Nov 11, 2017

Staying healthy - the essential link to optimum performance

Dr Rob Child, Science in Sport's chief scientific officer, examines the problems infections bring and how to avoid them

Staying healthy is one of the most important factors in attaining top performance and is often overlooked by athletes and coaches. Even a minor cold can result in significant disruptions to training.

When infections are severe, even the performance of truly great athletes can be compromised. Mark Cavendish, the second most successful Tour De France rider of all time has had a torrid 2017 season. After being diagnosed with a viral infection in the spring he has failed to win a race. The debilitating effects of sickness were even more apparent at the 2017 Vuelta where many teams were ravaged by illness. Mark Cavendish’s Dimension Data team only finished three of its original nine riders, losing half the riders to viral infection. Such severe effects aren’t restricted to cycling. At the 2017 World Athletics Championship in London, more than 50 competitors were struck down, with diarrhoea and vomiting. This severely compromised their performance at the very event they had spent years preparing for.

The high incidence of infections in athletes is intriguing. Research shows moderate exercise, such as 20 minutes vigorous activity three times per week actually improves immune function. However, when exercise is very intense or prolonged, it suppresses the activity of the body’s immune cells. Exercise also increases the body’s exposure to bacteria and viruses; be that from the water in a triathlon swim, the mud on a football pitch or even breathing in airborne bacteria during a run. There is increasing scientific evidence that athletes and the general public also increase their risk of getting sick because of inadequate vitamin D3 and selenium intakes.

Dr Rob Child, chief scientific officer at Science In Sport, said: “One issue that has received little attention is the increased ingestion of bacteria and viruses during exercise. So exercise presents two challenges, suppressed immune function and increased pathogen exposure. Couple this with suboptimal levels of vitamin D and selenium and its not surprising athletes often get sick.”

Having supported 34 medalists at the Rio Olympics SiS are already focusing their efforts on Tokyo 2020.

Ashley Read, SiS global marketing director, said: “SiS have been working very closely with our elite ambassadors and sports teams to understand the challenges they face. In response, we have developed a range of products to help athletes to stay healthy, including or unique range of immune gels.

“The SiS GO Energy+ Immune gel concept arose from the high incidence of vial and bacteria infections in athletes and a desire to help them stay healthy. We wanted to use a more comprehensive approach and looked both to nature and science.”

Several traditional foods have natural antibacterial and antiviral effects including ginger, cranberry and elderberry. The issue with these foods is attaining the correct amount of the active compound to provide a consistent benefit. To achieve this we used standardised extracts of ginger, cranberry and elderberry in each GO Energy +Immune gel. Taking SIS Immune gels before and during exercise provides a great way to stave off bacterial and viruses, when these challenges are greatest. Research trials also showed the importance of providing key nutrients to support the body’s immune system, so each immune gel provides high doses of key vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin D, selenium and zinc. This combination of botanical extracts, with vitamins and minerals provides a unique dual action against infection.

Dr Child said: “Athlete feedback on SIS GO Energy+ Immune gels has been incredible, especially regarding taste. They compliment the existing SiS GO Energy gel range and are the perfect way to fuel performance, especially in the winter months.”

Sir Chris Hoy, Britain’s most successful Olympic athlete, said: “As a former Olympian I know exactly what I should be eating to support my immune system, but a busy lifestyle makes it difficult to get the right nutrients in. That’s why I choose GO Energy + Immune gels; they provide the perfect way to fuel my workouts and maintain my immune system.”

The SiS GO Energy + Immune gels form part of its growing range of natural products to support the body’s immune system. These include the existing GO Immune tablets, which are high in vitamin C and ‘BCAA Perform’, a mix of branched chain amino acids and glutamine to fuel the immune system. SiS will also be launching a new Omega 3 supplement with astaxanthin. This carotenoid is found in krill oil, gives salmon its distinctive pink colour and is a natural immune booster. Coupled with a new Sport Multivitamin SiS have a comprehensive nutrition armoury for athletes, to keep infections at bay.

7 tips to help keep sickness at bay

1. Sterilise drinking bottles regularly using baby bottle sterilizing tablets, paying particular attention to the teat.

2. Always wash your hands before meals, if this isn’t possible use a hand gel.

3. After training always have a drink containing protein or glutamine, to ensure your immune cells have the fuel needed to fight off infections.

4. Whenever possible expose some skin (that hasn’t been covered with sunscreen) directly to the sun. Just 20 minutes sun exposure a day will help maintain vitamin D3 levels.

5. Eat oily fish such as salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines and fresh tuna three times per week. These fish will give you good fats’ in the form of omega 3 fatty acids and vitamin D3, which both help support a healthy immune system.

6. Take a quality multivitamin supplement, containing selenium and vitamin D3.

7. To help reduce the risk of diarrhoea during travel take a probiotic containing Lactobacillus GG.

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