How do prebiotics, probiotics and postbiotics improve athletic performance?

September 23, 2023 7 min read

Cover Image - How do prebiotics, probiotics and postbiotics improve athletic performance?  - Layer Origin

Picture this – you’re out for a 5K run, you’ve just finished work and haven’t fueled up properly and you’ve hit a bit of a wall. The run starts to feel like it’s never going to end and like you’re stuck on a treadmill. Or perhaps you’re an avid trainer during the winter, but you always seem to get struck by a cough or cold. Sound familiar?

This happens to all of us at some point. We’re all aware of the things we should be doing to improve our physical performance, but gut health may not always be top of the list. But it’s true your gut health could be having a critical impact on your athletic performance.

In this article, we’ll explore the link between the health of your gut, microbiome composition, and its effect on how you perform physically.

What are prebiotics, probiotics and postbiotics?

Before we deep dive into the influence your colonic ecosystem has on your athleticism, let’s recap what pre-, pro-, and postbiotics are.




Food for your gut microbiota

Live microorganisms e.g. Bifidobacteriaand Lactobacilli

Produced when probiotics feed on prebiotics

Typically, high-fibre foods e.g. apples, garlic, onions, wholegrains

Provide health benefits when given in adequate amounts

Beneficial compounds naturally produced when beneficial gut microbes break down prebiotics

Fermented by colonic bacteria and transformed into useful metabolites, like short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs)

Found in foods and supplements

Examples include SCFAs, vitamins, phenols, exopolysaccharides, enzymes and cell wall fragments


There’s no denying that your gut health influences your overall health and wellbeing. But for those of us who partake in regular physical exercise, whether for fun or professionally, your gut can also influence your performance.

Prebiotics, probiotics and postbiotics contribute to this both individually and in combination. The microbes residing in your gut are responsible for breaking down the foods your body is just not equipped to digest, particularly fibre. And, in conducting this important mission they influence your overall health status, including:

  • Inflammation
  • Neurological and cognitive function
  • Digestion
  • Immunity
  • Stress

All of these are important for your physical performance. So, no matter the purpose of your exercise, you’ll probably want to add your gut health to your overall list of considerations.

Prebiotics and physical performance

Prebiotics feed the beneficial microbes housed within your colon, helping to maintain homeostasis. But as we’ll find out later on, probiotic bacteria may aid your performance during exercise, by increasing energy and reducing the build-up of lactic acid in your muscles. One kind of this bacteria is called Veillonella,which HMO can help increase

But to do that, your gut microbiota needs to be diverse and well-nourished so they can unleash their positive effects. And how can we do that? By increasing our intake of prebiotics of course!

When your microbiome is balanced and diverse, it can lead to better nutrient absorption, increased energy, and better recovery. Whereas an imbalanced microbiome can cause gastrointestinal distress, impaired immune function and a reduction in nutrient absorption. That may explain why you experience symptoms like acid reflux or diarrhoea[i] when you’ve been for a run or why you keep getting a cough or cold if you train during the winter months.

The benefits of prebiotics on physical performance include:

  • Enhanced nutrient absorption
  • Increased energy production
  • Lower incidence of GI distress
  • Stronger immunity
  • Faster recovery time

So, although there is little research into the influence of prebiotics on exercise performance specifically, the consumption of prebiotic foods and supplements will boost the activity and function of probiotic bacterial strains.

Ultimately, increasing the production of short-chain fatty acids, an example of a postbiotic. Therefore, it is the fermentation of prebiotics which may give rise to the improved glycogen storage and metabolism seen during exercise[ii].

How do probiotics contribute to my athletic performance?

The microbes that exist within the gastrointestinal tract are essential for human life, not least because they have an important influence on human physiology. Up to 60% of athletes experience stress induced by exercise. Yet, thanks to their role in maintaining health, probiotics could improve metabolic and immune function, improving recovery.

