When you’re training at an elite level, your body naturally demands more…of everything. Increased physical stress and prolonged exercise capacity requires more nutrients, recovery intervals, sleep, and hydration. Despite popular belief, immune system function is most suppressed and pronounced, post-workout.
Immune System Response to Exercise
High-intensity training that results in overtraining or overreaching, has been shown to chronically weaken immune system function, and increase susceptibility to illness and infection. Several studies have shown the correlation between strenuous endurance training and temporary exercise-induced depression of immune function [R].
Overtraining is the product of two culpabilities in your recovery routine. One, is exercising and lifting too much without enough time in between for ample muscle recovery. The second, is unremittingly under fueling your body with the critical nutrients it needs, to recover faster. Overtraining is something that not only happens with high-performance and elite athletes. If your nutrition, hormones, and stress is out of sync, overtraining can happen to any caliber of athlete at any level. Overtraining can occur to those that are new to fitness and endurance training, by taking on too much, too soon. In regard to experienced athletes, overtraining often occurs with enduring prolonged training periods, without adequate rest and recovery before they start another training session.
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Routine and moderate-intensity physical exercise can actually help improve immune system function, compared to a sedentary lifestyle and protect against upper respiratory infection such as the cold and flu. However intense physical exercise causes immunosuppression [R].
A study published in the Journal Of British Sports Medicine followed a group of over 1,000 study participants for a period of 12 weeks and monitored upper respiratory tract infection (URTI) symptoms and severity. URTI was reduced up to 43% with those training 5 days per week, as compared to individuals with a sedentary lifestyle.
But more is not always better. Recent evidence suggests that high-level athletes experience an increased susceptibility to URI symptoms during heavy training in the winter; particularly, when implementing increases in training load [R]. Additionally, physiological factors such as stress and anxiety play an imperative role in vulnerability to getting sick.
That being said a common misconception of getting sick, is that exposure to cold and wet weather can increase the likelihood to contracting the common cold. But the available research does not support this hypothesis. Most athletes are deficient in certain vitamins which can increase susceptibility to illness, especially in winter, which is possibly due to lower vitamin D.
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How Do Athletes Avoid Getting Sick?
Post-workout, there is an “open window” period of impaired immunity. The degree and duration of immunosuppression is directly-related to the intensity and duration of exercise and the risk of infection by viruses and bacteria is increased during this open period [R]. Therefore, the harder and longer you work out, the more opportunism for pathogens and vulnerable you immune system is. So, when you have higher workout volume and your training more, how do you avoid getting sick?
Athletes are more susceptible to getting sick when they get little rest and do not optimize post-workout nutrition and supplement protocols. Often times, athletes overlook the importance of micronutrient intake and become more vulnerable to infection.
Getting the proper nutrition during intense training schedules, is crucial to avoid getting sick and immunosuppression. Your diet needs to meet your energy demand, and provide sufficient macro and micronutrients in order to maintain greater immune system function [R]. Micronutrients are involved in nearly every human biological cellular function and immune system response. Micronutrients such as zinc, magnesium, B-Vitamins, and Vitamin D3 are crucial to avoid immunosuppression during prolonged and intense training schedules.
Macronutrients such as protein and complex carbohydrates are needed for post-workout to adequality rebuild and repair lean muscle mass. Protein is rich in the essential amino acids your body needs to repair muscle tissue and prevent overtraining. Glycogen from carbohydrates also plays a major role in supporting energy demands during pro-longed high-intensity training and moderate exercise. [R] Depletion of glycogen stores is the main factor in the onset of fatigue, therefore for faster recovery, it is important to replenish glycogen stores to initiate muscle repair and adaptation [R]. Carbohydrates can be utilized within your post-workout nutrition strategy to influence the restoration of endurance capacity during high-intensity training [R].
If you’re not consistent with your post workout nutrition, you increase your susceptibility to infection and illness. The easiest way to ensure you do not overtrain, and under nourish your body, especially at an elite level, is to hire a nutrition coach. A nutrition coach will help optimize your diet to improve performance and recover faster. Without the proper nutrition, you limit yourself as an athlete and will not only underperform but also be prone to more injury. If you need help optimizing your diet, we recommend The Swole Kitchen.
If you want to train at max capacity and avoid getting sick, its crucial to supplement with the proper nutrients to power your performance. Supplements are not made to be a band-aid but a preventative measure in your health and wellness. There are several supplements, that can play a pivotal role in your training performance to keep you at the top of your game and boost immune system function.
L-Glutamine: L-Glutamine is essential for maintaining a healthy immune system.
