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Prebiotics boost health of gastrointestinal immune system in elite athletes, study shows

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3 min read
AUTHOR: Fiona Holland
Close up of professional male rugby player in mid air, holding the rugby ball high in air whilst being tackled by a player in outdoor floodlit stadium under cloudy evening sky

Prebiotics could become essential to future sports nutrition, as a new study reveals they can support the gastrointestinal immune system of elite athletes.

The research, published in the European Journal of Sport Science was carried out by a team of scientists led by Dr Neil Williams at Nottingham Trent University, in partnership with Clasado Biosciences who produce the prebiotic ingredient Bimuno GOS.

A group of professional English rugby players took part in the trial. Taking the supplement over a 24-week period, the scientists collected data on daily upper respiratory symptoms, weekly gastrointestinal symptoms, as well as biomarkers (biological molecules found in the body that signal normal or abnormal biological processes, or the presence of disease) of immune function.

According to the findings, consuming 2.8g of the prebiotic everyday reduced the duration of cold and flu-like symptoms in athletes by an average of 2.4 days in comparison to the placebo group who demonstrated them for 10 days.

During the 24 weeks, the players consuming Bimuno GOS were also less likely to have severe gastrointestinal symptoms or experience any gastrointestinal issues. The number of weekly upper gastrointestinal symptoms were also much lower in the Bimuno GOS group than the placebo group. Taking the supplement could help more athletes reduce the number of days missed from training or competition due to gastrointestinal problems, the researchers note.

Advancement in gut health research is helping to develop a better understanding around how the gut microbiota combined with the correct nutrition can improve gastrointestinal immune system health. As Dr Neil Williams, principal investigator and Senior Lecturer in Exercise Physiology and Nutrition at Nottingham Trent University’s Department of Sport Science, explained in a statement: “This research provides interesting indications on how prebiotic GOS which target beneficial bacteria could be key in the future of sports nutrition and supporting athlete health.

“From the results of the study and the biomarkers we were measuring, we can see emerging mechanisms at work. For example, we saw an increase in the secretion rate of salivary lgA, an antibody responsible for fighting-off respiratory infections. It’s important to note that with a prebiotic intervention, we are not putting up a ‘force field’ against illness or disease, what we’re doing is improving the body’s tolerance and ability to fight off potential illnesses.

“We’re uncovering the important role of the gut microbiome, but studies such as this, enable us to turn that understanding into action.”

Dr Lucien Harthoorn, R&D Director at Clasado Biosciences, added: “Sports nutrition is an exciting area of exploration in the prebiotic field. Athletic performance is invariably connected to the body’s ability to perform, which naturally is interconnected with immune function. We know from numerous studies that our galactooligosaccharide, Bimuno GOS, can support immune health, making it an excellent choice for next-generation sports health formulation.

“Notably, Bimuno GOS stands out in the market as the most studied ingredient of its kind. It’s backed by over 110 published scientific studies, including more than 20 clinical trials. Consumers are looking for products they can trust, and this latest study, conducted in partnership with Nottingham Trent University, is further evidence of its benefits.

“With prebiotics providing such a great opportunity for sports nutrition brands, we look forward to supporting the future of sports nutrition product development through prebiotic powered gut microbiome modulation.”

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