The Core Diet Blog

The following content was provided by Registered Dietitian, Jaime Windrow.

We have now officially entered the beginning of cold season just as we are all about to ramp up training for 2011. So, I decided to read some research on how to keep athletes healthy while commencing training in the colder months. Some of you may be fortunate enough to live and/or train in more temperate areas of the globe, but for those of us in winter climates, fighting off a simple cold can become a nagging process once we start to add the stress of training.

Stress of training can tax the immune system, and researchers have found an increased incidence (approximately two-thirds in one study) of upper respiratory infections in ultramarathoners post event. That's certainly not a coincidence, so, what to do?

I began to read and found many reputable sources telling me that carbohydrates would be the answer to keep the immune system tip top…not just any carbohydrate, but sugar! After I stopped gasping, I read on. As it turns out, yes, sugar in the form of glucose, before, during and after strenuous activity can help keep the immune system strong.

One area of the immune systems that these researchers had examined was the ratio of neutrophils to lymphocytes. Neutrophils and lymphocytes are types of white blood cells involved in fighting infectious organisms. Neutrophils and lymphocytes are both white blood cells that can help fight infectious organisms, but their relative numbers tell you a lot about how your immune system is functioning. If you have more neutrophils and only a few lymphocytes in your blood, your immune system is under duress and more prone to illness. Reverse the ratio and your immune system is strong and ready to battle microorganisms that can cause illness. The study found runners who took in Gatorade before, during and after training had low neutrophil-to-lymphocyte ratios after their exertions, while placebo runners had high ratios of neutrophils to lymphocytes.

Not only are you helping performance by fueling your workouts with a high glycemic index fuel, before, after and during when indicated, but you are now strengthening your immune system!

Some additional recommendations to help stave off the common cold…
Include fatigue levels in your training log
Heed your body's early warning signs of overtraining or declining immune system

  • Disordered sleep (too much or insomnia)
  • Moodiness or depression
  • Excessive muscle soreness
  • Poor concentration/lack of mental energy
  • Lack of physical energy
  • Increase in perceived exertion
  • Altered appetite
  • Frequent injury or illness

Pay close attention to your body and learn when to push, and when to hit the showers…with a high glucose recovery fuel!

Research by Dr. David Nieman of Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina and Loma Linda University in California.

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