Recently, great interest both from clinical research as well as from health practitioners has focused on enhancing the performance and endurance of amateur as well as professional athletes. Traditionally, athletes have used performance-enhancing drugs such as anabolic steroids in improving their performance. Many of the drugs including anabolic steroids, peptide hormones, beta-2 agonists, hormone and metabolic modulators as well as diuretics and masking agents are now banned mainly for the reason that they pose increased health risks. As a result, renewed interest has surfaced in the possibility of nutritional supplements being used in improving athletic performance and endurance, with no or minimal undesirable side effects to health. Several such supplements are now being marketed. Some of the popular ones include beta-hydroxy-beta-methyl butyrate (HMB), betaine, branched-chain amino acids, caffeine, creatine, glutamine, and iron. In recent years the use of pre- and probiotics by the athletic community to improve their intestinal tract microbiota and athletic performance has also gained considerable interest. Clinical research results relating to the use of probiotics are now being published in peer-reviewed journals. Results have shown promising results. In a double-blind placebo-controlled clinical study published in 2019, 54 healthy participants (27 men and 27 women) aged 20–30 years without professional athletic training were assigned either to a low placebo group receiving 3 × 1010 colony forming units (CFU) or a high dose of 9 × 1010 CFU per day of a patented probiotic Lactobacillus plantarum TWK10 preparation for a period of 6 weeks. At the end of 6 weeks functional, physiological, and biochemical assessments were conducted by exhaustive treadmill exercise measurements. Results showed significant enhancements in exercise endurance, promotion in energy harvest, anti-fatigue effects, and improved body composition for the group with the higher probiotic intake level. However, there are still several unanswered questions and controversies relating to this topic. Some of the concerns include the need for more than the one clinical study that has so far been reported. Also, questions remain about the specific strains of probiotics and their storage stabilities, use of a mixture of strains as opposed to a single strain, type of health disorder that is being treated, subject characteristics including age, stage of the disease, other health complications, and use of antibiotics and drugs, as well as treatment protocols. All these questions can be answered only by conducting additional well designed clinical studies in the future.
Without a doubt, great potential exists for the safe use of probiotics to improve athletic performance without any adverse health effects. Future well designed clinical studies will go a long way in providing scientifically validated results for the safe use probiotics in this capacity.
Huang WC, et al. 2019. Effect of Lactobacillus Plantarum TWK10 on Exercise Physiological Adaptation, Performance, and Body Composition in Healthy Humans. Nutrients. 2019: 11: 2836