CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Yogurt is among the food on the University of Hawaii football team's table for after practice.
Probiotic food could help athletes
University of Hawaii Warriors quarterback Colt Brennan likes yogurt -- and so do left tackle Keoni Steinhoff, linebacker Solomon Elimimian and left guard Hercules Satele.
"I like the taste, and it just is healthy," said the 6-foot-3, 201-pound quarterback. "It helps with your breath, too. It's one of the best things you can eat."
Steinhoff, 6-foot-3 and 282 pounds, said he tries to eat yogurt every day. "I know it builds the body."
Elimimian, 5-foot-11 and 218 pounds, said, "I love yogurt with granola."
Could their athletic performance be related to eating yogurt, a food containing probiotics or live microorganisms?
"There is really no evidence that it helps performance," said Dr. Andrew Nichols, University of Hawaii head team physician and John A. Burns School of Medicine professor.
But yogurt and other probiotic foods seem to have beneficial effects, such as boosting immune function, which might indirectly boost athletes' performance, Nichols said.
Not all Warriors eat yogurt, according to a brief poll. "No, I don't like it," 5-foot-11, 180-pound receiver Ryan Grice-Mullins said emphatically.
"Yogurt is kind of a hard thing for people to eat," Nichols said. "They either like it or they don't."
Other probiotic foods also can be considered health foods, he pointed out, such as fermented soybeans, fermented cabbage, sauerkraut, kim chi, miso, tempeh and kiefer.
Yogurt and probiotic foods have been popular for centuries, especially in Europe, Nichols said.
"People interested in health and longevity seemed to think there was something there," he said. "Many athletes share the same interests and frequently consume yogurt, kiefer and other fermented products."
Satele, 6-foot-2 and 293 pounds, said, "Some people eat it with cereal." He hasn't been eating it recently because by the time he gets to the training table for breakfast, it's gone, he said. "A lot of people eat it."
Nichols said many techniques, foods and vitamins have been used over the years to enhance athletic performance without any evidence that they actually do.
"That is really what prompted me to do a systematic review of literature to find out what kind of evidence is out there," he said. His review appeared in the journal Current Sports Medicine.
He said he found that probiotic foods had a beneficial effect in treating people with gastrointestinal diseases, high blood pressure and cholesterol, and other conditions.
But he found just two articles reporting studies looking at the effect of probiotics in athletes.
One found that probiotic foods might boost immune function, particularly in athletes who overtrain, he said.
Yogurt and other products containing live microbial ingredients also could benefit traveling athletes, helping them "to maintain healthy intestinal microbial flora, the bacterial content of the gut," he said.