Stay Healthy - Immune Function in Athletes by Zac Tuner

 

In spite of recent events with the COVID-19 pandemic, athletes are paying more attention to what they can do to makes sure their immune function is functioning optimally. However, the growing concern surrounding coronavirus isn’t the only reason why we should maintain good immune health. As we approach the cooler months this is equally as important to make sure we stay healthy during this time.

 

I’m sure many of us are no stranger to getting sick through our training. It can be estimated that reasons for missing training among high level athletes stands at 33% for infection and/or illness (Gleeson, 2015). This therefore suggests a close link between exercise / training and immune function.

 

Lower immune function is not a cause of all exercise. Regular moderate exercise is great at reducing risks of illness compared to that of a sedentary lifestyle. However, prolonged periods of strenuous exercise or intense training is linked with increased risk of infection or illness.

 

Sustained periods of intensified physical activity is likely to result in a reduction of white blood cell production, an integral part of immune-physiology. Therefore, this creates an increased susceptibility of infection and illness. Coupling this with inadequate rest between training sessions creates a playground for viruses by placing us into a state of immunodepression. Furthermore, to minimise this immunosuppression, an important consideration is acknowledging aspects that may indirectly rise training intensity like poor sleep, high stress levels and poor diet.

 

Maintaining a tough immunity is not only paramount to sustain training through long preparations, but also to ensure you have the ability to train at higher intensities without compromising your immune system and to get quality out of your training.

 

Below are some useful considerations to manage your immune function during training.

  • Get adequate sleep and rest appropriate after tough sessions.
  • Avoid consecutive days of intensified sessions and plan easy sessions.
  • Fuel with sufficient carbohydrates during long training sessions.
  • Avoid deficiencies in proteins and macronutrients (iron, zinc and vitamins A, D E, B6 and B12)
  • Change training sessions if necessary, dropping intensity levels if there are any signs of beginning infections.
  • Last but not least, make habit of all hygiene processes that we have been practicing during the coronavirus pandemic, even during training. E.g. washing hands at the gym, avoid sharing drink bottles during sessions etc.

 

Gleeson, M. (2015, September). Effects of Exercise on Immune Function. Retrieved from Gadorade Sports Science Institute: https://www.gssiweb.org/sports-science-exchange/article/sse-151-effects-of-exercise-on-immune-function

Gleeson, M. (2013). Exercise, nutrition and immunity. In: P.C. Calder and P. Yaqoob (eds.),      Diet, Immunity and Inflammation. Cambridge: Woodhead Publishing, pp. 652-685.