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Probiotics could give endurance athlete’s immune boost

by Ross Edgley
Friday 28th September 2012
Tags  Ross Edgley   |   Myprotein   |   Probiotics

We all know the importance of taking care of our immune system during periods of heavy training and as the winter months approach this is perhaps even more important. A recent study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine showed that probiotic supplementation could dramatically cut the rate and length of respiratory illness in professional long distance runners. Here sports scientist from Myprotein.com Ross Edgley explains the potential new benefits of probiotics for endurance athletes.

What are probiotics?

Chances are you’ve heard of probiotics as ‘good bacteria’ which are added to yoghurts to help treat bloating, but science reveals there’s far more to this mini health miracle than just helping to alleviate mild stomach discomfort.

Firstly to explain what probiotics are the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) defines them as ‘live microorganisms, which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.’

So how does consuming microorganisms benefit you, the ‘host’?

Well the ‘environment’ within our digestive system contains both ‘good bacteria’ and ‘bad bacteria’ and the key to optimal health is finding and maintaining the correct balance. Now things like dieting, strenuous exercise, medications and your environment as a whole can upset this balance and this is exactly where probiotics can provide their benefits, by regulating and balancing your digestive ‘environment’.

How can it help endurance runners?

A new study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine theorised that probiotics may also produce benefits in endurance athletes undergoing strenuous training, who have previously been reported to be more susceptible to upper respiratory tract infection (this is basically an infection of the nasal passages, larynx and sinuses) that can then lead to suppressing the immune system as a whole.

Researchers, A.J Cox et al (2007), recruited a group of elite endurance runners and randomly assigned them to receive either a daily probiotic supplement containing lactobacillus fermentum or a placebo. Athletic performance of the athletes was assessed using a treadmill, blood samples were taken at regular intervals to measure the immune response and the severity of the respiratory tract infection was recorded by the athletes themselves.

At the end of the experiment researchers reported; there was no difference in performance in both the placebo and probiotic group. However the number of days the symptoms of upper respiratory tract infection were present halved in the probiotic group (specifically symptoms of upper respiratory tract infection lasted 30 days in the probiotic supplement group and 72 days in the placebo group.)

Lastly blood samples showed that blood levels of interferon gamma, an essential component of the body’s immune response, were twice as high in the athletes taking the probiotic supplement and that there was an enhancement of T-Lymphocyte function. Lymphocytes are basically the cells that are housed in a highly complex system of organs (lymph nodes) that work together to seek and destroy anything ‘foreign’ that enters the body (such as a virus) and by increasing their efficiency, you also increase the efficiency of the immune system as a whole.


The results of the study are incredibly encouraging highlighting that probiotic supplementation could be beneficial for elite endurance runners, however researchers A.J Cox et al did state that more research is needed into the area of probiotics, sports performance and immune response since it’s still not known the exact mechanism by which is works.

However, if you’re like many runners wanting to keep your immune system healthy this winter, perhaps look to add a probiotic supplement to your training bag.

The probiotic supplement ‘total super dophilus’ provides a minimum of 2.9 billion bacteria from 8 different strains of probiotics and is available from www.myvitamins.com, 60 capsules for £9.99.



A.J Cox, D.B. Pyne, P.U Saunders and P.A Fricker (2007) ‘Oral administration of the probiotic lactobacillus fermentum VR1-003 and mucosal immunity in endurance athletes’ British Journal of Sports Medicine


About The Author

Ross Edgley

Sports Scientist with a BSc Degree in Sports Science from Loughborough University Ross Edgley was a Strength and Conditioning Coach at The English Institute of Sport working alongside Britain’s Olympic Physicians, Nutritionists and S&C coaches and is currently fitness and nutrition advisor to a range of celebrities, athletes and what is considered the UK’s most innovative sports nutrition company http://www.theproteinworks.com


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