As any bodybuilder will know, during periods of high intensity training there is a fine line between ‘stimulation’ and ‘alienation.’ Too little and you see no gains, too much and you’re ill for weeks setting you back even further. Here we explore what supports our immune system and what types of supplements are associated with its maintenance.
Subject of huge debate is what effect intense training has on the body’s immune system and whilst there is no clear-cut answer, the general consensus from sports medical journals is that hard, intense, balls to the wall, training to failure training, can make it very difficult for the immune system to perform its normal, day-to-day defense duties. Whilst conversely, light anaerobic exercise can actually strengthen the body’s response to stress and inflammation. Obviously that’s not to say take it easy in the gym and never break a sweat, but instead intelligently take care of your immune system during those intense periods of training so you can continue to improve and grow free of sickness. And here’s how:
Firstly it’s important to explain a bit about the immune system (known as the lymph system). It’s essentially a highly complex system of organs (lymph nodes) and cells (lymphocytes) that work together to seek and destroy anything ‘foreign’ that enters the body (such as bad bacteria or a virus.) These lymph nodes are housed strategically throughout the body, and serve as the checkpoint for fluids that carry the lymphocytes. Lymphocytes are cells that patrol the body for potential threats in the form of bacteria, virus and fungi and without becoming too in-depth, they can be classed as T-cells or B-cells.
Now in a healthy young adult, the immune system functions efficiently and can stop the detrimental effects of any virus before it becomes too severe. However research shows that when you train at a intensity above 90% of your maximum heart rate or near exhaustion, your oxygen usage skyrockets, this in turn causes an increase in lactic acid accumulation in the muscles, which in turn cases your body to pull alkaline reserves from bones and other mineral dense sources. Not to mention muscle tissue being torn and Adenosine Triphosphate levels in the muscles becoming depleted. All in all, the body has a lot to cope with and as a result athletes often experience something known as an ‘immune system crash.’ This is where the efficiency of your immune system is reduced and can last for 3 hours or even 72 hours
The good news is there are supplements that have been proven to help boost the body’s immune system and help keep your training on the right path. Perhaps the most well known being glutamine (one of the most abundant amino acids in the body) which, as well as playing a vital role in cell volumisation and nitrogen transfer, has also been shown to help the body’s immune system and aid recovery. In fact, research at the Conway Institute for Biomolecular and Biomedical Research at the University College of Dublin found the immune boosting properties of glutamine were so impressive, it was used to treat patients with inflammatory conditions such as infection and injury. Experts recommend around 5 grams per day should greatly help to support a healthy immune system during periods of heavy training.
Secondly another aspect to be considered when looking at supporting your immune system is your body’s PH levels since when they drop below 6.0 your body becomes far more susceptible to disease since it becomes an ideal environment for viruses to thrive. This happens because during intense training your body crosses that barrier from aerobic (working with oxygen) to anaerobic (working without oxygen).
When this happens, the body responds by taking other vital systems of their alkaline (acid neutralizing) compounds, therefore producing a more acidic environment (below PH 6.0.) Put simply, you need to keep your body as alkaline as possible and supplementing your diet with minerals such as calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium can do this. That’s why Myprotein.com created Alpha Men a unique and highly effective blend of high potency vitamins and minerals designed to support the body’s immune system. I take these every morning & I’ve seen incredible results – when ever someone is ill in the office I’m the last one to get it if at all!
Next, the most documented and studied mineral that has been shown to boost immunity is zinc. In a study published in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism it stated ‘zinc deficiency was shown to impair cellular mediators of innate immunity such as phagocytosis, natural killer cell activity, and the generation of oxidative burst.’ Therefore zinc plays an important role in immune function and the modulation of host resistance to infectious agents, reducing the risk, severity, and duration of infectious diseases. Furthermore it was found that zinc lozenges may shorten the duration of common cold episodes by up to 40%, according to a study published in the Open Respiratory Medicine Journal.
