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Probiotics, health and sports performance


Vice-Chair of European Specialist Sports Nutrition Alliance (ESSNA), Lichfield, United Kingdom


The microbiome is currently one of the hottest topics in the health sciences. Research has shown that the trillions of microorganisms living in and on the human body can affect health, happiness, body weight and, at least indirectly and quite possibly directly, sports performance, recovery and muscle mass. The following is a review of the most recent published research demonstrating the degree to which the science bares out these relationships.

The most recent published account of the number of microbes in a typical human body is approximately 38 trillion (1). A much older, oft-quoted amount is 100 trillion (2). Amazingly, the average human body is constructed of a remarkably similar number of about 37 trillion cells (1). In the last decade, multiple peer-reviewed papers have made it abundantly clear that this payload of (mostly) commensal bacteria is not only required for the normal metabolic functions of the body but also have (potentially profound and substantial) effects on mental function, immunity, body weight and multiple other phenotypes.

This phenomenon has spawned a number of research initiatives in a variety of scientific fields, including those of exercise and sports nutrition. The interest from this field in the microbiome is not surprising, as there are a number of known potential benefits (like resisting illness and aiding digestion) and probably quite a few more yet unknown benefits of beneficially-altering the microbiome of athletes and sportsmen. Indeed, in the last few years evidence has come to light that athletes have a different microbiome as compared to “normal” people ...

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