Post exercise immunosuppression (PEIS) and endurance athletes
You’re in the best shape of your life, so why do you keep getting ill? You may be suffering from Post Exercise Immunosuppression (PEIS) where hard training knocks out your immune system. The good news is, you can beat it with these simple tips
The harder you train, the fitter you become. Sleep patterns improve, stress levels drop and you go about your daily life with a spring in your step. Better still, you see your race times dropping. Life is peachy.
But it isn’t always like this. Because despite being fitter than much of the population, many athletes still catch more colds than the average sofa surfing regular Joe. What gives?
The problem is Post Exercise Immunosuppression (PEIS), also known as exercise induced immunosuppression. Ignore the name changes, they're both the same thing and happen when exercise increases levels of the stress hormones adrenalin and cortisol in the body. This is a basic stress reaction and exactly the same as we experience under more traditional forms of stress like overwork, difficult emotional situations, or plain old lack of sleep. This reaction then knocks out your immune system temporarily, leaving you as weak as a kitten when any colds or viruses come your way.
Post exercise immunosuppression: how much exercise is needed to cause a problem?
The level of exercise involved has to be high though for PEIS to kick in.
Moderate training won’t cause a problem and if anything will boost immunity, but when sessions go over two hours or intensity regularly steps above 85 per cent PEIS problems can occur. Endurance specialists like Ironman competitors, marathon and ultramarathon runners are especially at risk.
“PEIS is a genuine problem,” says Gareth Evans, sports scientist at the Porsche Human Performance Centre who deals with a number of elite endurance athletes.
“It's linked to overtraining, and is made worse by people training through it”.
So PEIS is a real concern for anyone training hard, although there’s no need to suddenly wrap yourself in cotton wool to avoid it either – too far that way and you’ll only create a new set of problems.
“Stop training at the first hint of a sniffle and you’ll never reach your potential,” says triathlon coach Joe Beer.
“You’re not doing triathlon if you don’t like a bit of discomfort – it’s about pushing yourself and seeing what you’re made of.”
How do you tread the line between training hard and avoiding post exercise immunosuppression?
First realise not all illness is caused by PEIS. Three colds a year is normal, and this can go up or down slightly for all of us in any given year regardless of what we do.
But if a pattern is developing where you’re consistently more ill than people around you or colds and bugs take forever to shake off, PEIS could be at work.
Don’t think it can’t affect you because you’re not an elite athlete either. Age groupers and amateurs are often at more risk than pros.
While some experts sniff at the idea of anyone around the seven-hours-per-week training mark being able to overdo it, that’s because they’re looking at it from a pro perspective. Seven hours training in a week is nothing to a top athlete regularly clocking 30-plus.
The difference is amateurs fit training and racing around already packed lives – full time job, kids to look after, and no coach to monitor it all for them.
“Elites have it easier,” says Beer. “They can overdo it and then take a couple of rest days. But age groupers can’t. Many think a rest day means simply not training. It’s not. A recovery day at pro level is doing absolutely nothing. Lying on the sofa all day, maybe having a massage. That’s a real rest day and they’re hard to come by when you have a job and a family”.
Nutrition and post exercise immunosuppression
The biggest solution for PEIS is the simplest: nutrition.
First you need a decent, clean and natural diet.
“With the immune system it’s all about getting a varied diet,” says Evans.
“We ask our athletes to self-monitor – everyone says they eat healthily, but when they keep a record of everything they eat we often find their diets aren’t as good as they think. A balanced wholefood diet is what’s needed”.
Next you need plenty of antioxidants to help fight off those bugs kind colleagues bring into work or fellow commuters sneeze around the tube on a Monday morning just when you’ve whacked yourself out training or racing all weekend.
Then you’ll want to alkalise your diet as much as possible.
Fast foods, processed foods, baked goods, caffeine and high-sugar foods – the nutritional cornerstones of our time-poor lives – are all acid-forming and doing their worst to make our bodies more acid than they should naturally be.
Increased acidity utterly knackers your immune system.
This is where our Pre and Post Workout Shakes stand above anything on the market. Not only are our ingredients 100% natural and unprocessed, they're also ingredients that are actively bursting with every antioxidant your body could need as well as a host of all-natural alkalisers.
So with nothing more than some well-balanced eating and one of our Shakes before or after your hard sessions or races, you can take your immune system to a new level. Which leaves you free to concentrate on your next goal and your next PB.
The final nutritional tip is also super-simple, and it’s all about water.
You need to stay hydrated.
Mucus and saliva are two of the body’s very best natural barriers against infection but both perform badly when you’re dehydrated, so plenty of water during heavy exercise is key, even more so afterwards when your immune system could be at its lowest.
Keep these core nutritional principles in place and you’ll be in the strongest possible position to kick PEIS into touch.
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