Posted on 13 June 2013.
Scientifically Enhance Recovery
By Sports Scientist Ross Edgley
Photography: Simon Howard: Model: decathlete Thomas Ashby
Whether you are strength, speed or endurance athlete you would have no doubt experienced an ‘immune crash’ during periods when you’ve over trained. Unfortunately it’s just part and parcel of being an athlete since constantly loading your body above its habitual level in an attempt to get quicker, stronger or more enduring will of course eventually give rise to problems. But how is it possible to avoid this whilst still improving in your chosen sport? Well, generally speaking it’s accepted both through anecdotal and epidemiological evidence that moderate regular training can reduce the risk of infections by having a positive effect on the immune system and you can therefore avoid this ‘immune crash’. The only problem is you won’t be smashing PB’s or breaking training plateaus by training at a slow and steady pace on a regular basis. So here we’ve teamed up with the Sports Scientists at www.theproteinworks.com to take a look at just what exactly goes on inside the body during periods of intense training addressing everything from the impairment of natural killer cell activity to lymphocyte production and then we take a look at the supplements and science that could help.
Firstly a study conducted at the Department of Human Movement Studies, University of Queensland in Australia set out to determine the effects of exercise intensity on immune parameters in order to better understand mechanisms by which training may influence resistance to infection (L.T. Mackinnon, 1997). It was found that intensive exercise altered a number of immune parameters including circulating leukocytes (more commonly known as white blood cells) whose chief function is to protect the body against microorganisms causing disease.
Plasma cytokine concentrations were also affected, cytokines are any of a number of substances that are secreted by specific cells of the immune system which carry signals locally between cells, and thus have an effect on other cells. They are deemed critical to the development and functioning of both the innate and adaptive immune response and so altering them effectively alters the ‘communication’ of the immune system (R. Gokhale et al, 2007).
Scientists from the department of Research and Development, Medical Services, Athletic Club of Bilbao in Basque, Spain further examined various hormonal markers such as testosterone, cortisol, testosterone to cortisol ratio, 24-hour urinary cortisol to cortisone ratio, plasma and urinary catecholamines, growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor-1 (S. Padilla, 2004) during periods of intense training. They found changes caused by overtraining can not only correlate with changes in an athlete’s performance capacity but can also create a hormonal environment (specifically citing elevated cortisol levels) that allow pathogens (disease producing agents) to thrive. Put simply this is because specifically both cortisol and epinephrine suppress T-cell cytokine production.
More specifically and very common in athletes is something known as Upper Respiratory Tract Infection, an illness caused by an acute infection which involves the upper respiratory tract: nose, sinuses, pharynx or larynx.
Ultimately all of the above means sore throats and flu-like symptoms are more common in athletes than in the general population (G.W. Heath et al, 1991) and once infected , colds may last longer therefore detrimentally affecting training and performance (B.K. Pedersen et al, 1995). More specifically and very common in athletes is something known as Upper Respiratory Tract Infection, an illness caused by an acute infection which involves the upper respiratory tract: nose, sinuses, pharynx or larynx.
So, now we’ve identified what exactly happens inside the body when an athlete’s immune system is suppressed, what methods are there for combating it? Well, first and foremost a well planned and periodised training regime is critical and is the best form of preventative treatment. But as any athlete will know, when loading your body above its habitual level in training, even the most well planned regime can fail to support the immune system effectively. This is where certain supplements can help.
