Don't Get Sidelined by a Cold: Tips for Boosting Immunity in Athletes

November 27, 2012 | Mitch Calvert

Sick Athlete

It's well known that regular exercise is a great immunity booster, so athletes who go way beyond regular exercise—into the realm of daily 6 a.m. practices, games and weight room sessions—should be all set this flu season, right? Wrong! Pushing your body to the limits may be great for your performance, but it can compromise your immune system. (Check out what the YOUDocs have to say in Be Immune to Getting Sick This Season.)

So how do busy athletes avoid health setbacks? Five ways.

Find Ways to Relax in Your Downtime

High stress situations (like intense games or training) activate the "fight or flight" response in the sympathetic nervous system. The more this happens, the weaker your immune system becomes. To recover from frequent exercise, take time away from athletic pursuits to relax each day. Even just 30 minutes of quiet meditation, yoga or a hot bath will make a difference.

Sleep Matters

If I have one or two nights of bad sleep, I start seeing signs of a compromised immune system—like nasal congestion or sore joints. Sleep is when the body and immune system perform repairs and rejuvenation, so as an active athlete you need plenty of sleep to prepare for the busy day that follows. Strive to get seven to nine hours of sleep each night. 

(Read Study Finds Teen Sports Injuries Linked to Lack of Sleep.)

Feed Your Immune System Well

According to a number of studies, insufficient nutrients in your diet can weaken your immune system. That's why nutritionists recommend a well-balanced diet, including plenty of fruit, vegetables, quality carbohydrates, dietary fats and protein to repair and rebuild muscle tissue.

Carb Up Post-Workout

Post-exercise immune suppression is thought to be due partly to an increase in production of stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Since they are in a carb-deprived state after training, athletes are especially prone to experiencing an increase in these hormones. They should take in 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrate per hour of intense exercise to reduce stress and immune markers. (Gleeson et al., 2004). Basically, before and after exercise, athletes need to supply their muscles with protein and carbs to maximize recovery.

Take Advantage of Immune System-Supporting Supplementation

Deficiency of vitamins A, C, D, E, B6 and B12, along with the minerals iron, zinc, selenium, and copper, are commonly associated with immune dysfunction. Try to eat food sources that contain these vitamins. But if you find this difficult, some over-the-counter supplements can help fill the gap. Cod liver oil is a rich source of vitamin A and D, and  many  other vitamins and minerals can be take individually or as part of a quality multivitamin.

(Are you under the weather but feeling guilty for skipping a workout? See Should You Train When You're Sick?)

Reference

Gleeson M, Nieman DC, Pedersen BK. "Exercise, nutrition and immune function." J Sports Sci. 2004 Jan;22(1):115-25.

 

Mitch Calvert
- Mitch Calvert, born and raised in Canada, chose a life of health and fitness eight years ago, transforming himself from a severely overweight teenager to...
Mitch Calvert
- Mitch Calvert, born and raised in Canada, chose a life of health and fitness eight years ago, transforming himself from a severely overweight teenager to...

Featured Videos

Tim Tebow's NFL Off-Season Workout Tim Tebow's NFL Off-Season Workout Views: 153,019
Path to the Pros 2015: Trae Waynes Path to the Pros 2015: Trae Waynes Views: 80,502
Path to the Pros 2015: Marcus Mariota Path to the Pros 2015: Marcus Mariota Views: 1,270,518
Load More

Resources

STACK Fitness

Everything you need to be fitter than ever

STACK Conditioning

Sport-specific conditioning programs

Coaches and Trainers

Tips and advice for coaches and trainers

Magazine

Latest issues of STACK Magazine

STACK 4W

Women's sports workout, nutrition and lifestyle advice

Gamer

Gaming, entertainment and tech news

Basic Training

Military-style training for athletes

News

Find the latest news relevant to athletes

Most Popular Videos

Peyton Manning Dumbbell Bench With 80+ Pounds Peyton Manning Dumbbell Bench With 80+ Pounds
Views: 43,626,320
Drew Brees Will Not Be Denied Drew Brees Will Not Be Denied
Views: 12,170,372
Colin Kaepernick's Core Workout Colin Kaepernick's Core Workout
Views: 896,683
Robert Griffin III Pocket Presence QB Drill Robert Griffin III Pocket Presence QB Drill
Views: 6,866,256
Ohio State Football Open Field Plyo Drill Ohio State Football Open Field Plyo Drill
Views: 9,501,395

Load More
More Cool Stuff You'll Like
Basics of Shoulder Injury Prevention and Rehab

Basics of Shoulder Injury Prevention and Rehab

How Binge-Watching Wrecks Your Health

How Binge-Watching Wrecks Your Health

Get Back in the Game After Pulling a Muscle

Get Back in the Game After Pulling a Muscle

Tips to Speed Up Healing of an Injured Wrist

Tips to Speed Up Healing of an Injured Wrist

Prevent 'Text Neck’ With 3 Simple Exercises

Prevent 'Text Neck' With 3 Simple Exercises

Cure and Avoid Low Back Pain With These Rehab Techniques

Cure and Avoid Low Back Pain With These Rehab Techniques

How to Judge the Seriousness of Pain During a Workout

How to Judge the Seriousness of Pain During a Workout

18 Rules for Better Sleep

18 Rules for Better Sleep

Decrease Back Pain With Inversion Therapy

Decrease Back Pain With Inversion Therapy

3 Strategies to Reset Your Sleep Cycle

3 Strategies to Reset Your Sleep Cycle

3 Exercises to Alleviate Knee Pain

3 Exercises to Alleviate Knee Pain

A Step-by-Step Guide To Workout Recovery

A Step-by-Step Guide To Workout Recovery

ECGs in Sports: What You Need to Know

ECGs in Sports: What You Need to Know

Benefits of Sleep Include Better Athletic Performance

Benefits of Sleep Include Better Athletic Performance

Are You Overtraining or Under-Recovering?

Are You Overtraining or Under-Recovering?

YardBarker