OP-ED: Can Postbiotics be the Answer to Athlete’s GI Distress

As a mountain bike racer, I loaded up on electrolyte energy drinks, gels, and chews throughout races to maintain energy and power, yet GI distress nearly always hit. During races, I struggled to stay in the game – while trying not to focus on my abdominal pain and GI distress. The physical symptoms led to pre-race stress and decreased race focus, impacting my performance.

I found that I was not alone after sharing similar untimely GI stories with other athletes who participated in endurance or intense exercise.

  1. Among a study of 606 elite endurance athletes, the prevalence of exercise-induced gastrointestinal symptoms was 70%.1
  2. In a study of 1,281 athletes, 45% reported at least one gastrointestinal symptom.2
  3. GI distress occurs in 30-50% of endurance athletes, with up to 90% of distance runners experiencing exercise-related GI problems.3

Exercise-induced GI distress can be caused by a reduced blood supply to the gut, dehydration, jostling and bouncing that irritates the gut, and nutrition that is not well-suited to an inflamed gut (many athletes ingest high-sugar products during exercise).

Athletes who engage in longer or more intense workouts have prolonged exposure to these factors and, as a result, increase their risk of GI distress. Athletes commonly experience abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, nausea, and vomiting. These symptoms negatively impact performance and decrease an athlete’s ‘fun’ factor.

As an athlete, I drank kefir, ate kimchi, and took probiotics for overall digestive health, yet these can’t easily be taken on the go. Most ‘biotics’ need to be refrigerated, meaning they are not part of an athlete’s nutrition toolbox.

Until now, enter shelf-stable postbiotics. I view these as an athlete’s game-day biotic. Postbiotics are the metabolic byproducts of probiotics (short-chain fatty acids, vitamins, and enzymes), yet they differ in that they are shelf-stable. Since these ‘biotics’ do not require refrigeration to maintain efficacy, athletes can take these during their workouts and wherever they adventure to – increasing the easy-to-use factor. On the go, they can mix with their preferred energy or protein drink, bar, or gel to manage and prevent GI symptoms.

Like probiotics, there are many ‘functions’ of postbiotics; those that are developed to reduce gut inflammation and promote the growth of beneficial bacteria are valuable for athletes dealing with exercise-induced GI distress.

Unanticipated GI distress in athletes can ruin an event that requires months or even years of training. With the advent of a biotic that can easily be added to an athlete’s on-the-go sports nutrition regime, athletes can push their body GI trigger-free.

Author: Celestia Howe
Celestia was a professional mountain biker and raced in the Western region of United States in Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and California. She is the Marketing Director for Verb Biotics, based in Boulder, Colorado, and enjoys mountain biking on the backcountry trails throughout Colorado.  


  1. Peters HP, Bos M, Seebregts L, et al. Gastrointestinal symptoms in long-distance runners, cyclists, and triathletes: prevalence, medication, and etiology. Am J Gastroenterol. 1999;94:1570–1581. doi: 10.1111/j.1572-0241.1999.01147.x. LINK
  2. ter Steege RW, Van der Palen J, Kolkman JJ. Prevalence of gastrointestinal complaints in runners competing in a long-distance run: an internet-based observational study in 1281 subjects. Scand J Gastroenterol. 2008;43:1477–1482. doi: 10.1080/00365520802321170. LINK
  3. de Oliveira E.P., Burini R.D. and Jeukendrup A. Gastrointestinal complaints during exercise prevalence, etiology, and nutritional recommendations.  Sports Med 2014; 44(S1): 79-85. LINK