It’s a widely held belief that athletes experience a decrease in immunity and an increased risk of upper respiratory infection (URI) during periods of heavy training and competition.
In one of his recent weekly newsletters, Steve Magnus, referred to a 2018 article from the European Journal of Sport Science. Considering the current circumstances where athletes may be uncertain about the appropriate level of intensity in their training, I read through this detailed paper and wanted to share some highlights. That can help athletes maintain their immune system health.
In the research paper, the authors discuss how prolonged heavy training sessions in particular have been shown to decrease immune function. In our current environment with concerns for COVID-19, running these types of workouts may not be desired. Especially if the athlete doesn’t have any upcoming races.
The study goes on to identify prominent risk factors that also contribute to decreasing an athlete’s immune health, including: intensified training in the winter or cold/wet months; high levels of psychological stress and anxiety; and depression.
As you can see, if you click through, the paper is very robust, because it also provides recommendations for modifying training and recovery activities to maintain immune health in athletes. In my experience, my body often wears down in the last 3-4 weeks before I taper for my longer, planned race. For 5 & 10k races, I like the recommendation to Increase the frequency of shorter, spike training sessions (like repeat 400m) rather than enduring fewer but longer sessions.
However, for longer races (1/2 marathon & marathons), the recommendation to plan for easier recovery/adaptation weeks every second or third week of the training cycle is probably more appropriate for older runners.