Nutrition plays an important role in your training routine, and it can enhance or hinder your workout performance, depending on the food you’re eating throughout the day. It's especially important post-workout, when your body needs fuel within 30 minutes to an hour to repair damaged muscles and speed up recovery.
So, what are probiotics, and why do they matter? Here’s why you should add more probiotics to your diet and training routine, according to registered dietitian Kelly Jones MS, RD, CSSD, LDN.
What Are the Benefits of Probiotics?
“Probiotics are live cultures in foods or supplements that colonize in the digestive tract to impact the microbiome,” Jones says. Sources of probiotics include cultured dairy (Greek yogurt and kefir), kombucha (a.k.a. fermented tea), slow pickled veggies (sauerkraut and kimchi), as well as miso and Gochujang, both of which can boost flavor in sauces, marinades, and dressings.
According to Jones, a highly diverse microbiome — meaning there’s more bacteria present and in a high variety of cultures — offers many benefits, including an enhanced immune system function, metabolism, mood, digestion, and energy use, which boosts both performance and recovery.
“What is most important with probiotics is getting a variety, so having only kombucha with a single strain, or only a yogurt product with one strain added, won’t be nearly as beneficial as having a variety of probiotic foods,” Jones explains.
If supplementing, look for a brand that lists several culture types on the label or has a science-backed, magical probiotic formula that packs all essentials in one. Getting probiotics from food sources alone should be sufficient, but supplementing can be a great aid for training sessions where you’re feeling under the weather or extra groggy.
Probiotics Increase the Absorption of Certain Nutrients to Energize Muscles
Probiotics support the microbiome, which influences energy metabolism.
“A diverse microbiome may be able to better extract energy from foods eaten and better deliver that energy into the bloodstream,” says Jones.
Protein and fat are two macronutrients that are essential for post-workout recovery, as well as fueling, building, strengthening, and protecting muscle tissue from damage during training. Plus, those nutrients join other energy sources, like bacteria and other compounds, which send signals to aid in normal energy metabolism. With more energy and greater absorption of nutrients for use, the body functions more efficiently thanks to its additional energy supply.
“It is safe to say that regular fatigue can be due to many different issues, but an unhealthy microbiome may contribute as well,” Jones says.
Probiotics Aid in Improved Hydration and Electrolyte Status
“Microbiota may influence electrolyte transport through the gut to benefit hydration status,” Jones says.
With more electrolyte stores, muscles are able to perform at their best, since they’ll be energized, well hydrated, and fueled to prevent cramping and fatigue mid- and post-workout. And the need for electrolyte stores and probiotic relief is particularly heightened when you have a morning workout, but know that you might be out the night before, perhaps drinking alcohol and getting poor sleep.
That's where drinking a pre-alcohol probiotic the night before may help. ZBiotics, the world's first genetically engineered probiotic, targets and breaks down alcohol’s byproduct acetaldehyde (a.k.a. the bad guy responsible for your rough morning). Invented by PhDs, ZBiotics is unique in that it goes straight to the source as a way to provide relief most efficiently.
Plus, the ingredient list is simple: water, natural flavor, ZBiotics’ bioengineered probiotic formula, and nothing else. If you’re giving it a shot, make sure to time it right. Drink ZBiotics before you take your first sip of an alcoholic beverage and get a head start.
You Can Train Harder With Fewer Sick Days
“Many factors impact immunity and recovery, including adequate calorie intake, the types of fats ingested, adequate carbohydrates and protein, antioxidant intake through whole-plant foods, sleep, stress, and the microbiome,” says Jones.
Probiotics play a role, too, as they feed and nourish the microbiome.
“Early research indicates that prolonged ingestion of some lactobacilli strains may have a positive effect on athlete's immunity,” says Jones. “Other research suggests that lower amounts of Bifidobacterium may correlate with poor diversity and higher inflammation, implying that supplementing with that strain may positively impact immunity as well,"
Probiotics Repair Muscle Damage and Boost Recovery
While stronger immunity is linked with the prevention of illness and a common cold, there are more benefits to having a healthy, high-immunity level, and they extend to muscle recovery post-workout.
“Your immune system is also a major part of recovery processes, such as muscle repair and inflammatory processes, which can impact joint and heart health,” says Jones.
Plus, probiotics also promote the repair of damaged muscle tissue from exposure to oxidative stress while you’re working out. Probiotics also increase the absorption of antioxidants, which leads to lower inflammation and speeds the muscles’ healing process.
“Antioxidant intake is now being shown to benefit gut microbiota, too, and there have been associations with less oxidative stress,” says Jones.
High-antioxidant foods are bright and colorful, so eat the rainbow for workout benefits.
The Correlation Between the Microbiome and Stress
One of the biggest benefits individuals may get from a diverse microbiome is a decreased amount of stress.
“There is a strong connection between the gut and the brain via the gut-brain axis,” says Jones. “Digestive stress and an unhealthy microbiome lead to mental stress and vice versa,”
So, by having a strong microbiome, those with high activity levels may be able to better respond to the high-stress demands on their bodies. Mental and physical stress are both bad for athletes in training. A poor mindset can cause you to get too far deep inside your head, to get buried in anxiety-provoking, negative-talk thoughts that will distract you from performing at your best and reaching your goals. And if your body feels tension, it will also be harder to perform with max effort during your workouts.
Digestion Is Smooth and Regular
“Consumption of probiotics, in addition to carbohydrates such as fiber and oligosaccharides, can support a good intestinal bacteria balance," Jones says.
Bowel consistency will keep your digestive system healthy and decrease bloating, water weight, and GI discomfort. You’ll be able to train harder and longer without cramping, or feeling heavy and full. Plus, a happier gut leads to stronger immunity.