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Minimizing The Risk Of Immunosuppression In Endurance Athletes

Updated on September 3, 2012

Immunosuppression in endurance athletes

The immune system is responsible for tissue repair after exercise and injury as well as the body's protection against pathogenic microorganisms.

An accumulation of stresses may lead to Immunosuppression in endurance athletes and an increased risk of upper respiratory tract infections (URTI's) in endurance athletes. Below are ways for enrance athletes to minimize risks of immunosuppression.

Immunosuppression can affect marathon runners

Don't let immunosuppression inhibit your endurance training and marathon event performance
Don't let immunosuppression inhibit your endurance training and marathon event performance | Source

Strategies to Minimize Immune System Suppression Risk

  • Allows and plan sufficient recovery time into your weekly training cycle.

More training is not always better for you as it can lead to overtraining. By effectively periodizing your training program you can build rest and recovery into your training regime.

  • Periodize your training to avoid boredom.

Changing training focus can help to keep an athlete motivated

  • Ensure day to day training variation.

This can help guard against monotony of training and allows the athlete to factor easier recovery sessions into their training program. No two days in a row should be the same.

  • Gradually increase one training variable at once out of intensity or time.

Do not increase both variables together as this puts undue stress on the body and requires additional recovery time requirement for the athlete.

  • Take things steady when returning from injury or illness.

The athlete will be tempted to return to previous training levels however the body is most likely not ready respond to the stress of such a heavy training load which can lead to further immunosuppression.

  • Adequate sleep

Getting sufficient sleep is key for an athlete to recover from the stresses of endurance training and competition. At least 6 hours a night is recommended.

  • Avoid excessively long training training sessions.

If you're feeling weak or over stressed you could break down a four hour training session into two x two hour sessions or shorter.

  • Minimize other stresses in your life where possible.

Keep things simple to avoid extra stress impacting your endurance performance.

  • Eat a good balanced diet.

Diet is key in ensuring your body has the nutrients available to recover from the stresses of training and competition as well as maintaining a healthy strong immune system. A well balanced diet will provide the relevant vitamins and minerals responsible however in cases where this is not possible a multivitamin supplement could be recommended.

  • Ensure adeqaute carbohydrate intake.

Carbohydrate is the body's main energy source and low carbohydrate intake is associated with a weakened immune system response to exercise. Therefore it is imperative for athletes to ensure adequate carbohydrate levels before exercise as well as post exercise to replenish glycogen levels within the body. Carbohydrate drinks during exercise must also be considered for endurance athletes to maintain performance.

  • Take a Vitamin C Supplement to decrease URTI risk

Peters et al (1993) found in a clinical study that taking a 500 mg Vitamin C supplement daily significantly decreases Upper Respiratory Tract Infections (URTI's) from exercise. This is due to Vitamin C's antioxident properties and it's ability to maintain the integrity and stability of cell membranes.


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