By Marc Bubbs ND, BSc, CSCS, ART
Is exercise running you into the ground? Do you often feel tired, sluggish, or fatigued? Are your fitness gains being cut short by frequent colds and flu? While exercise is a wonderful tool for improving health and boosting immunity, too much of a good thing can quickly lead to decreased athletic performance and increased susceptibility to colds and flu. Nothing stops a great training program faster than being sick, so it’s important to give your body the fuel it needs to keep infectious bugs at bay. The answer lies in a holistic approach to exercise, including a proper periodized Spinning® program, a few key nutrients, some powerful immune boosting herbs and optimal water intake that will keep your immune system revved up and ready for training this fall.Exercise can be a double-edged sword when it comes to its effects on our immune systems. The right amount of periodized training, or alternating intensity and duration of workouts, actually boosts immunity. This improves our resistance to upper respiratory tract infection (URTI), commonly known as colds and flu (1,2). However, prolonged intense bouts of training, or overtraining, will inhibit the immune system for up to six hours following exercise, making the body much more susceptible to infection (1,2). In fact, current research shows that excessive aerobic endurance training is harder on the immune system than anaerobic training, leaving athletes more likely to catch a cold and flu (3). What does this mean for Spinning enthusiasts and instructors? It’s a clear sign that following a periodized training program will help reduce the likelihood of overtraining and the overall burden on your immune system.The immune system functions a lot like the muscles of the body. It needs the right nutrients to keep it revved up and running at its best. There are a few key players that pack a powerful punch in boosting immune function and fighting off illness.
Glutamine vis a non-essential amino acid vital to maintaining a healthy gut lining and boosting overall immunity. When we exercise, our glutamine stores take a big hit, decreasing as much as 50% post-training (5). As glutamine levels decline in the body after training, so does the body’s ability to fight off infections (6). Supplementing with glutamine post-training will enhance recovery and reduce susceptibility to colds and flu.Vitamin C is another key nutrient that has a tremendous impact on our immune system. It is also a powerful antioxidant and keeps tendons and ligaments strong. Studies show that vitamin C supplementation increases the response of neutrophils and lymphocytes, important immune cells that are the ‘front-line soldiers’ of the immune system (7). Researchers have also noted that when athletes increased their vitamin C intake during intense exercise, their immune system showed remarkable improvement (8). This is great news for athletes who are pushing themselves to the limit and don’t want to lose ground to nasty colds and flu!Dry mucous membranes in our nose and throat also make it easier for bacteria and viruses to penetrate our immune defenses. Vitamin A is not only essential for maintaining healthy mucous membranes in the body, but it helps fight off infection too. Researchers have discovered that vitamin A deficiency impairs mucosal immunity and leaves the body more prone to URTIs (9).Zinc is another immune system superstar that is essential in more than 300 different functions in the body! Zinc is an important fuel for the thymus gland, which produces special T-lymphocyte white blood cells. These important cells are produced once the invaders have penetrated our first line of defenses. Recent studies have shown that zinc supplementation improves immunity and can reduce both the severity and duration of colds (10). Since athletes are more prone to zinc deficiencies, supplementation is a great strategy during strenuous training protocols (11).
From the Pantry
Herbs easily found in most kitchens can also provide a welcome boost to our immunity. Honey, ginger and cayenne are all heavyweight immune builders that help fight off colds and flu. Honey is one of the strongest anti-bacterial agents found in nature and an excellent demulcent, a substance which coats sore and dry throats providing relief of cold and flu symptoms. Ginger and cayenne are considered “yang tonics” in eastern medicine: pungent flavors that are “warming” to the body, stimulating circulation of energy and blood (12). This makes them great herbs for kicking those stubborn colds. Try this traditional recipe to help knock-out your next cold or flu: mix 1 tbsp of unpasteurized natural honey with 1 tbsp of fresh grated ginger and 1 tsp of lemon (for taste) into 1 cup of boiling water. Stir and let simmer for 3–5 minutes. Sprinkle on some cayenne pepper to finish. You will be back on the bike in no time thanks to this potent immune-boosting blend!
Finally, water truly is the “fluid of life”, and maintaining proper hydration will improve our immune cells’ ability to fight off bacteria and viruses. A common mistake that riders make is waiting to ‘“feel thirsty” before drinking any water or trying to re-hydrate during training. Unfortunately, by the time you feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated, and your performance will suffer as a result. Studies show that a mere 2-percent loss in hydration can result in decreased immunity and athletic performance (4). How do you know if you are hydrated? Current research suggests that consuming plenty of water an hour or two before training, approximately 2–4 cups, is an excellent way to maintain optimal hydration levels (4).Remember to keep your immune system in optimal condition this summer by following a periodized Spinning program, supplementing with the right nutrients to support your immune cells, adding some powerful immune boosting herbs to your diet, and drinking plenty of water before, during and after training. Stay healthy and enjoy your rides this summer!
1) Venkatraman JT, PEndergast DR. Effects of dietary intake on immune function in athletes. Sports Med 2002;32(5):323-3372) Nieman DC, Pedersen BK. Exercise and immune function, recent developments. Sports Med 1999;27:72-80 3) Nieman, DC. Effects of athletic endurance training on infection rates and immunity. In: Kreider BC, Try AC, O’Toole ML, eds. Overtraining in Sport. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics Publishers; 1998:193-218. 4) Kreider RB, Almada AL, Antonio J et al. ISSN exercise and sport nutrition review: research recommendations. Sports Nutr Rev J 2004;1(1):1-44 5) Rona, Zoltan MD. Supplements for Natural Body Building. Alive Books, Vanc 2000. 6) Balch, P. Prescription for Nutritional Healing. Avery Group, NY, 2006. 7) Peters EM, Goetzche JM, Grobbelaar B, Noakes TD. Vitamin C supplementation reduces the incidence of post race symptoms of upper-respiratory-tract infection in ultra marathon runners. Am J Clin Nutr 1993;57:170-174. 8) Jeurissen A, Bossuyt X, Ceuppens JL, Hespel P. The effects of physical exercise on the immune system. Ned Tijdschr Geneeskd 2003;147(28):1347-1351. 9) Balch, P. Prescription for Nutritional Healing. Avery Group, NY, 2006 10) Gleeson M, Lancaster G, Bishop N. Nutritional strategies to minimize exercise-induced immunosuppression in athletes. Can J Appl Physiol 2001;26:523-535. 11) Konig D, Weinstock C, Keul J, NOrthoff H, Berg A. Zinc, iron, and magnesium status in athletes: influence on the reuglation of exercise-induced stress and immune function. Exerc Immunol Rev 1998;4:2-21. 12) Pitchford, P. Healing with Whole Foods. North Atlantic Books, California 2002.Mark Bubbs will be presenting sessions at the WSSC Conference, this year, find out more.