There has been SO much hype about probiotics lately so let’s break down how they work and why they’re important for digestion and exercise performance.
So what is a probiotic? In easiest terms, probiotics are “friendly” bacteria.
Why do people need them? Our digestive tract (stomach, small intestine, and large intestine) is the only part inside our body that has contact with the outside world. That means the digestive tract is filled with bacteria from the outside world (billions of them to be exact); which includes everything we put in our mouths from food to beverages, licking our fingers, making out with our partners or dogs – don’t pretend your dog hasn’t slipped you the tongue. The bacteria we come into contact with everyday sticks to the lining of our small and large intestine. Sounds gross but it’s not, hear me out.
Think of your digestive tract as a Pac-Man maze.
You know the one.
The point of the game is to eat all the tiny dots to move to the next level. Think of your Pac-Man (mine has a mustache) as good bacteria, or probiotics. As it moves through the three levels of the digestive tract, it eats the bad bacteria dots and gets rid of them. In real life, you can’t completely get rid of all bad bacteria but the goal is to “out-compete” them at a ratio of 9:1, which is pretty darn close. If you have too much bad bacteria you will experience the following symptoms:
- Food allergies (if bad bacteria exposure is prolonged)
- Fatigue, brain fog, irritability (due to toxins that bad bacteria release into your blood)
As a society, we process and sterilize our world to avoid sickness outbreaks through anti-bacterial soaps and cleaning products, pasteurization, adding chlorine to our tap water, hand sanitizer, etc. While with great intentions, we are also killing the friendly bacteria along with it. But bad bacteria is strong and inevitable (think accidental dog make out) so the mix of killing more delicate good bacteria with a diet high in sugar, and you have a digestive tract takeover of the bad guys. Did you catch that? Sugar feeds bad bacteria.
OK, we get it. Probiotics are good, check! So what do they do?
- Release enzymes to help break down food in the stomach
- Live in the small intestine and helps absorb vitamins and nutrients
- Contributes to 70% of your immune system blocking toxins and helping to digest allergy-causing proteins
Basically, with probiotics you can lose the antacids, vitamin supplements, and ultimately stop treating symptoms and deal with the root of the problem.
Back in our Pac-Man world, it’s not just small dots we have to deal with. The real threat is the ghosts. In real life, these are the REALLY bad bacteria, toxins, or bigger threats. In order to turn the ghosts blue and eliminate them, you have to eat the power dots for a boost. For us, these power dots are prebiotics.
What is a prebiotic? Put simply, a prebiotic is “probiotic food” that help probiotic bacteria grow and thrive in the digestive tract to protect against bad bacteria. Prebiotics are found in vegetable fiber, which can be hard to digest without those wonderful probiotics buddies. That is why we LOVE fermented vegetables, they contain BOTH! Can you feel the ghosts turning blue?
What to add into your daily routine:
- Fermented vegetables (kimchi, curtido, saurkraut, etc.)
- Lacto-fermented sodas
A few final points. One, your bacteria friends (come on, they’re friends at this point) in your digestive tract are always ebbing and flowing with regards to your outside life so eating probiotics once isn’t enough, make it a daily habit. And two, remember that heat kills bacteria so always buy your products with “contains live active cultures” on the label (typically refrigerated), and don’t heat them at home in the preparation process.
Probiotics = healthy digestion = healthy body = optimum exercise performance
Because no one exercises well when gassy!