Firstly studies from Bente Pedersen’s group in Copenhagen found that the release of IL-6 from contracting muscle can be improved by long-term antioxidant supplementation. IL-6 (or Interleukin 6 to give it its full name) is an interleukin that acts as both a pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokine and plays critical roles in the immune response (T Hirano et al, 1990). In a recent single-blind, placebo-controlled study published in The Journal of Physiology it was reported that 4 weeks of oral supplementation, with vitamin C (500 mg/day), markedly attenuated the release of IL-6 from active muscle and the plasma IL-6 and cortisol response to 3 h of dynamic two-legged, knee-extensor exercise at 50% of maximal power output compared with placebo. High levels of circulating IL-6 stimulate cortisol release, and this study provides some strong evidence that the mechanism of action of the antioxidant supplementation was via a reduction in IL-6 release from the muscle fibers of the exercising legs. Attenuating the IL-6 and cortisol response would be expected to limit the exercise-induced depression of immune function, and this may be the mechanism that could explain the reported lower incidence of URTI symptoms in ultramarathon runners supplementing with vitamin C (alone or in combination with other antioxidants) compared with a placebo (Christian P. Fischer et al, 2004). This is why more and more athletes are now supplementing with antioxidant supplements such as Vitamin C (Vitamin C is available from THE PROTEIN WORKS™ for as little as £7.99 for 250g). Or even more recently the more newer antioxidants like Montmorency Cherry Tart Extract, following impressive studies on this and it’s antioxidant properties and ability to aid recovery by reducing oxidative stress (MONTMORENCY CHERRY EXTRACT is available from THE PROTEIN WORKS™ for as little as £15.99).
……by supplementing with carbohydrates (more precisely 30–60 g of carbohydrate per hour during 2.5hr of strenuous cycling) you are able to improve the efficiency of the immune system whilst still continuing to train at a high intensity.
Furthermore on the topic of supplementation and cytokine response, researchers from the Immunology Center at Loma Linda University Medical Center in California, USA found that the cosumption of carbohydrate during exercise also improves increases in plasma IL-6, catecholamines, ACTH, and cortisol. More specifically it was shown that consuming 30–60 g of carbohydrate per hour during 2.5 h of strenuous cycling prevented both the decrease in the number and percentage of IFN-γ-positive T lymphocytes and the suppression of IFN-γ production from stimulated T lymphocytes observed on the placebo control trial. IFN-γ-positive is a cytokine that is critical for innate and adaptive immunity against viral and intracellular bacterial infections, so again by supplementing with carbohydrates (more precisely 30–60 g of carbohydrate per hour during 2.5hr of strenuous cycling) you are able to improve the efficiency of the immune system whilst still continuing to train at a high intensity.
Finally another supplement that’s specifically cited when mentioning over training and immune system suppression is Branch Chain Amino Acids. Scientists from the Institute of Biomedical Sciences at the University of São Paulo in Brazil set out to determine how intense long-duration exercise could lead to immune suppression through a decrease in the circulating level of plasma glutamine and how the decrease in plasma glutamine concentration as a consequence of intense long-duration exercise was reversed, in some cases, by supplementing the diet of the athletes with branched-chain amino acids (BCAA). To find out they evaluated blood parameters (lymphocyte proliferation, the level of plasma cytokines, plasma glutamine concentration, and in vitro production of cytokines by peripheral blood lymphocytes) before and after the São Paulo International Triathlon, as well as the incidence of symptoms of infections between the groups. The data obtained show that BCAA supplementation can reverse the reduction in serum glutamine concentration observed after prolonged intense exercise such as an Olympic triathlon. The decrease in plasma glutamine concentration is paralleled by an increased incidence of symptoms of infections that results in augmented proliferative response of lymphocytes cultivated in the absence of mitogens. The prevention of the lowering of plasma glutamine concentration allows an increased response of lymphocytes, as well as an increased production of IL-1 and 2, TNF-alpha, and IFN-gamma, possibly linked to the lower incidence of symptoms of infection (33.84%) reported by the supplemented athletes. BCCA’s are available from THE PROTEIN WORKS™ in tablet, powdered and flavoured powdered form, including Green Apple Spike and Berry Blitz and for as little as £13.99 for 250g. Ultimately making BCAA supplementation easier and more convenient regardless of your supplement preference or budget.
Lastly taking all of the above research into consideration the Sports Scientists at THE PROTEIN WORKS™ created RECOVERY PROTEIN, an advanced formula that’s been scientifically engineered to provide the body with a comprehensive supply of nutrients immediately after training to help the muscles repair and re-build. For more details visit the product page here and EXCLUSVIELY for ultra-FIT readers, right now you can get 10% OFF RECOVERY PROTEIN when you use code ‘ULTRAFIT10’ at the checkout.
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