Carbs the key for immune health in athletes!

Carbohydrate is the body’s primary fuel. It should therefore be little surprise when that low carb levels in muscles (muscle glycogen) frequently correlate with illness and injury – when the body is in a low energy state, many of its functions become compromised.

This study on twelve male runners assessed the effects of carbohydrate intake, with and without protein (PRO),on  the responsiveness of immune cells immediately after prolonged strenuous exercise. Each athlete undertook each of 3 feeding interventions, 1 week apart, in randomized order after 2 hr of running at 75% VO2max. The feeding interventions (acting as their own control), comprising a  placebo solution, a high-carb solution equal to 1.2 g CHO/ kg body mass (BM), and a carb + protein solution with an additional  0.4 g PRO/kg BM immediately post-exercise.

The number of circulating immune-cells, their responsiveness to stimulation, plasma insulin, and cortisol levels were all determined from blood samples collected pre-exercise, immediately and post-exercise.

The responsiveness of immune cells to bacteria declined in placebo, but was maintained in the trials with high carb, or high carnb + protein, for hours after exercise.

Adding protein yielded no extra benefit in this trial, but this was on top of a very aggressive carb intake. Many athletes would probably prefer to bear their body composition in mind and consume some protein calories in place of sugar. Either way – ensuring an adequate energy intake will improve performance, but also immune health. If you function – then you perform!.

Costa, R.J.S. 2011 Effects of Immediate Post-exercise Carbohydrate Ingestion With and Without Protein on Neutrophil Degranulation IJSNEM Volume 21, Issue 3, June Original Research205 – 213


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