Overtraining – Immune System Suppression
During this pandemic one of the most researched topics must be how one can improve their immune system to prevent themselves from attracting any unwanted pathogen. Whilst it is known that exercise and training are great for the immune system, it is not commonly known that overtraining can impact the immune system negatively. How does it impact the immune system and what can you do to keep your immune system strong whilst training?
As mentioned in the previous paragraph, moderate levels of exercise improve immune function whereas intense and prolonged training can inhibit the immune system for up to 6 hours after. Therefore, the athlete is most vulnerable during this 6-hour period. The athlete is most vulnerable to colds (Upper respiratory tract infections). How do you mitigate the negative effects?
Obviously prevent oneself from overtraining is the best way. However, even when one has not overtrained but just had a very intense session, they are immune supressed. Whilst research is limited, here are some ways you can support your immune system.
Protein. Whilst it is unlikely that you are deficient in protein unless you are suffering from malnutrition. Maintaining a positive protein energy balance has been shown to improve immunity in malnourished patients.
Vitamin C. Whilst it is common knowledge that vitamin c does not shorten or particularly help with illness once you have it, vitamin c can prevent the frequency that one has illness (in Particular, upper respiratory tract infections). There are multiple studies performed on athletes which have shown that adequate vitamin c intake during strenuous exercise mitigated that effects seen on the immune system. In the moderate exercise group, vitamin c supplementation did not alter markers of immunity.
Zinc. Zinc supplementation has been shown to reduce severity of symptoms when one has an upper respiratory tract infection. Furthermore, it has been shown to enhance the immune system of the elderly in hospitals. There are multiple other studies showing positive effects of zinc on immunity.
Glutamine. Whilst the research is limited, it has been suggested that glutamine levels after exercise dip for 6 hours. Therefore, it is postulated that glutamine supplementation might improve immunity after intense exercise, however, more research is needed before one can come to this conclusion.
Echinacea. It is a popular medicinal herb used in a variety of over-the-counter immune supplements. It has been shown to limit symptoms of illness experienced by patients with upper respiratory tract infections and improve markers of the immune system. However, research is limited and there is not enough research to suggest the use.
Therefore, whilst moderate exercise improves the immune system, intense exercise negatively impacts the immune system. There are various supplements that might be helpful to mitigate these effects.