Before we get into the question of if you should take probiotics, we need touch upon the different categories of supplements. Supplements have traditionally been separated into two broad categories:

  1. Products for serious athletes and fitness diehards that yield noticeable results in muscle size, strength, and performance – think creatine, whey protein, pre-workouts, testosterone-boosters, and fat-burners.
  2. General “wellness” products that don’t necessarily provide any noticeable physique changes, but boost overall health — think vitamins and minerals (including multivitamins), collagen supplements, and “greens.”

Probiotics have typically fallen into the latter category, but the tide is turning. We may have ourselves a “crossover” supplement here: one that delivers both health-promoting and performance-related benefits.

If probiotics aren’t on your radar just yet, don’t worry. Registered dietitian Susan Lopez covers the basics of this gut-promoting supplement in the below interview to help you decide if probiotics have a place in your supplement toolbox.

Featured Expert: Susan Lopez, RD, CSSD, LD, is a tactical performance dietitian who specializes in working with athletes from the military, firefighter, police, and first responders. Lopez is a military veteran and special operations spouse whose unique experience and knowledge help elite war fighters and community heroes stay fit and healthy. Find her on Instagram: @tactical.dietitian.

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What are probiotics and what do they do?

Probiotics are live microorganisms (i.e., bacteria) that provide a health benefit when consumed in high amounts. The number of beneficial bacteria in a healthy body is actually higher than the total number of cells in the entire body!

Probiotics add beneficial bacteria to your individual gut microbiome (colonies of “bugs,” good and bad, that live in the digestive tract). Each individual’s gut microbiome is unique, just like a fingerprint – no two are alike. A healthy gut microbiome supports the immune system, 70% of which is housed in the gut. It also helps the body produce certain neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and melatonin.

Probiotics have also been shown to increase absorption of amino acids, which is important for someone optimizing protein intake for muscle repair and growth. As such, probiotics can improve athletic performance, recovery, body composition, testosterone levels, and cortisol levels (lower cortisol, that is).

So, should I get probiotics through supplements or food?

Both! Probiotic supplements can be used to help improve the health of the gut microbiota, but diet also helps to keep microbiota healthy. Adequate fiber and protein intake and foods with natural probiotics can be very helpful. Examples of probiotic foods include kimchee, kombucha, kefir, yogurt, and sauerkraut.

Do you have any recommendations for choosing the right probiotic supplement for someone who’s never used probiotics before?

Any probiotic that contains Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium is great to start with if you’re not quite sure what your needs are.

Are there different categories of probiotics based on individual goals, dietary preferences and needs?

Different probiotic strains do have some different documented benefits. For example, Lactobacillus gasseri may be effective for losing belly fat, including visceral fat — the fat that surrounds your organs.

You mentioned probiotics possibly increasing absorption of amino acids. From a timing perspective, should I be coordinating when I take probiotics with when I take my EAA or BCAA supplements?

Timing of taking probiotics typically isn’t of high importance, but taking them on an empty stomach may help with ensuring more probiotic bacteria makes it into the lower gut. One exception here: Lactobacillus paracasei has been shown to be effective for increasing amino absorption when taken with amino acid and protein supplements.

You also mentioned improved athletic performance, recovery, body composition, T levels, and cortisol levels. How significant are these benefits? Could someone expect to see a noticeable difference in physique and performance from taking probiotics?

Taking a probiotic itself won’t provide these benefits if the diet and training regimen aren’t adequate or appropriate. But in the presence of optimal nutrition and training, probiotics can absolutely enhance the aforementioned areas. Knowing the role the gut plays in neurotransmitter and hormone regulation, in my opinion it’s absolutely worth making the investment in a good probiotic.

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