Funny isn’t it, how the pursuit of healthfulness and wellbeing can actually increase your risk of becoming unwell. Although this is ironic, it is decidedly unfunny in the sense that illness = lost gains! If you’re one of those poor souls wandering around like a bear with a sore head because you’re unable to train, then maybe it’s time you started looking into why you may be more prone to getting an infection.
Increased lung ventilation
One of the most common forms of infection in athletes and the general population is upper respiratory tract infections (common cold). Adults commonly experience 2-4 colds a year, but an athlete has been known to contract considerably more than this for a number of reasons, with increased lung ventilation rate being one of the most popular. The increased breathing rate of an athlete instantly increases the risk of infection due to the sheer volume of air that is being sucked into the lungs. Couple this with a reduced immune response due to intense exercise regimes and reduced rest periods, and you have a recipe for infection.
Damage to the skin
This may not apply to everyone who exercises, but should you play a sport, perform an exercise movement or are generally accident prone, then any cut, scrape or tear to the skin is a way in to pathogens. Take Powerlifters and Crossfitters for example, they often cut their hands from gripping the bar, or scrape their shins from deadlifting. These physical abrasions provide a direct route into your circulatory system for pathogens (germs).
This may come as no surprise to you if you’ve been away on holiday recently, take for example the air-conditioning in a plane, that air you’re breathing in has already been inhaled and exhaled by everybody else around you. Yes, it’s predominantly just carbon dioxide, oxygen and nitrogen, but there are also some added little extras in that air too such as germs from that one person sat in the window seat on the 3rd row back. If that cough they have is viral and not an allergy, then whether you like it or not, you’re at a much higher risk of getting it than outside of that viral cocoon of aeroplane. Factor in the frequency that elite athletes (for example) have to travel, and it’ll come as no surprise that athletes are at a greater risk of infection than most (Gleeson and Williams, 2005).
Reduce your risk
Some simple things that may support your immune response and reduce your risk of infection include:
Whey Protein (One of the many reasons athletes are predisposed to infection is inadequate protein) (Gleeson, 2005).
Play it safe with a Multi- vitamin and mineral
Gleeson, M & Williams, C. (2005). Nestle Nutrition Institute. Intense exercise training and immune function. Retrieved 21st May, 2015, from https://www.nestlenutrition-institute.org/resources/library/Free/workshop/NNIW76/Documents/NNI076%20%28En%29_008.pdf
Gleeson M (ed): Immune Function in Sport and Exercise. Edinburgh, Elsevier, 2005.