Pane et al. (2018) presented evidence in their review article which suggested the administration of Bifidobacteriumand Streptococcushad anti-inflammatory benefits following muscle-damaging exercise[iii].

A further study by Gleeson et al (2011) investigated the effects of a probiotic supplement on male and female athletes during winter training on the incidence of upper respiratory tract infections. The study involved 84 highly active individuals who were randomly assigned to a probiotic (Lactobacillus shirota) or a placebo group for 16 weeks.

The results of the study found that the incidence of respiratory tract infection symptoms was 36% higher in the placebo group compared to the probiotic group. So too was the number of infections in the placebo group.

Overall, the study showed that regular ingestion of L. Shirotareduced the frequency of respiratory infections in athletes during a period of winter training[iv]

A reduction in upper respiratory tract infections in athletes taking a synbiotic formulation was also observed in a study by Zhang et al (2023). The study concluded that supplementing male football players with synbiotics for six weeks has a positive effect on both immune function and athletic performance[v].

How important are postbiotics for physical activity?

When we exercise, whether it’s for a few minutes or a few hours, our bodies need a continuous supply of energy, or adenosine triphosphate (ATP) to keep our muscles working. A major contributor to our energy metabolism is the gut microbiota which provides around 10% of our daily caloric requirements. Interestingly, there is growing interest in the role of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) on metabolic processes particularly within the skeletal muscle[vi].

During exercise, one of the limiting factors is the depletion of energy or muscle glycogen. To combat this, some people opt for carbohydrate loading where athletes will maximise their glycogen stores before endurance events by increasing the carbs they eat[vii]. However, gut microbes can also influence muscle glycogen storage, presumably through the metabolic actions of SCFAs.

For example, probiotics like Bifidobacteriaand Lactobacilliare well known for their ability to produce SCFAs. Animal models reveal that SCFAs can increase glycogen storage capacity by increasing the expression of the insulin-regulated glucose transporter, GLUT4 or glucose transporter 4. An increased expression of GLUT4 is associated with an increased uptake of glucose and glycogen repletion, or increased energy. Further studies have shown that probiotics improve physical performance and muscle function[viii].

Currently, there is a lack of research into the effect of postbiotics on the human athletic gut. However, animal models have shown promising results. Short-chain fatty acids may be physiologically important during exercise and may demonstrate how the gut can be manipulated to maximise performance during training[ix]

Practical application

The key thing to remember before rushing out to buy lots of different supplements is to ensure you are eating a healthy, balanced, and gut-friendly diet.

Choose prebiotic fibres, like onions, asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, berries, wholegrains and garlic, and incorporate them daily into your diet. However, you should probably avoid them immediately before and after exercise to avoid GI upset. But you can also bolster your prebiotic intake with Layer Origin’s PureHMO® range.

Human milk oligosaccharides are prebiotics naturally found in mother’s milk and are known to have numerous benefits for the gut and beyond. They are the third most abundant component of breast milk behind lactose and lipids and are a complex mixture of over 200 digestible and non-nutritional carbohydrates[x].

PureHMO® Prebiotic Powder packs a mighty punch with 2000 mg of 2’-Fucosyllactose (2’-FL) the most abundant of the HMOs and supports gut, immune and cognitive health, bolstering and balancing your gut microbiome.

And then there are probiotics. Rather than immediately supplementing, try introducing some naturally probiotic foods into your diet namely fermented foods. Because of their naturally occurring health-promoting bacteria, some studies have demonstrated that fermented foods could have numerous health benefits including anti-inflammatory properties, anti-diabetic, and anti-atherosclerotic activity[xi].

Some of these foods make great additions to meals or even as a snack. For example, you might incorporate natural yoghurt into your breakfast routine, add a healthy dollop of kimchi to your favourite noodle dish or even sandwich, or switch out your favourite fizzy pop for a glass of kombucha!

