Author: Liz Earhart
Published: Wednesday, November 7, 2012
Gatorade, Powerade and other popular sports drinks are heavily advertised as the preferred product to refuel the body with after sports performance or exercise, but are these sports drinks really the optimal choice for athletes to consume in regards to rebuilding muscle and refueling storage systems throughout the body post-workout? The avid users of these products may say “yes”, but current research literature states differently. Chocolate milk is the new product of choice given its result on post-game or performance recovery.
The changing leaves and brisk weather bring with them the dreaded cold and flu season. One of the last things any college athlete wants to is to get sick during season. I finished up my community rotation at the SLU Athletic Department, and one of the requirements for this particular rotation was to write an evidence-based article relevant to college athletes. Thinking about what would be the most relevant nutrition topic to share with college athletes, I thought about the fact that fall is here and winter is going to come before we know it. As training intensity increases for college athletes, practices become longer, and competition becomes more frequent, an athlete’s risk of getting sick increases.
Research has shown that there is a close relationship between exercise and immune function. Each time heavy exercise is performed, stress hormones increase and inflammation occurs. This results in suppression of the body’s immune function and therefore, the ability to fight off colds, the flu, infection and injury. The immune system can be suppressed for only a few hours or even up to 72 hours after exercise. This varies from person-to-person and overall immune function is unique to each athlete. For this reason, getting a good balance of nutrition at all times, and particularly after exercise, is so important for college athletes.
Fuel to Boost Immune Function
Eating a well-balanced diet and staying hydrated should be the first line of defense after a tough workout or competition for athletes.
Food recommendations from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition Group to enhance immune health:
What about supplements?
It is recommended that athletes try to obtain most of their dietary needs from food soures. This includes incorporating many of the immune-boosting foods every day. It can be difficult for college athletes to meet these needs through food because calorie needs can be much higher than most college students.
Supplementing vitamins and minerals with a simple multi-vitamin may be enough to meet needs, but it is important to consult a registered dietitian or team physician. It is important to note that supplementing beyond the daily recommended amount has not been shown to have any additional health benefits and may even be toxic. Adding protein sources through approved protein powders and supplements are considered appropriate methods of obtaining enough protein in the diet.
Make your own Immune-boosting smoothie:
Combine your favorite smoothie ingredients with immune-boosting function. Here are some ideas to try:
These nutrition tips for supporting immune function do not necessarily just apply to athletes. We can all benefit from increasing immune-boosting foods in our diet, especially as dietetic interns. We may not be college athletes (at least not any more if we were), but with any exercise and training, rotations, and loads of work, our immune systems could definitely use a pick-me-up!