How Prebiotics Fuel Probiotics & Good Gut Health for Runners and Athletes

“I’ve heard of probiotics, but what are prebiotics and why do I need them?” This is a question I hear from many runners, cyclists, triathletes, swimmers, obstacle course races and other athletes looking to improve their performance, in part, through nutrition.

Simply put, prebiotics are the food that probiotics, those good bacteria in your gut, eat to thrive and, in turn, help you thrive. But, to understand more about prebiotics you need to understand the synergistic relationships that go in the gut microbiome of an athlete (or anyone).

To keep the human body performing optimally, an endurance athlete needs to keep his or her “tank” filled with adequate calories from food and drink that support hydration and energy – whether that’s fuel for the finish line or just every day training and recovery. What and how much you’re eating/drinking is dependent on a number of factors including activity, duration, weight, gender, activity, weather, altitude, and so many other factors – enough to fill a book.  However, the point today is, this increased intake of food and drink can stress the gastrointestinal (GI) system, which is then further exacerbated by the havoc intense, prolonged training has on your gut – like cramps, bloating, reflux, diarrhea and such.

So, it just makes common sense that a healthy overall GI system and gut microbiome are desirable for results-oriented training, racing and recovery. A healthy gut environment is achieved through your diet and, if needed, supplements. The two major players in gut health, probiotics and prebiotics, work together as a team

Probiotics (various healthy bacteria species) come from many fermented foods and colonize in the gut to boost overall health. Probiotics are charged with destroying bad bacteria, strengthening the immune system, aiding digestion, improving skin function, minimizing cellular oxidate damage and boosting the body’s ability to ward off allergens and protection from cellular oxidative damage. This is all great stuff for an athlete, right?!  Specific strains of probiotics can do different things that help an athlete holistically and specifically to a certain function.  According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN),  in athletic populations, certain probiotics strains can increase absorption of important nutrients needed for optimal performance and recovery (such as amino acids from protein), can strengthen a weakened immune system from training overload, can improve gut strength that may erode after  prolonged exercise in heat, and provide anti-inflammatory benefits linked to improved recovery from muscle-damaging exercise. Additionally, the ISSN says there are many more potential benefits to an athletic population being researched including “improved body composition and lean body mass, normalizing age-related declines in testosterone levels, reductions in cortisol levels indicating improved responses to a physical or mental stressor, reduction of exercise-induced lactate, and increased neurotransmitter synthesis, cognition and mood.”

So, if these amazingly helpful probiotics are to THRIVE in your gut and provide health benefits, they need to be nourished themselves. Prebiotics are nondigestible fiber found in plants and serve the food probiotics need to do their job. Without prebiotics, probiotics wouldn’t have the fuel to survive, multiply and do their job. And with no probiotics, prebiotics would build up and serve little purpose – it’s a synergistic partnership essential for proper gut function.

Prebiotics are found in plant-based foods such as garlic, bananas, onions, Jerusalem artichoke, legumes, asparagus, and yacon root (see more below). The undigestible fiber in these foods skips right past digestion and ferments in the gut to create fuel for the probiotics.

However, many athletes and people living a busy lifestyle, even those who eat clean, may have a difficult time eating enough prebiotic rich foods. That’s why I was excited to find Rowdy Prebiotic Bars, an energy + protein bar that promotes good gut health and delivering essential protein and prebiotic fiber. Available in many flavors, however, Rowdy Bar Keto Chocolatey Cookie Dough (with collagen protein!) and Rowdy Bar Peanuty Dark Chocolate are my personal favorites. All the bars are gut-healthy, low-glycemic, paleo, gluten-free and made with organic real-food ingredients.

The featured superfood ingredient, Yacon root, a sweet potato-like tuber that is rich in prebiotics. It’s an amazing food for gut health for runners and everyone.  In the Incan language, “Yacon” root translates into “water” root and the watery substance is used to create Yacon syrup, a versatile prebiotic sweetener that Rowdy Bars use to sweeten its products. Yacon syrup has a molasses-like texture and is gaining popularity as a gut-healthy, zero-glycemic, low-calorie alternative to other common natural sweeteners like monk fruit, stevia, molasses, and maple syrup.

Rowdy Bars are super convenient to grab-and-go as you run out the door to conquer life, doing whatever that may be!  I love how the company says their bars are for “The doe-ers, the makers, the givers and the ass-kickers. deamers and the status-quo shakers. People like you who recognize the power of their ideas and put’em to work. People who see the value of time and pledge to never waste a moment.”

CREDIT: Jennifer Fisher, http://thefitfork.com

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