As the dust settles on the Virgin London Marathon which took place on Sunday, thousands of runners will be taking a well-earned rest after the months of long and hard training needed to met their goal and complete the challenging 26.2 mile distance.
During their training period, many runners will have experienced at least one occasion where they were unable to train due to a cold or flu like symptoms. Like many other endurance athletes, some will have suffered from repeated bouts of infections which caused a real disruption to their training routine and ultimately their performance. Suppressed immunity is common during and following periods of hard training, and athletes often pick up an illness shortly after a marathon or major race. In addition to allowing the mind and muscloskeletal systems to recuperate, the recovery period should aim to boost the immune system.
There are many theories as to why immune defence is weakened following strenuous endurance activity. Athletes with a high training load (more than 11h moderate intensity training per week), experience more than twice as many upper respiratory tract infections compared with those on low-moderate training volumes. So how can athletes help maintain their immune system and prevent the training disturbances caused by bouts of illnesses?
Here are a few starting points:
- Stay hydrated and try to rehydrate effectively as soon as possible post training or competition. This will help maintain saliva production and sustain the release of saliva proteins know to have important antimicrobial properties.
- Ensure sufficient rest - don’t return back to exercise too quickly and maintain light exercise until fully recovered.
- Ensure that you get adequate sleep (at least 7 hours per night) in order to help your body to recover and repair any damage that has occurred.
- Keep away from people suffering with cold or flu where possible, or reduce physical contact.
- Maintain good hygiene e.g. washing hands regularly.
- Promote recovery as much as you can - try to consume a good quality carbohydrate snack within 30mins post exercise. This may mean athletes need to be prepared by packing light snacks to have after training. Sometimes waiting until you get home is too late and can often lead to poor food choices.
- Forward plan to ensure that you have access to foods appropriate to meeting nutrition goals for training. Plan and prepare meals so that when you go grocery shopping you can ensure that your cupboard is full of things you need for healthy meals.
- Choose a wide variety of foods within your diet - each food has a different range of nutrients; the wider the choice and range of your foods, the more different nutrients you will consume.
- Include cereal rich foods such as wholemeal, multi-grain or seeded breads, brown rice or pasta. Athletes who are training for endurance activities need to maintain a high carbohydrate diet to support their energy needs and help their body to recover efficiently.
- Eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables throughout the day - the more colour the better.