Posted on Feb 22, 2017, 6 a.m.
Consuming carbs during strenuous exercise helps immune system recovery.
Carbohydrates have gotten somewhat of a bad rap over the past decade. Most health-conscious people avoid simple carbohydrates that are rife in foods like muffins, pastries, breads, pretzels and other baked goods. However, recent research indicates that the consumption of healthy carbohydrates before, during, and after workouts boosts immune system recovery.
An Explanation of Carb Benefits During Exercise
Dr. Oliver Neubauer and Dr. Jonathan Peake of the Queensland University of Technology determined that eating carbohydrates in the midst of intense exercise sessions serves to minimize immune disturbances that occur during physical activity. These carbohydrates also improve the body's ability to recover from strenuous exercise. Dr. Peake and Dr. Neubauer found the optimal way to prevent undesired changes to the immune system while attempting to recover from a workout was to eat carbohydrate-laden foods. These foods should be consumed before and after the workout as well as during the workout. The research team's findings were recently published in the Journal of Applied Physiology.
Why the Findings Matter
Just about everyone who engages in exercise is on the prowl for a way to quickly recover from an intense workout. Numerous nutritional strategies have been attempted yet none seemed to work to perfection. The findings described above show that immune depression can be successfully counteracted amidst exercise recovery with the consumption of carbohydrates. It is clear that this nutrition strategy is the most effective in the quest to renew the body during and after arduous physical activity.
Carbohydrates are essential as they help to maintain the proper blood sugar level. Stable blood sugar levels decrease the body's natural stress response. This stabilization moderates the undesired activation of immune cells. Additional research will be required to guarantee that the consumption of carb-laden foods during/after workouts also serves to ward off illnesses and infections.
According to Dr. Peake, exercise can heighten and reduce the number of immune cells within the blood. He has stated that studies do not support the previously held belief that exercising at a high frequency without permitting ample time for the immune system to return to its normal state heightens the risk of a compromised immune system.
The average person has less “natural killer” style white blood cells after an intense exercise session. However, Peake's study shows that these cells typically move to other portions of the body instead of being destroyed. After all, exercise is quite the stressful activity. Especially rigorous exercise induces even more physiological stress that prompts biochemical and physiological changes within the body. The immune cells often move away from the blood stream toward the lungs in order to tackle possible threats. As a result, the human body is left vulnerable to infections. As the exercise becomes more strenuous, the immune system takes even longer to return to its normal state. There is epidemiological evidence that shows moderate exercise activity guards against upper respiratory sickness such as the common cold. Regular intense exercise heightens the risk of upper respiratory sickness.
Where to go From Here
According to Dr. Neubauer, his research indicates most people require carbohydrates while exercising at a high intensity or when exercising for 90 minutes or longer. Consuming carb-laden foods before and during intense exercise boosts endurance performance and also decreases immune disturbances related to exercises.
Neubauer's research shows that between 30 and 60 grams of carbs each hour during exercise supports proper immune function. The ideal carbohydrate-laden foods and liquids include bananas, energy bars, sports drinks and apples. In the end, it can be said without a doubt that a well-balanced and diversified diet ensures proper immune system functionality in the aftermath of prolonged exercise.
Jonathan M. Peake, Oliver Neubauer, Neil P. Walsh, Richard J. Simpson. Recovery of the immune system after exercise. Journal of Applied Physiology, 2016; jap.00622.2016 DOI: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00622.2016