Another supplement known for its immune boosting properties is the herb Echinacea. In a study conducted at the Nutrilite Health Institute in California it was found that Echinacea had the ability to reduce both the duration and intensity of cold and flu symptoms. And whilst more research is needed to find out the exact medical benefits of this herb, experts believe its Echinacea’s ability of activating white blood cells that leads to its immune boosting properties. Once again I buy this from MyProtein.com as it’s the only place that sell it at an acceptable price in the UK.
Lastly, and relevant to the winter months fast approaching, recent research shows 86% of the population in the UK are deficient in Vitmain D3 since the hours of daylight are vastly reduced (whilst vitamin D can be sourced from certain foods it also functions within the body in response to the skin’s exposure to sun specifically ultraviolet-B rays.) Studies have shown Vitamin D to be a powerful immune stimulant and has been suggested to be a much more powerful tool in combating illnesses and viruses than Vitamin C. People consuming sufficient Vitamin D have also been associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, schizophrenia and multiple sclerosis. From an athletic perspective, sufficient levels of Vitamin D can have a number of performance boosting benefits. Vitamin D has been shown to reduce inflammation in body tissues, often associated with overtraining and intense exercise, which may help bodybuilders recover quicker from exercise. There is also some evidence to suggest Vitamin D levels are associated with the maintenance of power and strength by potentially increasing the size and number of fast twitch fibres. Since deficiency can be associated with stress fractures, chronic musculoskeletal pain, weakened immune function, and inflammation, it is important that bodybuilders seriously consider Vitamin D supplementation. To maintain adequate vitamin D levels, some studies suggest athletes should aim to consume over 2000iu per day.
In a study published in the Journal of Nutrition, Metabolic Diseases and Dietetics it was found that Vitamin C concentrations in the plasma and leukocytes rapidly decline during infections and stress and that supplementation of vitamin C was found to improve components of the human immune system such as antimicrobial and natural killer cell activities and the increasing of lymphocytes. Although the dosage of Vitamin C tested varies in each study, experts generally agree that 500mg of Vitamin C per day should be sufficient to help support the immune system.
Zinc Investigators’ Collaborative Group: Bhutta ZA, Black RE, Brown KH, Meeks Gardner J, Gore S, Hidajat J, Khatun F, Mar- torell R, Ninh NX, Penny ME, Rosado JL, Roy SK, Ruel M, Sazawal S, Shankar A: Prevention of diarrhea and pneumonia by zinc supplementation in children in developing countries: pooled analysis of randomized controlled trials. J Pediatr 1999; 135:689–697.
Eby GA: Zinc ion availability – the determinant of efficacy in zinc lozenge treatment of common colds. J Antimicrob Chemother 1997;
Bhandari N, Bahl R, Taneja S, Strand T, Mol- bak K, Ulvik RJ, Sommerfelt H, Bhan MK: Effect of routine zinc supplementation on pneumonia in children aged 6 months to 3 years: randomised controlled trial in an urban slum. 2002; 324:1358–1360.
Peters EM, Goetzsche JM, Grobbelaar B, No- akes TD: Vitamin C supplementation reduces the incidence of postrace symptoms of upper- respiratory-tract infection in ultramarathon runners. Am J Clin Nutr 1993; 57:170–174.
Kennes B, Dumont I, Brohee D, Hubert C, Neve P: Effect of vitamin C supplements on cell-mediated immunity in older people. Ger- ontology 1983; 29:305–310.
Heuser G, Vojdani A: Enhancement of natural killer cell activity and T and B cell function by buffered vitamin C in patients exposed to toxic chemicals; the role of protein kinase-C. Immunopharmacol Immunotoxicol 1997; 19: 291–312.
Dietary Reference Intakes for vitamin C, vita- min E, selenium, and carotenoids. A report of the Panel on Antioxidants and Related com- pounds, Standing Committee on the Scientific Evaluation of Dietary Reference Intakes; Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine. Washington, National Academy Press, 2000, chapter 5: Vitamin C, pp 95–185.
Carr AC, Frei B: Toward a new recommended dietary allowance for vitamin C based on anti- oxidant and health effects in humans. Am J Clin Nutr 1999;69:1086–1107.