Can postbiotics improve athletic performance and recovery?

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A recent systematic review published in Nutrients describes the utility of postbiotics in improving exercise performance and recovery.

Study: It’s Dead! Can Postbiotics Really Help Performance and Recovery? A Systematic Review. Image Credit: Doucefleur / Shutterstock.com

Probiotics vs. postbiotics

Probiotics are live microorganisms that are associated with a wide variety of health benefits to the host when administered adequately. For example, probiotics can support gut health, improve mental health, prevent cardiometabolic diseases, improve sleep quality and duration, as well as reduce allergic reactions. Probiotics exert these health benefits through their effects on the immune system by reducing intestinal pH, maintaining intestinal barrier integrity, increasing gut microbial composition and diversity, reducing inflammation, and eliminating pathogens.

Recently, the International Society of Sports and Nutrition has stated that probiotics might be beneficial for improving exercise performance and recovery, in addition to supporting the training and competition demands of athletes.

In addition to probiotics, postbiotics have recently gained considerable attention in healthcare due to their potential ability to improve health. A significant advantage of using postbiotics for health purposes is their longer shelf-life and reduced susceptibility to degradation due to changes in ambient conditions.

According to the International Scientific Association of Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP), a postbiotic is defined as a preparation of inanimate microorganisms and/or their components that confers health benefits. Existing evidence indicates that postbiotics can exert positive health effects on gastrointestinal, dermatological, and respiratory diseases.

Some of the different methods used to produce postbiotic preparations from live microorganisms include heat treatment, sonification, chemical treatment, and ultraviolet (UV) irradiation. Each method, as well as the processing condition, has a differential impact on the functionality of resulting postbiotics.

About the study

The authors systematically searched various electronic databases to identify studies that investigated the impact of postbiotic supplementation, specifically on exercise performance, recovery, as well as biomarkers related to muscle immune function, inflammation, and oxidative stress.

Only peer-reviewed, randomized, double-blind, and placebo-controlled trials involving healthy adults were included in the systematic analysis. Postbiotic supplements used in these studies included paraprobiotics, Tyndallized probiotics, ghost biotics, heat-killed probiotics, inactivated probiotics, and nonviable probiotics. The different outcomes measured in these studies included exercise, exercise performance, and recovery.    

Systematic review findings

A total of 11 studies, including nine peer-reviewed papers and two conference abstracts, were included in the final review. These studies comprised a total of 477 participants and postbiotic supplementation periods ranging from 13 days to 12 weeks.

Three studies directly compared the probiotic and postbiotic preparations of the same strains, including Lactiplantibaccilus plantarum TWK10, Lacticaseibacillus paracasei PS23, and Weizmannia coagulans GBI-30 6086.

In one study investigating probiotic and postbiotic preparations of Weizmannia coagulans GBI-30 6086, none of the preparations were found to modulate the performance of healthy individuals participating in stressful lower-body exercises.

Another comparative study showed that both probiotic and postbiotic preparations of Lacticaseibacillus paracasei PS23 can reduce the rate of muscle damage caused by maximal vertical jump, facilitate faster recovery, and improve fatigue as compared to placebo. However, only the postbiotic preparation was associated with a greater ability than the probiotic preparation to improve strength recovery.

In one study investing probiotic and postbiotic preparations of Lactiplantibaccilus plantarum TWK10, both preparations similarly improved exercise performance. However, the probiotic preparation was superior than the postbiotic preparation in reducing glucose, lactate, and ammonia levels in response to exercise stimuli. This study also reported an increased inflammatory response to exercise in individuals supplemented with the postbiotic preparation.

Another study investigating the effects of a postbiotic preparation of Weizmannia coagulans GBI-30 6086 reported enhanced lower body power and anti-inflammatory profiles in soldiers. Similarly, one study investigating a postbiotic preparation of Lactiplantibaccilus plantarum TWK10 revealed improvements in endurance performance, grip strength, and muscle mass in healthy exercising males.    

Regarding other health benefits, one study investigating a postbiotic preparation of Lactobacillus gasseri OLL2809 observed preservation of natural killer cell activity and improvements in mood during strenuous exercise. Likewise, another study highlighted the ability of a postbiotic preparation of Lactococcus lactis JCM 5805 in improving antiviral responses and reducing the number of days with upper respiratory tract infection symptoms in athletes performing high-intensity training. Immunomodulatory and anti-inflammatory activities were also reported for the postbiotic preparation of Lacticaseibacillus paracasei MCC1849.   

Significance

Existing evidence suggests that postbiotics can be beneficial in improving mental health, reducing fatigue, and increasing the readiness of athletes across several weeks of exercise training. Thus, the current systematic review findings support the health and ergogenic benefits of postbiotic supplementation.

Journal reference:
  • Kerksick, C. M., Moon, J. M., & Jager, R. (2024). It’s Dead! Can Postbiotics Really Help Performance and Recovery? A Systematic Review. Nutrients. doi:10.3390/nu16050720
Dr. Sanchari Sinha Dutta

Written by

Dr. Sanchari Sinha Dutta

Dr. Sanchari Sinha Dutta is a science communicator who believes in spreading the power of science in every corner of the world. She has a Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) degree and a Master's of Science (M.Sc.) in biology and human physiology. Following her Master's degree, Sanchari went on to study a Ph.D. in human physiology. She has authored more than 10 original research articles, all of which have been published in world renowned international journals.

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