Glutamine is used by white blood cells to produce cytokines, (small proteins released by white blood cells). With an increased amount of cytokines, you invariably increase your body’s susceptibility to illness and protect your immune system.
If you want to give your immune system a boost and recovery faster from your workouts, we recommend adding a scoop of Glutamine to your post workout recovery shake. Swolverine’s L-Glutamine will help boost your immune system, and make sure you’re staying active and healthy.
Probiotics Probiotics, or the billions of good bacteria that are found in your gut flora can have a severe impact on your overall immune health. In a pooled systematic analysis of 6 randomized control trials (RCTs) there was a significant reduction in the number of colds, with those that were administered treatment with probiotics compared to a placebo [R].
The gut houses the Gut Associated Lymphoid Tissues (GALT). These tissues help protect the body from microbial invasion via the gut, keeping you digestive system happy and healthy. A variety of gut and GALT immune cells such as T cells can cross the blood-brain barrier and influence neural activity, altering the immune system through modulating the activity of resident immune cells. Therefore, by adding in quality strains of probiotics into your diet, you can help boost immune system function, by protecting yourself against invading pathogens and microbes [R].
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We recommend taking Probiotix from Swolverine to ensure you maintain good immune health, by restoring healthy microbiota and warding off harmful bacteria.
Zinc One of the many great benefits of Zinc, is its ability to boost your immune health, specifically through signaling T-cell activation, which helps control and regulates the immune response. Zinc is also crucial for normal human development and cells mediating innate immunity, which suggests that it has a role in the prevention of free-radical damage and inflammatory responses [R]. Since zinc is essential for virtually every cellular process, observations during zinc deficiency indicate that the absence of this trace element severely affects the immune response [R]
RELATED ARTICLE The Health Benefits Of Zinc
Vitamin D3 There have been multiple studies, that show lower levels of Vitamin D are associated with greater risks of infection. One study, with almost 19,000 participants showed that individuals with lower vitamin d levels were likely to report an upper respiratory tract infection than those with sufficient levels even after adjusting for variables including season, age, gender, body mass and race [R].
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Stress & Anxiety
Stress and anxiety can be very disruptive to training performance and suppress immune system function. Numerous studies indicate that athletes tend to be most susceptible to getting sick and contracting viral infection before competition. This is due to the increased physical demand of training, and the stress and anxiety with performing well, which can have an effect on sleep.
Not getting enough sleep can compromise immunity. Chronic sleep disturbances and disruption are associated with inflammation, increased risk of infection, and cardiovascular disease. Studies show that increased sleep directly correlates with the ability to recover faster and rebuild muscle mass and strength. Getting into a healthy sleep routine, can dramatically impact overall performance and immune health.
Going screen-free, reducing blue-enriched light a couple of hours before sleep, cutting caffeine and taking micronutrients like Zinc, Magnesium, and Vitamin B6 found in ZMT can also improve sleep quality and duration.
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Regular hand washing after each training session is one of the best ways to remove germs, avoid getting sick, and prevent the spread of germs to others. Its quick and a simple way to keep your immune system running strong for optimal performance. Preventing the spread of germs to others also means, no-sharing regarding water bottles or towels.
Are Athletes More Vulnerable To Getting Sick? Takeaway
Moderate training can definitely help in boosting immune system function. However, too much exercise can have the opposite effect. Increased physical demand and stress cause immunosuppression and increases vulnerability to upper respiratory tract infection and illness like the cold or flu. Additionally, physiological stress factors, in connection with behavioral factors especially before a competition can have a dramatic impact on immune system function. Make sure to get adequate amounts of sleep, manage your stress levels, get the proper post-workout nutrition and supplement consistently. By incorporating these fundamental recommendations, you can avoid overtraining and prevent getting sick.
Want To Perform At Your Highest Level And Avoid Getting Sick?
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Gleeson M. Immune system adaptation in elite athletes. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2006;9(6):659-65.
Schwellnus M, Soligard T, Alonso J, et al. How much is too much? (Part 2) International Olympic Committee consensus statement on load in sport and risk of illness British Journal of Sports Medicine 2016;50:1043-1052.
Pedersen, B.K., Rohde, T., & Zacho, M.(1996). Immunity in athletes. J Sports Med Phys Fitness,36, 236-45.
Recommendations to maintain immune health in athletes. (2018). European Journal of Sport Science, 18(6), 820–831.
Gleeson, M. (Ed.), Bishop, N. (Ed.), Walsh, N. (Ed.). (2013). Exercise Immunology. London: Routledge, https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203126417