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Distance runners, competitive cyclists, elite triathletes or any other kind of endurance athletes require a vast amount of caloric intake to maintain optimal hydration and energy levels. This alone puts a lot of stress in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. On top of that, quite frequently during training or racing, endurance athletes may experience GI problems. Research shows that up to 70% of athletes experience some GI difficulties at some point of their training or racing [1-3] . GI complaints may vary from bloating and flatulence to episodic stomach aches, stomach cramps, acid reflux, constipation or diarrhea, just to mention some.
Don't panic. Excluding any pathological issues behind these GI problems, there are nutritional steps that you can take regularly to enhance the GI function and, in the long term, avoid potential distress caused either by a caloric overload or other reasons.
Good GI activity is fundamental for effective nutrition because most of the essential nutrients are absorbed and digested in the gut. Healthy gut means better nutrient absorption, improved utilization of energy from the food and less stress throughout the digestion process. This may additionally lead to fewer GI complaints during training and racing.
However, advancing the GI health is a process that does not happen overnight. GI activity is enhanced by an increase in the number of the microorganisms that live normally in the gut (mainly some kind of bacteria). When these bacteria grow in number, they create colonies. Colonies are formed only by long-term and consistent food and supplement intake.
Among the most widely used food supplements to improve digestion health are probiotics and prebiotics. Over the years, research has shown that probiotics, (mainly some type of bacteria and yeast) are digestible microorganisms that can alleviate symptoms of lactose intolerance and treat or prevent diarrhea [4, 5] . The prebiotics on the other hand, are non-digestible oligosaccharides that can stimulate and regulate the growth of probiotic microorganisms and, over time, improve nutrient absorption and health [4, 5] .
During the past decade, research has started considering the health benefits from a combined formula of probiotics and prebiotics. In an extensive review of clinical trials in humans published by the British Journal of Nutrition in 2002, the authors mention the therapeutic and prophylactic benefits of probiotics, as well as their ability to enhance the immune system by activating a variety of immune system related genes. Also, the authors mention the immunological effects that prebiotics have by activating or enhancing the activity of the probiotic microorganisms . So, the prebiotics increase the numbers of the probiotic microorganisms (the bifidobacteria in particular) that exist in the gut. Additionally, prebiotics have been linked to an enhancement of mineral absorption in the large bowel . Interestingly, more research results demonstrate that patients with chronic GI diseases or individuals with compromised or distressed GI tract receive the greatest benefit from prebiotic supplementation (review: ).
In conclusion, a combination of probiotics and prebiotics may work synergistically. The former has been proven over the years to enhance the number of the healthy microorganisms in the gut, and the latter to enhance the activity of the former.
Optimal nutrition and GI activity can achieve greatness through optimal nutrient absorption in the gut. Optimal nutrient absorption in the gut requires a healthy gut. And a healthy gut can be achieved by regular intake of probiotics and prebiotics that provide a beneficial, synergistic effect.
So that you can go out and train and race as hard as you can.
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