If you are active and involved in the fitness community, you’ve probably been informed at some time or another that you need to take certain supplements in order to perform better. BCAAs, whey protein, magnesium, fish oil, creatine, L-glutamine — the list goes on.
“What are you taking?” is a common question guaranteed to spark a good group workout conversation.
While supplements most certainly can help you up your game, they may not help as much as you think — particularly if your body is not absorbing or assimilating the extra nutrients properly. In short, your nutrition is only as good as your digestion.
How good is your digestion?
This is a lucrative question, especially considering how indigestion, constipation, bloating, IBS, celiac and Crohn’s disease have seemingly become the norm for many people today. Wherever you fall on the digestive spectrum though, good digestion is imperative for getting the most from your food and supplements. If you are not taking a probiotic on a regular basis, you may be missing a key link to enhancing your digestion.
In essence, probiotics are “good” bacteria that promote healthy gut flora. Think of them as the steel armor that helps boost your gut’s strength to fight off “bad” bacteria.
The truth is, your body is full of bacteria. In fact, it hosts over 100 trillion bacteria — most of them in your gut. This means there are more bacteria in your gut than cells in your body. That most likely means having a healthy gut is correlated to your overall health — particularly since 70 to 80 percent of your immune system is rooted in your gut in the first place.
How does your gut become “unhealthy” or bacteria “go bad” in the first place?
There are multiple ways:
- Regular use of Advil, Aleve and antibiotics
- Weak immunity from poor nutrition choices
- Lack of sleep or chronic stress
- Restrictive eating
- Low stomach acid (and consequently, poor digestion)
- Infections and/or illness
- Birth control
- Food toxins (grains, legumes, poor quality meat or eggs)
- Sensitivity to nightshade vegetables (onions, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, potatoes) and other autoimmune irritants (nuts, eggs, egg whites)
- Overconsumption of carbohydrates and fructose
- Low-fiber diets (i.e. bacteria just sits in your gut)
- Inflammation from excess polyunsaturated and omega-6 fat consumption
While no one expects you to live in a bubble, and several of these triggers have inevitably been part of your life at one time or another, the point of consuming probiotics is to reverse the tides. To build up a stronger, healthier gut to keep the ratio of “good” bacteria to “bad” bacteria in check.
How do you get probiotics?
Probiotics are available in both food and liquid as well as pill and powder form.
Some top sources:
- Fermented foods (such as sauerkraut, fruits and veggies)
- Unpasteurized, full-fat organic yogurt
- Unpasteurized cheese or meats like salami and some sausages
- Homemade bone broth (promotes
- probiotic growth)
- Liquid and pill supplements
However, if concocting or regularly consuming food sources with probiotics is a hit or miss for you, keep these points in mind when purchasing probiotics from the store.
You get what you pay for.
Don’t go to the bargain bin for your probiotics. Invest in a good quality. Often, liquids are the best and most readily absorbed probiotics.
Go with reputation.
With so many choices out there, it can be overwhelming when shopping around. Garden of Life, Jarrow and Klaire Labs are a few brands that come to mind.
The stronger, the better.
There’s no specific recommended dosage of probiotics. Every brand and food is going to have varying amounts, from one billion to 10 billion live cultures. Look out for a higher potency/strength in the probiotics you purchase. Many of the over-the-counter brands are down in the one to two billion dose range, so doubling up on them one to two times per day won’t hurt once your stomach is acquainted with probiotics.
Too much of a good thing.
Many probiotic formulas look impressive with a lot of strains in their formulas, like a “whey concentrate” protein (multiple proteins in one). Ideally, fewer protein strains ensure the quality of the probiotic in your formula.
People, especially athletes, can benefit from the daily consumption of probiotics.
Probiotics have been show to be beneficial for Athletes.
Since free radicals are abundant (especially after training), it’s important that athletes counter-balance them with high amounts of antioxidants in recovery and throughout the day. Probiotics arm your body to get the most out of these antioxidants by improving digestion, thus increasing the absorption of nutrients and supporting immune function through enhanced ability of your gut to fight toxins.
Lastly, don’t go overboard — especially if you have poor gut health to start. Start slow and gradually increase your intake.