I don’t know about you guys, but the limit of my knowledge about probiotics was that they’re definitely in yogurt, they’re good for your gut and…well that was about it, really! Luckily, The Rungry Health Coach, aka Beth Roessner, is joining us again for a more comprehensive rundown of what probiotics are, what they do for your body, and why they’re so important for runners and other athletes. So if you’ve ever wondered, ‘What are probiotics? And why do I need them?’ then read on…Beth has the answers!
What are Probiotics?
Runners have over a million best friends that have their backs. These allies are reliable, supportive and can help a runner in the bathroom. (Yeah….you read that right.) These friends are live bacteria and yeasts found in a person’s digestive track. And these bacteria, also known as probiotics, are a runner’s secret weapon to quicker recovery, stronger runs and overall health. Bacteria are often associated with illnesses, but the body is full of bacteria, both good and bad. Probiotics are considered “good bacteria.” In addition to naturally occurring in the body, these tiny organisms can be found in food items—kefir, yogurt, kombucha, pickles, sauerkraut—and when eaten, can help balance a person’s personal “good” and “bad” gut bacteria. These friendly bacteria can help ease digestion and bloat, and new evidence suggests they have additional health benefits, especially for runners.
When the digestive system—or microbiome—is balanced and healthy, it can more easily fight off illness and improve overall immunity. Probiotics help keep balance in the microbiome, and they help reduce the amount of blood bacteria which can result in infection or illness. When you’re feeling your best, you’re more able to enjoy life without worrying about getting sick. And if you do get sick, with a stronger immune system you’re able to kick that cold quicker.
End the Runs
Many runners complain of bloat and needing a pit stop about half-way through a long run. This may be due to “leaky gut syndrome.” With leaky gut, the cell lining of the stomach is stretched and sometimes damaged by indigestible foods. (Gluten, a protein found in wheat, can often be the culprit to those who are intolerant. Other foods may cause this, too.) When the stomach lining is compromised, substances from the digestive tract end up in the bloodstream—which can trigger mid-workout bowel issues. (Yuck.)
With probiotics, gut cells become stronger which ultimately helps strengthen the intestinal wall. With a stronger intestinal wall, symptoms of bloat and other digestive stress will alleviate.
Inflammation is often the cause of joint pain, and all those miles naturally put wear on the joints. Probiotics have been discovered—and current research is underway—to help alleviate joint pain by reducing the amount of inflammation. Inflammation can also occur in the gut, which has been linked to some forms of cancer or insulin resistance. Those suffering from chronic inflammation, like ulcerative colitis, chronic fatigue or psoriasis, may also see alleviation by adding more probiotics.
When probiotics are first introduced into the diet, they may cause bloat, gas or upset stomach, and these symptoms may last a few days. As the probiotics do their job and kill “bad bacteria,” gas is created which causes some unpleasantness. Like other living organisms, probiotics need fuel, and that comes in the form of pre-biotics. Pre-biotics are non-digestible foods that help promote growth of the good bacteria. Foods like artichokes, bananas, garlic, onions or raw asparagus are high in fiber, which the body doesn’t entirely digest. When these undigested bits reach the colon, that’s when they’re fermented and used as food for the good bacteria. Probiotics aren’t intended for everyone. If you have any questions, talk to your medical doctor about probiotic-rich foods or taking a supplement.
Beth Roessner is a one-time couch potato turned avid runner, triathlete and wellness warrior. Through her business, The Rungry Health Coach, she works with adults around the country to help them reach all of their wellness and running goals–from weight loss to boosting a runner’s mental game. She firmly believes that overall wellness is about small changes that help create sustainable habits. Beth lives in Washington DC, where she enjoys morning runs around the monuments, and eating a lot of vegetables.