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Upper Respiratory Tract Infections and Endurance Athletes

The general thought is endurance exercise leads to the depression of the immune system for a period of time following the activity. There are many reasons and theories behind why this occurs, but ultimately the surface has only been scratched regarding the specific processes within the body that are affected when people participate in endurance activities and sports. On a positive note, there are multiple options for supplementation and diet that can help to decrease the immune suppression that has been associated with endurance activities. There has been much research in the past years on the association of endurance activity and an increase in the incidence of upper respiratory tract infections.

Overall, however, the evidence is inconclusive, but there is very strong support for the idea that exercise seems to induce immune suppression, which in tum would lead to a higher chance of infection. A widely-accepted concept is the fact that the number and function of cells associated with the body’s innate immune response are altered. The cells included are natural killer cells, neutrophils and monocytes. Each has a very specific, but necessary response in the face of potential infection.

It is very important to confirm whether the symptoms experienced are due to an actual infection or if the symptoms are due to an increase in inflammation. In order to determine the difference, infection should be confirmed with lab testing and treated appropriately. Regardless of the presence of a depressed immune system or too much inflammation, there are very powerful strategies that you can follow to decrease the possibility of either.

The immune system is supported by many different nutrients, but some that have been linked to healthy immune response include; zinc, vitamin C, glutamine, quercetin, probiotics, omega-3 fatty acids, colostrums, and carbohydrates:

Zinc: This nutrient is necessary for the function of over 300 different enzymes and is very important for healthy function throughout the body. The optimal daily allowance (ODA) is 15 to 35 mg/day.

Vitamin C: This is important to the immune system as it facilitates the production of neutrophils, lymphocytes and natural killer cells. The ODA is up to 1000 mg, but higher intake levels have been reported as safe, with one of the only problems being the formation of kidney stones in individuals with pre-existing risk.

Glutamine: This is classified as a conditionally essential amino acid; as under stress (exercise) the body needs more
than it can endogenously produce. Levels of 20-30 grams of glutamine per day have shown no reports of ill-effects.3

Quercetin: This is a very potent plant-based antioxidant and can be taken at 500 mg to 1500 mg daily.

Probiotics: Probiotics are shown to improve intestinal microbial flora. This will ultimately improve gut and systemic immune function. Probiotics can be supplemented between 1 and 10 billion CFU per day.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Adequate amounts of fish oils exert an anti-inflammatory effect following exercise. Well researched doses are 1 to 2 grams per day.

Carbohydrates: Carbohydrate intake during exercise has been shbwn to blunt the effect of cortisol following exercise, hus dampening immune inflammatory responses. Generally, up to 60 grams of a simple carbohydrate per hour of exercise is sufficient.

When participating in endurance sports, it is very important to maintain a healthy immune system to be able to keep to the training plan and achieve one’s goals. Using targeted nutritional immune support, modulating the overall effects of inflammation that is associated with training, and getting adequate sleep will go a long way to supporting the body. This support will hopefully allow you or your patients to reach full potential and post a new personal best time in the next big race.


Tags: zinc, vitamin, glutamine, quercetin, probiotics, omega 3 fatty acids, carbohydrates, endurance athletes, upper respiratory tract infections, depression,