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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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Probiotics proving beneficial to microbiome, overall well-being

As Woody Allen said, bacteria—those microscopic organisms only visualized with a microscope’s help—were the first inhabitants of the Earth and will probably be the last to abandon it. They are also the most abundant living beings on the planet. Experts in microbial ecology calculate there exist about 50 nonillion bacteria (5X1030); this means for every human being on Earth, there are almost seven hundreds of quintillions of bacteria (7X1020). Interestingly, an important part of this microbial biomass lives inside the human body. All this was unknown 10 years ago. Thanks to the application of massive genomic sequencing techniques, in recent years, scientists have determined there are as many human cells in the body as bacteria inside. They are particularly numerous on the skin and in the digestive tract. If a person weighs approximately 155 pounds, 2.2 pounds consists of the bacteria that populate his/her digestive system. In fact, scientific experts have spoken about a neglected organ not described to date that has a transcendental relationship with one’s diet. The reason is clear: a person’s bacterial ecosystem is responsible for extracting energy from the diet and modifying or destroying ingested substances that may be healthy or deleterious to a person’s health.

This set of bacterial species that populate the human digestive tract is known as the gut microbiome. Each human being has their own particular gut microbiome, and no two are the same—it is like a fingerprint. However, there are similarities, so the gut microbiomes of healthy individuals can be classified into three groups, known as enterotypes. The gut microbiome can vary depending on age, diet, the use of drugs (mainly antibiotics) or state of health (e.g., disease, sickness). These changes are usually reversible and open the door to the development of new foods and dietary supplements that contain bacteria and/or metabolites (e.g., prebiotics) capable of returning the microbiome to its original condition or modifying it.

Consider the situation of individuals with celiac disease. Children with celiac disease have a different gut microbiome than healthy children. They have a high proportion of Enterobacteria species and less Bifidobacteria or Lactobacilli counts. This alteration is called dysbiosis and is, to some extent, responsible for the intestinal inflammation these patients exhibit. In a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled clinical study, children with celiac disease were given B. longum CECT 7347 or placebo daily for three months, together with a gluten-free diet (Br J Nutr. 2014;112:30-40). Results suggested Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli were increased and Enterobacteria were decreased in the CECT 7347 group, as compared to placebo.

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Prebiotics: The new gut health nutrient driving product innovation

Gut health and probiotics have been all the rage over the past few years, with copious amounts of new food and beverage products coming onto the market positioning themselves based on their probiotic benefits.

There is, however, a missing link to the gut health puzzle—prebiotics, the fuel for the live probiotics that are already naturally inside the human body, that only in recent months have begun to gain the attention they so rightly deserve.

With science continuing to build in the field of gut health, and the essential roll prebiotics play in ensuring gut bacteria can thrive, it should come as no surprise that the global prebiotic market is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10.4 percent, reaching US$7.37 billion by 2023, according to ResearchAndMarkets.com.

With prebiotics coming in many forms, such as various prebiotic fibers or resistant starches, as well as more emerging science showing the prebiotic potential of various polyphenolic compounds, it’s important to explore which products are naturally rich in prebiotics, what products have been specifically formulated to promote a prebiotic benefit and which direction product innovation is moving in the prebiotic space.

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