Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Sports Nutrition Tidbits: Immune Health For Athletes

21 days... 3 weeks! Things are moving fast at this point and I know race day is just around the corner. That being said, I still have some essential prep to do (a.k.a. finalizing my race day nutrition plan) and a few training "hoops" to jump through before tapering down for race day. On the agenda this week is a 112 mile long ride, 3x1k swim workout and half marathon race. No big deal, right??

Last week was a MAJOR victory training-wise. Looking back at my Training Peaks data, at least according to the numbers, it was my biggest training week since I began logging workouts 1.5 years ago...AND my workouts went well. Yea! 12.5 total training hours, including two 54 mile medium-long rides, a 4k swim workout (longest ever) and a 24 mile run (second longest run of the year). For the record, never in my life did I believe I would complete such a degree of training...EVER.

It was a BIG weekend for the hubby too! He successfully completed the Grindstone 100 ultra-marathon in just over 20 hours, an incredible time and effort which was good enough for 4th overall!!! While I may post a "crew report" later, for now it's safe to say we are both pretty tired and in need of some seriously good food and TLC. It is really no wonder all I (we) want to do is SLEEP and EAT!

Cheering on the hubby as he arrives at mile marker 80.
The racer (center, orange) and his fabulous crew!

You have to hug the totem pole to officially finish. Also, we all concluded, who looks THAT good after 20 hrs of running?!

All that being said, I recently listening to a webinar covering the essential yet often overlooked topic of "Immune Health for Athletes." It was really loaded with some great information on why proper nutrition is essential for not only fueling day to day workouts, but to keep athletes healthy and training consistently through the stresses and various immune-insults that training hard and a long season can impart. We all know the importance of training consistently is to improving consistently and hitting our goals, and we are often thinking about ways and methods to boost recovery of our muscles, but what about helping our immune system to rejuvenate? That too is an important piece of the puzzle. Below are a few highlights from the webinar:

Nutrition & Immune Health for Athletes

Source: Sports Dietetics - A Missing Link Between Sports Nutrition and Performance. Presented by Dr. Brian McFarlin, Ph.D., FACSM and Dave Ellis, RD, CSCS

Higher levels of sport are where the biggest immune challenges are found.

Elite athletes (or serious amateurs) ask a lot from their body and have a tendency to stretch limits (in all areas of life, not just the sports aspect). This is a no brainer. The overarching goal in terms of immune health is to prevent immunosuppression and reduce risk of illness or injury.

A balanced training program involves optimal rest, recovery and nutrition.

Also a "no-brainer," but harder than it seems to effectively implement! Immunosuppression, illness or injury are the result of overtraining and/or under-recovery, and how you approach the recovery process from strenuous days, weeks or months of training is just as important as how much you put into that training. Research shows that within 24 hours of a strenuous training session, the body actually experiences a drop in immune function, thus increasing risk of both illness and injury. Nutrition and proper rest are essential to get that immune function back up to par to effectively bounce back into that training regime.

Factors that will slow down the recovery process include 

inadequate sleep, improper hydration, inconsistent eating patterns and even more so, improper choice/timing of that post-workout recovery fuel. Other factors may include: Stress/anxiety, travel, substance abuse and excess training volume.

The immune-challenged athlete may suffer from 

more frequent training disruptions, increased stress levels from trying to quickly bounce back from any disruptions, poor focus, which attributes to poor performance, and lower levels of energy and motivation with increased incidence of depression.

The benefits that a strong immune system imparts include 

enhanced health which contributes to harder, longer training sessions and consistent health/training all season long, more effective recovery and better energy levels overall and maintenance of a good mental focus, because physical health and mental health go hand in hand!

So, what does one do to optimize immune health? Get food-empowered!

Eating right is essential in not only providing macronutrients to support energy needs for training, but in providing micronutrients to boost and support immune health and recovery. A quality diet means less down time secondary to illness, provision of adequate carbs to meet critical energy needs and put in the hard work and protein to reduce muscle soreness and improve recovery time. When it comes to immune health, the importance of fruits, vegetables and healthy fats in athletes' diets cannot be overlooked! Similar to training, the quality of one's diet equally important as the quantity of overall calories consumed. And just as too many "junk miles" will leave one feeling worn down and overtrained, too many "junk calories" can leave an athlete immune-impaired and at higher risk for illness or injury.

For more information, check out my previous article: A Healthy Athlete is a Well-Fueled Athlete.
Also check out this stellar fact sheet by the SCAN Dietetics Practice Group.

Happy Tuesday and wishing you a great week of training ahead!!


  1. He finished a 20 hour hundo? holy crap! Way to go!

    I'm heading your way. New River Trail 50k is this saturday in Fries VA. Can't wait to get into those mountains for a good race! It won't be 20 hour hundo good, but I'm still looking forward to it. Let me know if you guys are coming down to volunteer or anything.

  2. We won't be there. I will be lying aimlessly on the couch resting for my half marathon on Sunday!
    Good luck to you! I've run that trail many times. So much beauty to take in... now just hope it doesn't rain on you all!!

  3. Congrats to your husband! What a great race!


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