscle, improve energy levels, and increase endurance.

What about probiotics for sport and fitness? They’ve been in the news lately, many food products now include them, and supplements are available everywhere. What does the science say, and how can probiotics help you improve your fitness levels?

1. Improved Nutrient Absorption and Digestion

Endurance athletes have a greater incidence of gastrointestinal issues because blood flow goes to the muscles and skin and away from the GI tract. This action can cause abdominal pain while training and after, damage the cell wall mucosa, and change the protective microorganisms in the intestines. The athlete might experience nausea, bloating, cramping, and diarrhea.

Supplementing with a combination probiotic capsule for 28 days before a recreational race resulted in significantly lower GI symptom severity in endurance athletes. They experienced reduced GI symptoms during a marathon and kept up their running pace toward the end of the race.

Based on current research, The International Society of Sports Nutrition‘s stand is that certain probiotic strains improve the body’s ability to absorb nutrients, especially amino acids from protein.

2. Enhanced Immunity

Excessive athletic training can depress the immune system. The effects on immunity can be exacerbated by sleep disruption, weather extremes, and mental stress accompanying preparation for competition and the competition itself. A depressed immune system can lead to increased upper respiratory infections, hindering athletic performance.

Science indicates that 70% of the immune system is in the gut, and studies have shown probiotics positively affect gut health and immune response. Because of this dynamic, studies have shown that a good balance of probiotics in the intestinal microbiome reduces he number, length, and strength of upper respiratory concerns  in endurance athletes.

3. Reduced Inflammation and Muscle Damage

Endurance athletes are no strangers to inflammation and muscle pain after an intense training session. Without sufficient recovery time, these symptoms can negatively impact athletic performance. Can probiotics help by supporting helpful microbes and releasing anti-inflammatory molecules?

In a study of 29 recreational athletes, one group received probiotics and additional protein; another group received only the protein supplement over two weeks. After a heavy workout, both groups experienced muscle soreness and a need for recovery time. Both groups increased muscle damage, swelling, and blood urea nitrogen levels.

The group that did not take the probiotics had reduced performance levels, and the group that took the probiotics maintained performance levels. The study concluded that probiotic supplementation with protein reduced muscle damage, improved recovery, and maintained physical performance after an intense workout.

4. Improved Gut Health

Recent research shows a strong relationship between gut health and overall health. Research is ongoing, but studies show that gut health impacts immune function, mental health, endocrine imbalances,, heart health, autoimmune concerns, and more.

When you consume beneficial bacteria in food or a supplement, it passes into the intestines and creates colonies. These colonies begin to crowd out pathogenic or harmful bacteria. As they grow, the different strains begin to perform helpful actions in the body, including creating specific vitamins and aiding nutrient absorption.

Improved nutrition supports an athletic body style, but it also supports training activities, exercise performance, recovery, and even cognitive outcomes.

5. Increased Endurance and Performance

Can probiotic consumption improve endurance and performance? A 2021 study introduced probiotic yogurt to a set of adolescent swimmers and a supplement to endurance runners. The swimmers increased VO2, a measure of aerobic capacity, and the endurance runners improved fatigue times in a hot environment.

Science bears out a connection between probiotics and performance, although scientists are still studying the exact causal relationship. What mechanism in the body responded to the probiotics? Were the athletes able to train more because they had less muscle damage, inflammation, or upper respiratory infections?   Additional research will hopefully yield more complete anwsers.

6. Enhanced Recovery

Workout or competition recovery time is critical for athletes or those working toward greater fitness. Stringent workouts can leave the athlete with exercise-induced muscle damage, fatigue, muscle damage, and metabolic responses. Do probiotics aid in recovery time?

A study of triathletes after a race found that a group that took a probiotic supplement significantly increased maximal power, experienced less fatigue, and improved endurance. The group that did not take the probiotic reached exhaustion sooner.

7. Improved Energy Levels

The human body cannot manufacture most of the vitamins our bodies need; vitamin D is the exception. Consequently, we need to get most of our nutritional elements from food. But studies show a dynamic that goes deeper than a direct one-to-one relationship.

Science has long identified a link between B vitamin availability in the body and energy levels. More recently, scientists have discovered that certain probiotics help the body synthesize the B vitamins our bodies need to release the energy contained in proteins, carbohydrates, and fats, break down amino acids, and transport oxygen and energy in your body.

8. Increased Muscle Mass

Scientific and athletic circles know that protein paired with resistance exercise builds muscle. Protein also helps preserve muscle mass and limits age-related muscle loss. Probiotics for bodybuilding appear to have a role in protein absorption once they have colonized the intestines.

Studies indicate probiotics can help increase muscle mass and endurance and reduce body fat. Scientists gave untrained subjects a single-strain probiotic for six weeks. Participants who received a higher dose of the probiotic had increased muscle mass compared with those who didn’t take the supplement.

9. Improved Mental Health and Well-Being

Athletics and fitness involve not only the physical body but the mental and psychological systems as well. While research is ongoing, there is growing evidence that probiotics can improve mental health for athletes, balancing inflammation, bringing down stress and anxiety, and heightening cognitive function.

Recommended Usage for Athletes

How much probiotics does it take for athletes to improve gut health? Since the strengths and strains of various probiotics are different, the safest approach is to follow the manufacturers’ recommended use and instructions or your doctor’s instructions.

A well-rounded probiotic will have several strains that produce different effects in the body and help prevent too high of a concentration of one strain.

Choosing the Right Probiotic Supplement

Finding the right probiotic supplement among the variety available on store shelves can be challenging. Make sure the one you choose has multiple strains of both Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria groups with a shelf life of at least two years.

What’s just as important as what’s in a supplement is what is not. Does the manufacturer state that the supplement has no chemicals, preservatives, or colorings? Is it non-GMO and vegetarian?

Check Out Our Probiotics Specifically Made for Athletes

Current research shows a strong correlation between probiotics and an athlete or fitness enthusiast’s improved performance, energy levels, muscle mass, immunity, and recovery time.

Choosing the correct formulation, variety, and quality can make all the difference in your results. Ask questions, do your research, and talk with your doctor.


By Ross Pelton, RPh, PhD, CCN
Scientific Director, Essential Formulas

Ross Pelton is a pharmacist, nutritionist, author and a health educator who is widely recognized as the world’s leading authority on drug-induced nutrient depletions. He was named one of the top 50 most influential pharmacists in the United States by American Druggist magazine for his work in Natural Medicine.

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