If you’re interested in enhancing your performance further, check out our PureHMO® Synbiotic, a powerful combination of 2’-FL and 10 strains of Bifidobacteriaand Lactobacillus.

Fermented food examples





Fermented pickles





Apple cider vinegar

Sourdough bread

Unpasteurised cheese



There is emerging evidence to suggest that gut health could play an important physiological role in physical performance. The combination of pre-, pro-, and postbiotics can all influence the composition of your microbiome and its functional output.

If you want to harness the full effects of your gut, you’ll need to nourish it sufficiently with prebiotic fibre and probiotic foods to increase the production of powerful postbiotics, like SCFAs, which could improve your energy metabolism, meaning you can go further for longer.


Written byLeanne Edermaniger, M.Sc. Leanne is a professional science writer who specializes in human health and enjoys writing about all things related to the gut microbiome. 


[i] Simons, S. M., & Kennedy, R. G. (2004). Gastrointestinal problems in runners. Current sports medicine reports3(2), 112–116.

[ii] Prebiotics and Sports Nutrition [Internet]. [cited 2023 Sept 22]. Available from:

[iii] Pane M, Amoruso A, Deidda F, Graziano T, Allesina S, Mogna L. Gut microbiota, probiotics, and Sport. Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology. 2018;52(Supplement 1). doi:10.1097/mcg.0000000000001058

[iv] Gleeson M, Bishop NC, Oliveira M, Tauler P. Daily Probiotic’s (lactobacillus casei shirota) reduction of infection incidence in athletes. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism. 2011;21(1):55–64. doi:10.1123/ijsnem.21.1.55

[v] Zhang L, Xiao H, Zhao L, Liu Z, Chen L, Liu C. Comparison of the Effects of Prebiotics and Synbiotics Supplementation on the Immune Function of Male University Football Players. Nutrients. 2023 Feb 25;15(5):1158. doi: 10.3390/nu15051158. PMID: 36904156; PMCID: PMC10004888.

[vi] Sales KM, Reimer RA. Unlocking a novel determinant of athletic performance: The role of the gut microbiota, short-chain fatty acids, and “biotics” in exercise. Journal of Sport and Health Science. 2023;12(1):36–44. doi:10.1016/j.jshs.2022.09.002

[vii] NSCA’s Sport and Exercise Nutrition pg 151. Carbohydrate loading [Internet]. NSCA; 2019 [cited 2023 Sept 22]. Available from:

[viii] Giron M, Thomas M, Dardevet D, Chassard C, Savary-Auzeloux I. Gut microbes and muscle function: can probiotics make our muscles stronger? J Cachexia Sarcopenia Muscle. 2022 Jun;13(3):1460-1476. doi: 10.1002/jcsm.12964. Epub 2022 Mar 12. PMID: 35278043; PMCID: PMC9178375.

[ix] Carey RA, Montag D. Exploring the relationship between gut microbiota and exercise: Short-chain fatty acids and their role in metabolism. BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine. 2021;7(2). doi:10.1136/bmjsem-2020-000930

[x] Hegar B, Wibowo Y, Basrowi RW, Ranuh RG, Sudarmo SM, Munasir Z, Atthiyah AF, Widodo AD, Supriatmo, Kadim M, Suryawan A, Diana NR, Manoppo C, Vandenplas Y. The Role of Two Human Milk Oligosaccharides, 2'-Fucosyllactose and Lacto-N-Neotetraose, in Infant Nutrition. Pediatr Gastroenterol Hepatol Nutr. 2019 Jul;22(4):330-340. doi: 10.5223/pghn.2019.22.4.330. Epub 2019 Jun 25. PMID: 31338308; PMCID: PMC6629589. 

[xi] Şanlier N, Gökcen BB, Sezgin AC. Health benefits of fermented foods. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2019;59(3):506-527. doi: 10.1080/10408398.2017.1383355. Epub 2017 Oct 20. PMID: 28945458.

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