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Probiotics begin to flex their muscle in the sports nutrition market

By Stephen DANIELLS , 21-Jun-2012

"There has been controversy surrounding the benefits of probiotics in healthy people, including athletes, during the last years"
"There has been controversy surrounding the benefits of probiotics in healthy people, including athletes, during the last years"

The potential benefits of probiotic ingredients in sports nutrition products may extend beyond immune support, as emerging evidence suggests a potential to enhance protein utilization.

The potential for probiotics for sports nutrition is growing: Data presented by Chris Schmidt from Euromonitor International at the International Probiotics Association’s World Congress in Universal City, CA in April indicated that the sports nutrition offers a great opportunity to expand the $2.7 billion global probiotic supplement market.

Schmidt cited Gaspari Nutrition’s Myofusion Probiotic Series as one example of a fast growing consumer brand.

The series uses Ganeden Biotech's BC30 strain, and the company sees sports nutrition as a market that is in need of product innovation in several key areas, namely immune and gut health, according to Michael Bush, VP of business development at Ganeden Biotech.

Common understanding has it that exercise can suppress the body’s immune response in both elite athletes and weekend warriors. There are also reports that nutritional supplementation with products containing large quantities of protein may cause gastrointestinal distress. 

Consumer demand

Daniel Pierce, VP of Brand Strategy & Product Development at Gaspari Nutrition told NutraIngredients-USA that consumer demand will dictate the rise of probiotic-containing sports nutrition products primarily because many sports nutrition supplements serve multiple purposes and immune health awareness is growing.

“Fundamentally, if a consumer can purchase a single product that has two functional uses instead of one at a better price point than the two components purchased separately, it’s a huge plus.

“I believe you’ll start seeing probiotics included in more and more traditional sports nutrition products such as protein powders, multivitamins, etc because overall health and immune health awareness and performance nutrition are becoming one in the same,” said Pierce.

The science

Dr. Ralf Jaeger, FISSN, President of Milwaukee-based consultancy Increnovo LLC, told NutraIngredients-USA that the connection between probiotics and immune support is the most obvious application of probiotics in sports nutrition.

Certain Probiotic strains can increase the body's immune response to viruses that cause common viral respiratory tract infections. Improved digestive health through probiotic supplementation might hold the key to other benefits such as improved nutrient absorption.

“While many health professionals believe that probiotics can help people who have specific health conditions, there has been controversy surrounding the benefits of probiotics in healthy people, including athletes, during the last years,” said Dr Jaeger. “However, recent studies support the idea that probiotics can indeed benefit those who are healthy.

“Probiotics have been shown to help support key immune markers upon exposure to cold and flu viruses in healthy volunteers.”

Beyond immunity

Another potential area where probiotics could benefit sports nutrition is in improving protein utilization resulting in strength and lean body increases, said Dr Jaeger.

“A recent study indicated that a specific probiotic strain, Ganeden's BC30 increased protein utilization, particular absorption of leucine by 23%,” he said.

“Leucine is the most important amino acid to increase post-workout effects on muscle protein synthesis. Combining probiotics with protein might allow athletes to use lower amounts of whey protein without losing the physiological benefit or it will allow athletes with allergies against lactose or who are cautious about cholesterol to use protein sources with naturally lower leucine concentration such as soy and rice.”

Dr Jaeger noted that the initial mechanistic studies need to be followed by corresponding efficacy studies, showing the benefits of the probiotic/protein combination on lean body mass and gains in strength.

Gaspari’s Pierce said he expected the protein utilization developments to lead to more and more probiotics appearing in various protein powders like the Vitamin Shoppe’s True Athlete branded products.

In addition, as understanding of the gut-brain axis increases, it is also revealing a possible connection to sports through the potential influence of probiotics on neurotransmitter and hormones, in the context of improving stress response to physical and mental stress, said Dr Jaeger.

Strain specifics

In addition to the potential of Ganeden's BC30 in this area, there is also evidence that Probiomics Ltd’s Lactobacillus fermentum VRI-003 may reduce the days of respiratory symptoms in athletes over a four-month period of winter training (British Journal of Sports Medicine , 2010, Vol. 44, pp. 222-226, and Nutrition Journal , 2010, 10: 30).

There is also evidence for Yakult’s Lactobacillus casei Shirota strain to reduce the incidence of infection in athletes (Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2011, Vol. 21, pp. 55-64), while data from Finland indicated that Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG may shorten the duration of gastrointestinal-symptom episodes, but had no effect on the incidence of respiratory infections in marathon runners (Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2007, Vol. 17, pp. 352-363).

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