On Friday I was fortunate to be part of a lecture on the topic of the 'sick' athlete and ideas on how athletes can be monitored in a way to detect any markers which could identify potential points of vulnerability or the beginnings of an illness. The information below is the notes that I wrote during the session, a lot of it not new science, but it was interesting to put it in the applied sense and always useful to be refreshed and hear different opinions!
With all athletes early intervention and acting on signs and symptoms of getting ill is extremely advantageous in an athlete’s lifestyle. Good coaches should be able to recognise when an athlete is not quite 100% healthy by monitoring their performance such as split times and be able to respond accordingly. But is there a way of identifying periods of potential illness before they happen?
There hasn’t yet been a single marker indentified which can indicate when an athlete is vulnerable to illness or when they are at the initial stages. Many ideas have been tested, but the most accurate and less invasive is to ask the athlete to simply keep scores of areas of their wellbeing. Ask the athlete to simply score the following areas 1-10 with 1 being the worst, 10 being the best.
• Quality of Sleep
• Concentration Strength
• Emotional Liability
Add up scores to give a total score and over time the athlete will begin to notice a pattern and maybe recognise times when the athlete is becoming more vulnerable, most likely when the scores are lowering.
Athletes are at a higher risk of developing a URTI (Upper Respiratory Tract Infection) especially endurance athletes due to the higher breathing rate, which offers a higher chance of breathing in infections. This is made worse when the mouth is dry and instead of them being washed down into the stomach and killed off by the acid, they stay in the throat and lead to illness.
There is also a strong correlation between injury and URTI’s showing the increase in incidents of injuries following the 6 weeks after a URTI.
Ways to reduce this:
• Chewing Gum- causes you to swallow more, giving the bacteria/viruses less time to settle in the throat.
• Drinking and staying hydrated
• Making sure the athlete eats plenty of carbohydrate as this reduces the ummunosuppression post exercise.
• Washing Hands
• Antioxidants- Vitamin C and Zinc- should be taken during vulnerable times, such as when other team members are sick, before travel or an increase in training load.
• Being aware- knowing when the risks are e.g. beginning of academic year. Self awareness is critical.
• Don’t under estimate the value of sleep- be prepared when staying away take your own pillows to help you sleep more easily.