It’s easy to view muscle growth as a dichotomous venture – a progressive training plan coupled with an appropriate diet. While these fundamentals hold true, a deeper understanding of them and the variables that influence their efficacy is essential. Here, I would like to introduce the topic of nutrient absorption and how, by focusing efforts on improving gut health, this can be increased tremendously. By ensuring the food you’re eating is being absorbed and utilized in an efficient manner, you will not fall victim to tireless effort towards without noticeable change – an all too common scenario. Hopefully this introduction to this critical topic begins to expand your views on nutrition, providing a more comprehensive approach towards your physique goals.
Establishing A Healthy Gut
There are billions of bacteria living in the intestinal tract, referred to as microflora. The term “probiotic” gets thrown around quite often, but what are does it really mean? Probiotics are live, “good” bacteria in the microflora that work to keep a health intestinal balance by replenishing and maintaining beneficial strains. The maintenance of this balance is essential for optimal functioning of the body. Surely, you’ve seen foods being marketed for their probiotic content (such as yogurt), but these typically aren’t high enough in number to elicit any physiologic changes without mass consumption – certainly not a viable strategy. Direct probiotic supplementation provides the highest amount of beneficial live and active cultures. Probiotic supplementation should be part of everyone’s nightly routine, especially those with some physique goal in mind.
What Should You Look For?
Because probiotics are live organisms, there are many challenges associated with the manufacturing and distribution of them. For a probiotic to be effective, it must remain stable through its expiration date. One thing to look for is the statement, “guaranteed potency at time of expiration” on the bottle – this ensures the bacteria is being delivered to the intestinal tract, where it has the most benefit. If the supplement says something along the lines of, “guaranteed potency at time of manufacture”, this is a clear indication that the supplement is inferior.
Purchasing a quality probiotic can be a somewhat difficult task as a probiotic, by it’s very nature, is a complex amalgamation of several key strains of bacteria. Bear in mind that there are roughly 500 known strains of bacteria comprising the the gut’s microflora, making supplementation a delicate science that needs to be understood. There are 4 genus and species (each with multiple strains) that have significant research-driven backing, establishing them as the forerunners for the aforementioned benefits. How do you decipher what the ingredient label of a probiotic supplement means? One look at it, and it understandably reads like a foreign language, rendering its information practically useless to the consumer. Let’s solve this dilemma with the example below:
Common Name: Lactobacillus Acidophilus (sometimes written simply as L. acidophilus)
There are numerous strains, each serving a different function in the body – in fact, L. acidophilus has over 180 strains recorded. It’s crucial that the correct strain is chosen for the desired result. For those reading this, that typically is either CUL-60, CUL-21, La-5 and La-14. These are shown in parenthesis next to the common name on labels – Lactobacillus Acidophilus (La-14), for example. If a product does not list the strain, avoid it entirely. This point should not be shrugged off as some minute detail – it is in fact a major point that could potentially save you much time and money. Supplement companies are notorious for short-cutting the manufacturing process. They are primarily concerned with turning a profit, not your well-being. This mentality, coupled with ignorance about this ever-growing complex topic creates an industry that continually puts out lesser products, relying solely on slick marketing as opposed to quality. This deceptive marketing practice can trick consumers, claiming the genus and species of one strain has an effect that it truly doesn’t because let’s face it, who’s going to check? Hopefully, after reading this, you will. Your best defense for the sheer amount of misinformation engulfing the nutrition and fitness industry is education.
Lactobacillus acidophilus (along with one the aforementioned strains) is commonly found in most probiotic supplements, and for good reason – it has been shown to protect intestinal cells by essentially “competing” for space with harmful bacteria. Moreover, and probably most applicable to your goals, is its ability to increase the absorption and bioavailability of minerals – specifically calcium, copper, magnesium, and manganese. Knowing that lactobacillus acidophilus is a staple in most quality probiotic supplements, what other names and strains should you look for?
Bifidobacterium bifidum (Bb-02 or CUL-20)
Similar to lactobacillus acidophilus, bifidobacterium bifidum helps maintain microflora balance by competing for space with harmful bacteria, such as E. coli, S. aureus, and Camplyobacter jejuni.
Bifidobacterium lactis (BI-04 or CUL-34)
This bacterium is notable in that it has been shown to support gut health by reducing intestinal permeability – that is, ensuring the gut “border” is soundly in place. This ensures that substances the body deems harmful are kept out of portal circulation. This can potentially help those with leaky gut syndrome, a condition in which inadequate digestion leads to an inflammatory (sometimes systemic) response. For those wanting to build muscle, this is a closer reality than may be fully realized. Being in a calorie surplus, coupled with anything less than optimal digestion, paves the way for a higher degree of leaky gut.
Lactobacillus rhamnosus (Lr-32, GG, or HN001)
Lactobacillus rhamnosus offers a perfect example for how the strain dictates the function of the bacteria. For example, the GG and HN001 strains have demonstrated effects on reducing eczema, but Lr-32 has not. Yet, it is often marketed in such a manner. Lactobacillus rhamnosus, regardless, has been found to positively affect inflammatory and immune gene signaling in over 1,700 genes.
There are numerous bacteria and strains that may serve some form of benefit, unique to your situation, so I encourage diving deeper into the research. The bacteria listed above are staples, usually found in most quality products. More isn’t necessarily better, so do not think that a product that offers a slew of bacteria is superior to one that doesn’t – it is, and always will be, more so about the quality of the product as opposed to its content quantity.
Probiotic Dosing: A Progressive Approach
Now that you have an idea of the benefits of probiotic, how do you begin supplementing with them? The answer largely depends on your current gut health status – something that may be somewhat of an abstraction. People typically don’t understand their where their current health lies until they see noticeable improvement. Unless you have taken a proactive approach towards the improvement of your gut health, chances are that starting at too high of a probiotic dose will cause severe gastric upset. Gas and bloating are common symptoms seen if the starting dose is too high and, while not a serious concern, can be entirely avoided with an appropriate protocol. A safe starting dose typically falls within the 10-20 billion CFU (colony forming units) range. In a slow (every 4-6 weeks) and gradual manner, this dose should be increased by roughly 20 billion, upwards of 100 billion CFU. As newer research begins to surface, the argument for higher doses of certain strains, necessary for the aforementioned physiologic changes to take place, is strengthened.
What Brands Are The Good Ones?
There are now numerous probiotic supplements on the market today, and unfortunately, most should be avoided. Being that this is living bacteria, its mode of transport into the gastrointestinal tract must be considered greatly. Ensuring that the microorganisms in a probiotic are protected from the stomach’s acidic environment is no easy task – this reason alone warrants the advocacy of only supplementing with a pharmaceutical-grade product. This criteria narrows down to the available options to a select few:
Ortho Biotic by OrthoMolecular
PureProbiotic, Probiotic-5, and Probiotic 50B by Pure Encapsulations
Multi-Probiotic by Douglas Laboratories
These companies must meet stringent regulations for all of their products, ensuring maximum benefit. Be careful ordering these online – pharmaceutical-grade nutrition companies (referred to as nutraceutical companies) campaign to have their products removed from major third party distributors, like Amazon. It’s best to visit wellness practices, small medical offices specializing in functional medicine, or some pharmacies to purchase high quality nutrition supplements. Interestingly enough, these products are usually no more expensive than what can be found in traditional supplement stores.
Ensuring that your efforts toward your diet yield maximal results is an idea, I imagine, that all would welcome. I encourage you to continue learning about how food is broken down and then utilized and how this process can be optimized. This small shift in mindset will lead to considerable results, and believe me, there’s a lot more to gut health than just probiotic supplementation.