Thursday, September 25, 2008

Dodging the plague.

I am interested at the moment in training and it's effect on your immune system. Mainly this is driven by wanting to avoid a cold or flu at a critical time such a race week, but generally because I hate being sick! I won't go into the science and mechanisms here for how this stuff works for fear of boring you to death, but will give you the practical bits of what I have figured out, and how I plan to apply it for myself.

I've got a qualification in Nutrition and Body Fat Management, so I know the basics about how many calories, carbs, protein and fat my diet should include. I think most keen athletes these days would know this stuff, so I am not going to go over that. What I was really interested in here was reading a bit more on immune suppression and exercise, and what the research is currently showing.

On top of the standard advice in ensuring your diet has adequate carbs, protein, fat, vitamins and minerals - I learnt some interesting stuff - specifically:
  • When you don't consume enough carbohydrate you become more susceptible to infection. In particular it is during your sessions that the damage is done, not so much after. For me this is key, as often I will not eat during a ride, and simply ensure I refuel adequately off the bike. It's a no-no. Apart from avoiding hitting the wall, eating on the bike on long or tough sessions can also protect your immune response. So more attention to eating on the bike then (stop laughing TR)! Even a hard 40 minute session is enough to induce the response. So more eload and gels for the miles ahead.

  • Zinc was another interesting one. It has been shown as critical in the function of our immune response. It has also been shown that serious athletes have lower plasma levels of zinc compared to couch sitters. Basically we sweat our zinc out. Ok then, so I just need to take a Zinc supplement right? Wrong. Some studies have figured out that too much Zinc also interfers with the immune response, just as much as having too little. What is the answer? Eat more zinc-rich foods (poultry, meat, fish and dairy) and if you must (say because you are vegetarian) only supplement with a small dose (say no more than 10mg/day).

  • Even with these tricks recognise that after a smashing race or training session you mostly likely will have a dampened immune function. Where you can, go into avoidance mode (as a parent with a young child I am laughing as I type this... but anyways..). This means avoid crowded places (big shopping centres, trains etc), wash you hands like there is something OCD wrong with you, stay warm (not really a problem in BrisVegas), and keep away for people who are ill.

There you go.


Kenzo said...

Zinc is also an aphrodisiac.
Coincidentally, it is found in high concentrations in.... oysters.

Craig Storey said...

That was helpfull. I got a cold at my last race! I'll eat a little more when I ride now. Thanks
I saw your blog on Matts.