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Probiotics provide a competitive edge in sports nutrition

The gut flora performs a variety of functions that are important for health. In fact, 70 percent of the body’s immune cells are located in the digestive tract, making gut health critical to overall health. A healthy and well-balanced gut flora facilitates digestion, protects against pathogens, provides vitamins and nutrients, and helps form the immune system. For athletes and fitness enthusiasts, optimizing digestion and immunity are major factors as they strive to improve performance. As research advances, probiotics will play a leading role in shaping the sports nutrition supplements of tomorrow.

Athletes and active individuals have high nutrient needs, which are best met when digestion is well-functioning. Healthy bacteria in the gut aid in the digestion of macronutrients, allowing for optimized nutrient uptake from an athlete’s diet. They also aid in the digestion of macronutrients, allowing for optimized nutrient uptake from the diet. Some probiotic strains can play a role in the use of protein for muscle growth and human recovery by promoting the absorption of key amino acids. Being able to absorb more of the amino acids from protein can help increase muscle growth. In addition, probiotics can support immune health by adhering to the gut epithelium, thereby enhancing the “gut barrier” function of those cells by preventing the adhesion of pathogens.

Working out is all about breaking down and rebuilding muscles to become stronger and faster. With such activity, inflammation and free radical production are normal, expected and necessary—but the body’s response to these reactions will determine how quickly an athlete can recover and get back to his or her regimen. The two main areas of focus while doing strenuous activity are providing the right nutrients to build muscle (protein) and recovery (reduced inflammation). Probiotics can help in both of those areas; for example, the strain Bacillus subtilis DE111® (from Deerland) produces many enzymes to help break down protein, and recent research supported its role in reducing markers of inflammatory compounds that arise during exercise (Sports. 2018;6[3]:70).

According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), there are more than 480,000 NCAA student athletes who compete in 24 sports every year. And of course, this is only a slice of the physical-competition pie. Add professional sports, athletic trainers and serious fitness enthusiasts like marathoners and cyclists, and the number of individuals who could benefit from probiotic supplementation is significantly higher.

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Nitric oxide for sports performance

Nitric oxide (NO) is a critically beneficial molecule for sports nutrition due to its role in cardiovascular function. Previously viewed as a noxious atmospheric gas, research in the 1980s began to illuminate the role NO plays as an important chemical messenger. Named “molecule of the year” in 1992 by the journal Science (1992;258(5090):1861), NO received mainstream recognition in 1998 when three scientists were awarded the Nobel Prize for their discovery of the molecule’s benefits to cardiovascular health.

The principal benefits of NO are related to its function as a vasodilator. The production and release of NO in cells along the interior vascular wall triggers a complex set of metabolic reactions that result in vasodilation—the relaxation of smooth muscles, allowing for improved blood flow and delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the muscles. Vasodilation contributes to health by reducing platelet aggregation, inhibiting molecules that promote vascular inflammation and reducing blood pressure(Current Vascular Pharmacology. 2012;(10):4-18)

The vascular endothelium is made up of a layer of cells along the interior of our blood vessels, directly above the smooth muscle layer. Agonists such as acetylcholine can activate receptors in this vessel layer to prompt synthesis of NO from arginine.

Choline helps to optimize NO in several important ways, the first being in triggering localized production in the vascular membrane. As free circulating acetylcholine in the blood, it stimulates eNOS production by activating the receptors on the endothelial wall (J Appl Physiol. 2005 Feb;98(2):629-32), thus contributing to higher NO levels(Clin Hemorheol Microcirc. 2003;29(1):41-51). Additional studies have suggested a novel role for cholinergic signaling mechanisms and acetylcholine release in regulating vascular function and endothelial cell migration and proliferation (J Physiol. 2016 Dec 15;594(24):7267-7307).

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