What’s the impact of probiotics on sports?

What’s the impact of probiotics on sports?

Kevin Meza Achahue, Scientist - R&D Specialist at Bifidice. 3 minutes reading.

If you engage in sport activities, you’ve probably sought alternatives at some point to improve your performance and prevent diseases or injuries. In these matters, nutrition plays a fundamental role, and parameters such as proper hydration and a balanced diet already have extensive scientific support validating them. Within the field of nutrition, there are probiotics, which have sparked growing interest in the sports industry, although many questions remain unanswered. What do we know, and what don't we know, regarding the use of probiotics in athletes?

What does science say?

To date, there are scientific publications reporting the benefits of probiotic consumption in high-performance athletes, although the conclusions vary depending on the research. For example, a systematic review showed that 11 out of 13 studies demonstrated a positive effect on athletes' performance after the intake of probiotic strains, although the effect was not always significant. In fact, probiotic supplementation improved aerobic capacity but had no effects on speed, strength, leg power, and agility [1]. 

Other results indicated that the benefits associated with probiotics in athletes were indirect and could influence the improvement of other parameters such as the immune system [2] or the proper functioning of the gastrointestinal tract [3].  In elite athletes from various sports, it was observed that the administration of a single-strain probiotic for 14 weeks improved performance and the sense of "vigor", self-reported by the athletes themselves [4]. To date, there are no reports of athletes experiencing problems or side effects due to the consumption of probiotics.

The "moves" of Bifidobacteria

Interestingly, there are precedents regarding the role of certain strains of Bifidobacteria, such as Bifidobacterium animalis subsp. lactis BB-12 and Bifidobacterium longum OL-01, in improving the emotional state and performance of athletes under stress [5][6]. Probiotic strains of this bacterial genus have a direct effect on the modulation of the intestinal microbiota, which is connected to the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) and brain-gut-microbiome axes. These connections could explain the beneficial effects of Bifidobacteria on physiological adaptation and performance in physical exercise [7].

On the other hand, an increase in fiber consumption in the diet, which often occurs in the nutritional regimens of athletes, leads to an increase in bacteria from the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium genera in the intestinal microbiota. A combination of probiotics and prebiotics derived from fiber could be a perfect match for athletes, at least under the aforementioned premises [8].

Still so much to learn…

Despite the available information, research on probiotic supplementation in athletes is still limited, and the results are not entirely consistent. As in other contexts, the effects of probiotics on performance could be strain and dose-dependent [9], and the specific impact could change depending on the individual's intestinal microbiota composition, exercise regimen, and other factors.

In the sports context, it is also necessary to consider the intensity and type of exercise, as well as possible differences related to the age and gender of each individual [4]. Therefore, if you are considering taking probiotics to enhance your effectiveness in physical activity, although there seem to be no side effects, consult with your trusted specialized health professional.



[1] Di Dio, M., Calella, P., Pelullo, C. P., Liguori, F., Di Onofrio, V., Gallè, F., & Liguori, G. (2023). Effects of Probiotic Supplementation on Sports Performance and Performance-Related Features in Athletes: A Systematic Review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 20(3), 2226. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph20032226.

[2] Díaz-Jiménez, J., Sánchez-Sánchez, E., Ordoñez, F. J., Rosety, I., Díaz, A. J., Rosety-Rodriguez, M., Rosety, M. Á., & Brenes, F. (2021). Impact of Probiotics on the Performance of Endurance Athletes: A Systematic Review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(21), 11576. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph182111576.

[3] Nichols, A. W. (2007). Probiotics and Athletic Performance: A Systematic Review. Current Sports Medicine Reports, 6(4), 269-273. https://doi.org/10.1097/01.CSMR.0000306483.85035.b7 

[4] Heimer, M., Teschler, M., Schmitz, B., & Mooren, F. C. (2022). Health Benefits of Probiotics in Sport and Exercise - Non-existent or a Matter of Heterogeneity? A Systematic Review. Frontiers in Nutrition, 9, 804046. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2022.804046 

[5] Dong, W., Wang, Y., Liao, S., Tang, W., Peng, L., & Song, G. (2021). Bifidobacterium animalis subsp. lactis BB-12 Improves the State Anxiety and Sports Performance of Young Divers Under Stress Situations: A Single-Arm, Prospective Proof-of-Concept Study. Frontiers in Psychology, 11, 570298. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.570298

[6] Huang, W.-C., Hsu, Y.-J., Huang, C.-C., Liu, H.-C., & Lee, M.-C. (2020). Exercise Training Combined with Bifidobacterium longum OLP-01 Supplementation Improves Exercise Physiological Adaption and Performance. Nutrients, 12(4), 1145. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12041145 

[7] Miles, M. P. (2022). Chapter 14 - Probiotics in sports nutrition. Probiotics In Advanced Food and Health Applications (pp. 277-295), https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-323-85170-1.00024-5 

[8] Mańkowska, K., Marchelek-Myśliwiec, M., Kochan, P. et al. (2022) Microbiota in sports. Arch Microbiol 204, 485 . https://doi.org/10.1007/s00203-022-03111-5 

[9] Jäger, R., Mohr, A. E., Carpenter, K. C., Kerksick, C. M., Purpura, M., Moussa, A., Townsend, J. R., Lamprecht, M., West, N. P., Black, K., Gleeson, M., Pyne, D. B., Wells, S. D., Arent, S. M., Smith-Ryan, A. E., Kreider, R. B., Campbell, B. I., Bannock, L., Scheiman, J., Wissent, C. J., Pane, M., Kalman, D. S., Pugh, J. N., ter Haar, J. A., & Antonio, J. (2019). International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: Probiotics. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 16, 62. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-019-0329-0 

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