Staying healthy and looking after your immune system is your ticket to enjoying your exercise. This can come increasingly harder during the winter months. We want to help you avoid illness this winter by teaching you a little bit more about the importance of nutrition and immune function.

It’s that time of year again. The weather starts to take a turn for the worst and we can all start to feel a bit run down. Suddenly you start to notice people around you coughing and spluttering. That’s right, cold and flu season is here and a strong defence system is crucial. For an athlete, days or a weeks of training lost to illness can have detrimental effect to preparation for competitive goals, even if they are months away. Sadly there is no quick fix for the common cold, the best way is to aim for prevention and keep on top of a healthy immune system.

OTE Sports are here with some  ‘Did you know?’ facts to help you maintain a good immune system this winter.

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Did you know?

“Almost all nutrients play a crucial role in maintaining optimal immune response”

One of the best ways to maintain good immune function is to eat a healthy balanced diet. In fact not meeting your required daily energy intake can make you more susceptible to picking up unwanted bugs. This is because during exercise there is competition in our body for our key nutrients between our energy and immune systems. If we cannot supply both with the nutrients they need, one will be compromised and this is usually our poor immune system. This is why those trying to lose weight by reducing calorie intake are particularly at risk of picking up an illness, especially when coupled with an intense training programme.

FACT: Our immune system can be suppressed for as long as 72 hours after competition or a hard training session. This highlights how important it is to get your recovery nutrition correct. Read more about how OTE Recovery Shakes can help here.

Did You Know?

“The intensity of the training you do has different effects on your immune system”

Those that are regularly active to a moderate level are actually enhancing their immune defence above those that do no activity. It’s only when athletes push their training above and beyond that we start to see an accumulation of oxidative stress and with this immune suppression. When athletes continually push themselves to limits of training then this is when illness is likely to occur. By having a balanced training load alongside the balanced diet you will actually gain more compared to over training for weeks and then having to stop to get over illness. It may be worth seeking the advice of a coach if you are feeling run down from your training.

The “J-Curve” (Nieman, 1994) above highlights the relationship between an individuals exercise intensity and their risk of becoming ill.

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Did You Know?

“Consuming carbohydrates during exercise is beneficial to you immune system”

In fact this is one of the most well supported ways to aid your immune system in the research, more so that supplementing on vitamins and minerals. When participating in intense exercise for 90 minutes or more, consuming carbohydrates has been shown to reduce the release of stress hormones and with this counter negative immune changes. Just consuming 60g of carbohydrates per hour, which is equivalent to consuming one 500ml bottle of OTE Energy Drink and half an OTE Duo Bar, could be one of the best things you can do to aid your immune function. Plus you are getting the added bonus of fuelling your muscle properly during training allowing you to get even more out of the session.

Did you know?

“An imbalance of antioxidants and free radicals can compromise our immune system”

What are free radicals I hear you say? Well these are a product of exercise that can flood our bodies and cause harm. However our body uses antioxidants to neutralise these harmful molecules. When we do intense exercise our free radical production increases, sometimes above the levels of which our antioxidant levels can cope with and this is when we can struggle with our immune system. Examples of antioxidants found in our diet are Vitamin C and Vitamin E. Making sure you consume these vitamins through the fruit and vegetables in your diet is going to be another step towards maintaining a good immune system.

However, research has suggested you may be able to have too much of this good thing. There has a been suggestions that being exposed to free radical production is actually an important part of our body’s adaption to training and too many antioxidants in the diet could hinder this. The verdict does appear to still be out as to whether increased supplementation of antioxidants is beneficial for our immune systems. However, making sure you get at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day will provide you with ample antioxidants amongst many other nutritious values. Our advice would be don’t supplement it, just eat healthily.

Some Practical Ideas

Basically: No single nutrient can protect us against colds and flu, but eating foods that are a good source of vitamins and minerals is always going to help us in the fight.

Here are some practical ideas to help you boost the immune system:

  • Homemade soups and smoothies are a great way to get a big hit of vitamins and minerals if you are struggling to meet recommendations. Soups especially are really easy and a great way to use up veg that otherwise may go off. Making up a big batch and freezing it means you can have hot fresh soup for weeks down the line when you get in from that your winter training. Try our Carrot Soup recipe.
  • Bulk out your meals with extra vegetables. Sauces are a great place to add veg to your diet and you won’t even know you are doing it. A Bolognese or pasta sauce can contain carrots, celery, mushrooms or any veg you like. It hardly alters the flavour but boost the nutritional value of each meal.
  • If you find fresh fruit and vegetable is expensive, try using frozen vegetable instead. The flash freezing process of the vegetable when they are fully ripe actually locks in the nutrients, more so that tinned vegetables. Frozen vegetables are often cheaper and easier to store without out the worry of them going off.

Our diet is only part of the fight against colds and flu. There are other areas that can benefit you as well.

  • Wash your hands regularly
  • Get plenty of sleep
  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Reduce the sources of stress in your life.

A good immune system cannot be built overnight but can benefit from a consistent, healthy and balanced diet and lifestyle. Good luck with your training this winter and let’s hope you win the fight against the dreaded common cold. And if you need an added boost head to our supplements range here.



*Nieman, D.C. (1995) ‘Exercise, infection and immunity’, Internation journal of sports medicine, 15, pp. S131-S141

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