Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Immunity and the Athlete

Helping to maintain training during the winter months

An immune system which operates within homeostatic limits protects against common illnesses that can impair an athlete’s ability to train and perform.  Ensuring adequate carbohydrate and protein intake, a well as adequate intake of a wide range of micro-nutrients will help maximise the immune system's ability to protect against illness.  Improving immune health should be based around a five point plan:

1. Training - Load and Recovery

Adequate rest, alongside appropriate training, will ensure there is the right balance of overload and adaptation. Too much training with too little rest will lead to athletes becoming run down, and more prone to illness and injury. Sometimes, taking a day off when you feel run down or 'under the weather' may help prevent having to take a week of down the line.

2. Environment

There are some things that you cannot control, such as the training environment. However, you can be prepared. During the winter months, when the weather is likely to be colder and wetter, dress appropriately and keep warm whilst training and during warm up and cool down. Remember, just because it is cold, doesn't mean you don't sweat, so still pay attention to fluid levels and hydration, and ensuring that you shower and change out of damp clothing as soon as possible after training.

3. Psychology

High levels of stress and anxiety will also lead to a higher risk of illness. Try to reduce the risk of these feelings by focusing on things you can control, such as managing your time and meeting deadlines.

4. Lifestyle (Sleep, Diet, stress)

Be organised, ensure there is adequate rest and focus on healthy eating, meeting carbohydrate needs, adequately refueling, and choosing a wide range of fruits and vegetables.

5. Clinical conditions

There will be bugs and germs, and sometimes the sports environment is a perfect breeding ground for these to spread. Pay attention to good hygiene habits especially washing hands to reduce the risk. 


Athletes can be quite quick to turn to vitamin and mineral supplements to prevent illnesses and time out of training. However. these should not be the first thing that the athlete looks to, and careful thought should be taken before this step is taken.
  • What is the likely benefit of the supplement, or the likely harm?
  • Are there any interactions between the nutrients, supplements and medications?
  • What is the evidence supporting these supplements
  • What is the cost, availability, and risk of contamination for the both the sport and the individual

In future posts I will look at some of the nutrients which are thought to reduce the risk of illness (including Vitamin E, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Pro-Biotics, Glutamin, Zinc and carbohydrates), supporting claims for supplementing with these nutrients, and natural dietary sources for these nutrients.

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