Probiotic supplements reduce infections in rugby players

Kerry Beeson BSc (Nut. Med.) Nutritional Therapist

Recent research, published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, has indicated that daily supplementation with a probiotic may be of benefit to highly trained rugby players.

rugby scrum

The study shows that probiotic supplementation may reduce infections in rugby players

The randomised placebo controlled study, carried out by the University of Otago in New Zealand, aimed to determine the effectiveness of probiotics (find out more on the Probiotics Learning Lab) on the number, duration and severity of infections amongst the elite union rugby players. The study was carried out on 30 high level rugby union players, who each randomly received either a daily probiotic supplement or placebo over a 4 week period, with the players keeping a diary of their symptoms. This was followed by a 4 week wash out period.

The results were positive, stating that 14 of the 30 participating rugby players supplementing with a probiotic experienced neither a respiratory tract nor gastrointestinal infection during the 4 week trial period. This compared to only 6 of the 30 who were taking the placebo supplementation. The difference in severity of symptoms between the two treatment groups held no significance.

Ulster Rugby Club players have actually started using probotics, specifically Optibac Every Day EXTRA. Kevin Geary, a strength & conditioning coach at Ulster, said that "players provided with this product have previously reported various issues such as low energy levels & digestive discomfort. Players have reported less bloating, improved regularity & improvements in energy levels throughout the day. Would highly recommend this product." Tommy Bowe, who plays on the wing for Ulster, Ireland and the British and Irish Lions Rugby Teams gave a specific mention of thanks to Optibac on Twitter.

To conclude, the evidence suggests that daily supplementation with the trialled probiotic strains are beneficial to the health of rugby union players by reducing duration and frequency of infections, with potential health benefits for other sportsmen/women and athletes. We think this research is very encouraging as it is particularly problematic for sportsmen and women to take any time off training due to illness.

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  1. Haywood, B. A., Black, K. E., Baker, D., McGarvey, J., Healey, P., & Brown, R. C. (2014). Probiotic supplementation reduces the duration and incidence of infections but not severity in elite rugby union players. Journal of science and medicine in sport, 17(4): 356–360.