It’s getting to that time of year that many of us dislike…winter. The cold, wet and windy weather is approaching and, for endurance athletes, this is never pleasant; knowing you’ll be training in the dark regardless of whether it’s 6am or 6pm.
Another thing linked to winter training is the increased risk of catching a cold. During periods of intense training, together with the horrible weather,the immune system can be suppressed. Nutrition plays a vital role in supporting the immune system and training performance, so together there are strategies to enhance both. Hydration, protein and avoiding nutrient deficiencies are vital for performance and immune function, but carbohydrates are the main focus for this article.
It is well established that carbohydrates are king when it comes to fuelling moderate to high intensity exercise to achieve optimal performance. Commencing training with high muscle glycogen stores  and consuming carbohydrates during training [2, 3, 4] results in delayed fatigue and enhanced performance.
Adequate carbohydrate availability before and during training stabilises blood sugar levels, providing glucose as an energy substrate for immune cells to limit stress hormone responses and to maintain immunity [5, 6]. Carbohydrate ingestion during prolonged exercise (2 hours or more) is associated with attenuated stress hormone levels (e.g. adrenaline and cortisol) and post-exercise immune response [7, 8, 9]. When compared to placebo, carbohydrate ingestion during endurance exercise attenuates the immunosuppressive responses to exercise.Therefore, consuming carbohydrates at a similar intake to that for improved performance (30-60g/hour) is recommended to maintain immunity during winter months .
- Consuming a normal-high carbohydrate diet during winter months can help to reduce the risk of infection during periods of intense training.
- Regular training with low-carbohydrate availability can suppress the immune system, increasing the risk of illness and injury.
- Undertaking some training sessions with additional carbohydrates during training can not only enhance performance, but also alleviate exercise-induced suppressed immune responses.
- Using carbohydrate drinks and gels (like Nutrition X’s Energel+) during training at an intake of 30-60g/hour is recommended to enhance performance and immunity.
- Remember to also keep hydrated, recover well with sufficient protein and carbohydrates and avoid nutrient deficiencies to promote health and performance.
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Jeukendrup, A., Brouns, F., Wagenmakers, A. J., Saris, W. H. (1997). Carbohydrate-electrolytefeedings improve 1 h time trial cycling performance. International Journal ofSports Medicine, 18, 125-129.
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Nehlsen-Cannarella, S. L. et al. (1997). Carbohydrate and the cytokine response to 2.5 h of running. Journal of Applied Physiology, 82, 1662–1667.
Nieman, D. C. et al. (2005). Muscle cytokine mRNA changes after 2.5 h of cycling: Influence of carbohydrate. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 37, 1283–1290.
Lancaster, G. I. et al.(2003). Effect of feeding different amounts of carbohydrate during prolonged exercise on human T-lymphocyte intracellular cytokine production. Journal of Physiology,548, 98-104.