Prebiotics and Sports Nutrition

When the impact of lifestyle behaviors on the gut microbiome is discussed, the focus is often on dietary changes. However, exercise has been shown to increase microbial diversity independent of diet. The relationship between the microbiota and exercise is bidirectional in that a diverse microbiota may even influence exercise capacity in long duration activity by providing short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) for fuel.  Exercise may even help to offset some of the negative effects of a high fat diet by decreasing intestinal inflammation and improving gut epithelial integrity. 1 While exercise is beneficial for gut health and overall health, it can also be a stressor, especially when accompanied by a poor diet, lack of sleep and/or inadequate recovery that leads to overtraining. Physiologically the stressor activates the nervous system which ultimately impacts the microbiome in a bidirectional cycle whereby the altered microbiome can then negatively impact mood and fatigue via the gut brain axis.2,3 Given the gut microbiota’s potential to influence athletic performance and what we know about the impact of diet on the microbiome and performance, “fueling your microbes” should be seen as a strategy for athletes attempting to optimize performance.  While the effect of probiotic intake on performance has been evaluated 4, one important and under studied aspect of this fueling is prebiotic intake. While there is little research on the influence of prebiotics alone on exercise performance, it has been hypothesized that microbial production of SCFAs from prebiotic fermentation may improve glycogen storage and metabolism. While there may not currently be studies assessing the specific benefits of prebiotic consumption for exercise performance, it can be assumed that athletes consuming prebiotics will experience the same health benefits as non-athletes. One such benefit is improvement in the gut microbiome, which ultimately benefits the brain via the gut brain axis and may hypothetically benefit cognitive function as well as help manage the stress response to exercise. 5 More research is needed in this area, but the proposed mechanism of action offers strong support to the benefits of prebiotics for athletes and highly active individuals.

Susan Hewlings, Ph.D., R.D., Director of Scientific Affairs Nutrasource/GRAS Associates

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo.
Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo.


  1. Campbell, Sara C.; Wisniewski, Paul J. II. Exercise is a Novel Promoter of Intestinal Health and Microbial Diversity. Exercise & Sport Sciences Reviews. 2017;45(1):41-47.
  2. Stephen M. Collins, Michael Surette & Premysl Bercik. The interplay between the intestinal microbiota and the brain. Nature Reviews Microbiology 10, 735-742 (November 2012) doi:10.1038/nrmicro2876
  3. Clark A, Mach N. Exercise-induced stress behavior, gut-microbiota-brain axis and diet: a systematic review for athletes. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2016;13:43. doi:10.1186/s12970-016-0155-6.
  4. Jäger R, Mohr AE, Carpenter KC, Kerksick CM, Purpura M, Moussa A, Townsend JR, Lamprecht M, West NP, Black K, Gleeson M, Pyne DB, Wells SD, Arent SM, Smith-Ryan AE, Kreider RB, Campbell BI, Bannock L, Scheiman J, Wissent CJ, Pane M, Kalman DS, Pugh JN, Ter Haar JA, Antonio J. International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: Probiotics. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2019 Dec 21;16(1):62. doi: 10.1186/s12970-019-0329-0. PMID: 31864419; PMCID: PMC6925426.
  5. Hughes RL, Holscher HD. Fueling Gut Microbes: A Review of the Interaction between Diet, Exercise, and the Gut Microbiota in Athletes. Adv Nutr. 2021 Dec 1;12(6):2190-2215. doi: 10.1093/advances/nmab077. PMID: 34229348; PMCID: PMC8634498.