Thursday, June 10, 2010

staying healthy....

So around this time of year (winter) I usually write a piece on managing immunity and staying well as an athlete - usually because I am sick and can't (won't) train. Not exactly a confidence inspiring admission - but here we go.... Last year apart from focusing on vitamins and minerals, I talked a bit about the importance of carbohydrate while training - even on short rides. Today let's look at the broader picture and general diet and unfolding role of probiotics for endurance junkies.

First of all, what's the problem for athletes and immunity anyway. Well it is now a generally accepted fact that athletes immune systems are disrupted by intense and/or heavy training for particular periods of time - specifically for a few hours straight after training (though this can extend in some cases for days). A whole bunch of important immune cells and regulators have been shown to be disturbed. I cannot even begin to imagine what a 24 hour race does! In fact, there is so much going on in this area that a new school of science, 'sports immunology', is gathering momentum.

The upshot is we as athletes are more susceptible to upper respiratory tract infections (URTI) than your average couch sitter, particularly during and after training. So that then begs the question - what can you do?? Most serious athletes will know the general behavioural guidelines for key pre-competition periods - wash your hands, avoid public places like shopping centres or public transport, and keep away from those you know are ill. That is all well and good, but how many of us can avoid our sick kids, or not go to work? I guess that leaves us with wash your hands.

Ok, so your hands are clean, you ate during training and you took your vitamins.... is there anything else you can do.... ??

Well research is indicating that probiotics may be useful to our athletic population in staving off the lurgy. Aussie researchers have shown that specifically for endurance athletes, probiotics can have a marked effect in preventing URTI, and if you do still manage to get it, they seem to shorten the duration and lessen the intensity.

So what is a probiotic? It's a good gut bacteria that is believed to stimulate the right immune responses (like fighting a URTI virus) and down regulate over excited immune activity (like allergies and inflammation). They also are thought to take up the 'prime real estate' and prevent others from moving in hence promoting health. There are a bunch of different strains - most people know about the acidophilus from yoghurt - but lactobacillius fermentum was the one used in study with the endurance runners and shown to have the effect we are interested in. Based on this it would seem a probiotic containing L. fermentum for endurance athletes in build/intense training cycles is probably not a bad idea.

So what is a prebiotic? A prebiotic is a food that selectively feeds probiotics once you have them onboard and encourages them to out compete any of the nasties that might also be around. They are a particular type of carbohydrate (oligosaccharides), though some fibres are included. Good sources are soybeans, onions, garlic, asparagus, bananas, legumes and leeks. If you fork out the $$ for a probiotic, you should feed the seamonkeys. Most of us get 2 to 3gms per day - you need more. Pay attention to your diet and ensure you include prebiotics by bumping these guys up or by taking one (about 5gm/day). Bumping them up shouldnt matter too much to your average endurance athlete in terms of calories - but if you are on a restricted diet, maybe look to the fibres as a source without so many calories.

What is for sure is that pre and probiotics is a very interesting area.
It is potentially part of the mechanism for the 'hygenie hypothesis', one of the reasons why breast feeding is thought to be so good, and certainly the focus of much interesting science to understand the complex nature of these good bacteria.

What do I make of it?? I guess it is time to learn to love yoghurt. Banana smoothie anyone?


Alison said...

I have yogurt evry day of my life and still have URTI, maybe it's time for soup (soybeans, onions, garlic, asparagus, legumes and leeks)


Rach said...

hey pete, in that research paper they used a strain that is not found in yoghurt (l.fermentum) so if you really want to try it out, you'd need to find a supplement that contains that strain.
soup sounds good, let me know when you have finished cooking it :)

Bubble said...
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Bubble said...

Singer - some interesting observations, so given your comment about breast feeding will you be trying colostrum now as well ? Have you tried Inner Health Plus ? It was recommended to me by the dietitian and I only take it whenever I feel a little bit 'off' and it seems to do the trick everytime (plus having the fluvax every year) - have you considered glutamine ?

Rach said...

I will be lining up for Daisy the cows colostrum anytime soon. there is some support, but studies are conflicted. it is possible that it is only of benefit in certain scenarios for which experiments to date have not been controlled...

I am trying some probiotics, but for me I specifically wanted something with the l.fermentum so inner health plus is no good for me, but interesting to see that you are onto it.

I also think glutamine does not have a lot of science behind it, and wouldnt waste my money.