Endurance athletes are healthier than the average person, but they can also be more prone to disease, illness and exhaustion if they lack the correct vitamins, minerals and antioxidants in their nutrition regimen.
Even athletes who eat the best foods possible, can't possibly get the level of nutrients they need naturally because an athlete's needs for vitamins and minerals are even greater than the average person's.
Athletes lose more essential nutrients through sweat and because of increased oxygen consumption, their bodies are also more likely to be compromised from oxidative stress.
The additional oxygen used during exercise helps deliver important fuel to the muscles and lungs, but it also produces dangerous free radicals. Free radicals are a by-product from the metabolism of oxygen. They are unstable oxygen molecules that search for an extra electron in order to help them stabilize. Those needed electrons may come from many sources including DNA, cell membranes and LDL cholesterol. When that happens, negative health conditions can result including heart disease, cancer, arthritis, Alzheimer's and depressed immunity.
Out of these conditions, immunity may be the least of your concerns but should not be taken for granted. Many runners and triathletes train for months leading up to a big race only to find themselves sick just days before the event.
Dr. David Neiman, the director of the Human Performance Laboratory at Appalachian State in North Carolina, conducted a study of over 2,300 runners at a marathon in Los Angeles. He found that 13 percent of the runners either became ill right before the race or in the weeks shortly thereafter. Only 3 percent of a control group of runners who did not participate in the marathon became ill. Mileage also has something to do with the strength of an athlete's immunity.
Runners that trained more than 96K (about 60 miles) per week doubled their odds of getting sick compared to those who were training less than 32K (about 20 miles) per week. Studies show that this might have something to do with oxidative stress and the production of free radicals.
A study in Ulm, Germany found that DNA damage (a result of oxidative stress) was significantly increased following bouts of intense exercise. The researchers also found that much of that DNA damage could be countered by high doses of vitamin E (1,200 IU). The acronym "ACE" best describes antioxidants that help counter oxidation. There are hundreds of antioxidants and many have yet to be discovered. The main antioxidants are vitamins A, C and E. Vitamin A is best when consumed as beta carotene and vitamin E is best when taken in the natural form, d alpha tocopherol, as opposed to the synthetic form, dl-alpha tocopherol. The "d" form of alpha tocopherol is more expensive, but it is 3 to 5 times better absorbed than the synthetic form (dl).
Many athletes understand the importance of vitamin supplementation but are not sure how much they should take. It's a multi-billion dollar industry with plenty of choices and since nutrition is not an exact science, there's always room for debate. With health and fitness at the cornerstone of The Cooper Research Institute, founder, Kenneth Cooper M.D., M.P.H., and his colleagues from three leading universities have focused much of their research on multi-vitamin needs of marathon runners and triathletes. Their research shows that a multivitamin for athletes needs to provide high levels of antioxidant vitamins to help prevent free radical damage that may result from endurance exercise. Cooper Complete Elite Athlete formulation was designed for anyone running more than 30 miles a week, or exercising at high intensities.
Research shows certain vitamins can be highly absorbed and positively impact the oxidation of LDL cholesterol. In addition, the studies also show a lowering of blood homocysteine levels (high levels of which are associated with heart disease, stroke, colon cancer and Alzheimer's) and C-reactive protein (CRP), the measure of inflammation.
Recent studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine by Paul Ridker, M.D., at Harvard, show that elevated levels of CRP may be more important than high levels of LDL cholesterol in terms of predicting future coronary events. This could be especially important to athletes since the immune pathways and inflammatory pathways are very similar.
Todd Whitthorne is the President and COO of Cooper Concepts, Inc., a division of The Cooper Aerobics Center in Dallas. He is the host of, "Healthy Living with Dr. Ken Cooper," a one-hour weekly, nationally syndicated radio show on the Talk Radio Network. Whitthorne holds a Bachelor of Science degree in kinesiology with an emphasis in exercise physiology from UCLA, and is also a member of the Governor's Advisory Council on Physical Fitness in Texas.