How many of you have run a marathon only to find yourself with a head cold or sick within the few days following the race? Yeah, me too! The truth is, we know that hard training and racing makes us more vulnerable to sickness.
Right now, training hard with a suppressed immune system could spell disaster.
We are told that exercise is good medicine when it comes to immunity, but there is a window of time where our immune system is suppressed before bouncing back. There’s also a big difference between general exercise and training hard.
It’s a tough balance, but we have options. I came across a recent article in the Sports Performance Bulletin that discussed this, although it was post race specifically. It looked at supplementing marathoners with probiotics and measuring their blood markers and development of upper respiratory tract infections (URTI). What they found is definitely valuable for our situation.
First off, before I discuss the results, let’s recap what we know. We know that long term supplementation of probiotics helps reduce the development of URTI in endurance athletes. This is important because we know that hard training from volume, intensity, or both creates a depression in immunity post exercise.
This creates a particular susceptibility to viral infections.
So, the idea was to supplement these subjects for 30 days and see how their blood looked right before, right after, and then again in 5 days post race. They had 27 male marathoners and randomly split into two groups of supplement and placebo.
Both groups saw an increase in immunity (through different cell production) before the race. This would have been due to the taper decreasing their overall workload. They then all saw a decreased post race and then a return to normal levels. Now, the probiotic group showed a decrease in the pro-inflammatory cells after the race, while the control group did not. It was also shown that the immune cells CD8 and the T cell were not suppressed like they were in the control group (showing that the immunity was not as compromised with the supplement group versus the placebo. So while statistically, there was not a difference, the trends were definitely headed in the right direction. The authors admit that the 30 days was probably not long enough since it’s been clearly shown that any differences to take place in a significant fashion that it will require several weeks of supplementation.
If you decide that you want to give probiotics a shot, here are some general tips.
- Take on an empty stomach, at least 15 minutes before eating.
- This is not a quick fix. I’d recommend taking at the start of the segment. That will give you time to build the gut flora and help you through the peak of your training, too.
- Definitely take probiotics after coming off a round of antibiotics as medical treatment.
While this winter going into 2021 is particularly important to fight off viral infections, it does shed light on staying healthy during hard training. Keep your immune system high and you recover better, you stay more consistent, and your fitness continues to improve- even during this uncertainty.
If you are interested in giving probiotics a shot, here’s what we use. You can try for 30 days with no hassle and this link gets you 25% off. There is a vegetarian option, too.