Long rides not only stress the muscles of your legs and your cardiovascular system, but it also suppress your immune system for several hours after the ride. However, recent research by Dr. David Nieman and coworkers from Appalachian State University in Boone, NC, has shown that immune stress can be lowered when a sports drink is consumed every 15 minutes during several hours of hard cycling.
Dr. Nieman's research has shown that one of the markers of endurance cycling is an increase in certain types of white blood cells. Nieman found that the increases in three types of white blood cells was attenuated when the subjects in the study drank a sports drink versus an artificially-flavored placebo drink.
The research team also investigated the exercise response to cortisol, a hormone that when released in excessive amounts after hard exercise can lead to muscle soreness and stress on the immune system.
Nieman's research found that cortisol's release was lower after activities such as hard cycling when the subjects consumed a carbohydrate sports drink during exercise.
"Our research shows that sports drinks not only provide carbohydrate energy during exercise, but support the link between sports drinks and less stress to the immune system," says Nieman.
"Carbohydrate drinks of about 6% to 10% carbohydrate (most commercial energy drinks are within this range) consumed during cycling will not eliminate the stress of cycling, but our research and the work of others show they can reduce the increase of several by-products of stress and hard exercise," adds Nieman.
Nieman gives the following recommendations to help support your immune system during and after hard training and reduce the incidence of sickness, colds and flu:
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