There are a lot of things that can make you a better runner: training, speed work, rest days, yoga, weight training, a coach. There are easily as many things that can hinder your running: injury, lack of time, poor training, no motivation, the wrong shoes, the runs.
Yeah, the runs. A common malady among runners, digestive issues mid-run can definitely pose an inconvenient problem whether you’re racing or on a training run. This is one of the times where you would probably prefer I didn’t tell you a personal story. I’d be happy to tell you someone else’s story though … (Just kidding.) Let’s just say on that infamous, career-ending (ha) race I had in June 2010, everyone running near me is glad there were portapotties on the course. Luckily, there may be something that can help these disruptive digestive problems: probiotics.
Probiotics promote the growth of good bacteria. They’re found in yogurt, fermented foods, and in supplement form. These good bacteria can help prevent gas, bloating, cramping, and promote good digestion; all things that can help you feel better on your run. They can also increase immunity, helping you fight off colds and improving heart health.
Probiotics may also be able to help with that emergency gotta-go-now feeling that strikes mid-run. This sudden digestive urgency is common in endurance athletes and runners likely because of their tendency to have a leaky gut. (Yup, there’s that buzzword again.) Though usually a good thing, exercise can occasionally have negative side effects. One of those could be that the cells in the wall of the intestine start to spread apart with exercise, allowing particles to pass through that normally wouldn’t. This can lead to those explosive bowel moments no one wants to endure. Probiotics can help strengthen that wall, in turn keeping those particles in the intestines where they belong. A study in Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition demonstrated that cyclists who took probiotic supplements for 14 weeks showed less evidence of a leaky gut.
Stopping the unwanted kinds of runs isn’t the only way probiotics can improve your running. They can also help fight off respiratory infections. It’s hard enough to breathe when you’re pushing yourself on a hard run or when you’re running outdoors in the winter, you don’t need a cold to impair you too. A study in British Journal of Sports Medicine revealed that runners who took probiotics recovered faster from respiratory infections and had less severe symptoms.
Of course probiotics aren’t the only thing that’s going to keep your bowels under control and your lungs free of germs, but it looks like they certainly may help. A healthy diet, proper race nutrition, and hand-washing can also help.