Fueling Your Gut with Prebiotics and Probiotics

Renee Korczak PhD. RDN, CSSD, LD

A woman smiling and stretching in her living room with the sun shining through the windows.

Fueling your body with proper nutrition is a tool that active individuals use to help feed their working bodies. 1 While the brain, muscles, bones, and cardiovascular system utilize nutrients from the diet to help achieve peak performance, recent scientific evidence suggests that nutrition may also influence performance through the gut and the collection of microorganisms that exist within the gut.2

As it turns out, diet can affect the composition of the microbial community within the gut, and while an individual’s microbiota is unique and personalized, habitual dietary intake and long-term dietary patterns can play a role in shaping each individual’s microbiota profile.3

For active individuals, carbohydrates help support energy availability and metabolism and are considered staple macronutrients to support a healthy and active lifestyle.4 Carbohydrates come in various forms and not all carbohydrates are the same. For example, most prebiotics represent a class ofare non-digestible carbohydrates that can pass through the digestive system until they hit the colon, where naturally present bacteria ferment them to produce beneficial metabolic by-products called short-chain fatty acids or SCFAs.

Prebiotics are widely available in various foods (including asparagus, leeks, chicory root, garlic, artichoke, and onion) and supplements. When selecting a prebiotic supplement, look for terms in the ingredient list to help identify the type of prebiotic. These include chicory root inulin, fructooligosaccharides, and galactooligosaccharides.

Probiotics are often confused with prebiotics; however, the two terms are actually different. Probiotics are technically defined as “live microorganisms that when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host”.5 Probiotics are known by their genus, species, and strain. (For example, Lactobacillus rhamnosus.) Prebiotics are non-digestible carbohydrates, including some fibers, and are found in food sources and in supplements.

Supplementation with probiotics is currently a research topic of interest to active individuals and athletes to help increase overall health and benefit performance.2 Probiotics help interact with immune and epithelial cells in the gut, produce vitamins that aid in nutrient absorption and may help reduce gastrointestinal distress.2 Furthermore, the majority of the science reports that multi-strain probiotic formulations have positive effects on gastrointestinal barrier function by reducing inflammation and improving intestinal permeability.2 Long story short, the strain and dose of the probiotic matters, so it’s important to discuss with your healthcare provider and find the right probiotic for your wellness needs.

While research in this area continues, active individuals should consider that their gut is an active organ that needs to be properly nourished with nutrient-dense prebiotic and probiotic choices for overall wellness.

Here are some key tips to help support your gut and an active lifestyle:

Think about including nutrient-dense carbohydrate-rich foods that contains, including prebiotics, in your diet such as whole grains, a variety of fruits, veggies, and starches.

Consider working with a healthcare practitioner to determine if a prebiotic or probiotic supplement is right for you.

Understand that each individual has a unique GI tract and finding a nutrition regimen that works best with physical activity may take adaptation and time.

Supplements that contain a combination of pre- and probiotics can help support digestive health and may aid in an overall healthy lifestyle.*

References

1. Costa MS, Toscano LT, Tavares Toscano LDL., Luna VR, Torres RA, Silva JA, Silva AS. Ergogenic potential of foods for performance and recovery: a new alternative in sports supplementation? A systematic review. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr 23 Nov 2020: 1-22.

2. Hughes R.L., Holscher H.D. Fueling Gut Microbes: A Review of the Interaction between Diet, Exercise and the Gut Microbiota in Athletes Adv Nutr 2021; 12: 2190-2215.

3. Leeming ER, Johnson AJ, Spector TD, Le Roy CI. Effect of Diet on the Gut Microbiota: Rethinking Intervention Duration Nutrients 2019; 11(12): 2862.

4. Thomas D.T., Erdman K.A., and Burke L.M. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and Athletic Performance J Acad Nutr Diet 2016; 116(3): 501-528.

5. Gibson GR, et al. Expert consensus document: The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) consensus statement on the definition and scope of prebiotics. Nat Rev Gastro & Hepatol 2017; 14: 491-502.