The Role of the Immune System in Sports Performance
The immune system is our body’s defence system against external elements such as viruses, bacteria, and fungi.
Nutrition plays a major role and has a great impact on all aspects of our lives. It is even more important when we are talking about recovery post-exercise: nutrition speeds up a return to full form for the next training session or match and improves performance.
Recovery is based on the four Rs: rehydration, energy recharge, muscle tissue repair and immune system regeneration. This is why they are known as the four Rs.
The first concept is rehydration and it refers to recuperating the fluids lost while playing a sport. It is estimated that athletes need to drink at least 150% of what they lost during exercise. Water is fundamental for rehydration, but drinks containing minerals are also useful, and even milk is good since it contains many rehydrating properties together with carbohydrates and proteins.
Recovery drinks also contain minerals, carbohydrates, proteins and phytonutrients to optimise and accelerate recovery. There is an optimal time frame – known as the metabolic window – during which our body is most able to absorb everything we feed it, and this occurs right after exercise (which is when we most need it). This ideal moment lasts for approximately one-hour post-exercise.
Secondly, to guarantee energy recovery after a training session or match, more carbohydrates need to be introduced in the following meals. The goal is to maximise muscle glycogen, which is known as the athlete’s “gasoline”. In this case, recommended foods include fruit, pasta, rice, quinoa, potato and sweetcorn.
The third concept refers to the idea that if athletes eat appropriately during the recovery period; they will repair and regenerate muscle tissue more quickly. To achieve this, foods high in protein, such as fish, seafood, meat and eggs are key.
Finally, in terms of regenerating the immune system and the tissue system, recovery should not only be based on basic macronutrients but must also concentrate specifically on the consumption of foods high in phytonutrients containing natural and anti-inflammatory ingredients, which provide more vitamins and minerals thus creating the best conditions for quality recovery. This will ensure that the body is more able to regenerate and be in top form the following day, allowing the athlete to continue improving their performance. Furthermore, it strengthens the body’s nervous system and defences, which are more fragile following a workout.
In this context, foods high in antioxidants are very useful, for example, forest fruits (strawberries, raspberries and blueberries), concentrated cherry syrup and foods rich in vitamin C or anti-inflammatory properties, such as turmeric, ginger or matcha tea.
An important factor in the recovery process is that it has to be repeated several times: the four Rs must be followed not only in the locker room but also in the next meal and during the following day. This is due because it is difficult to recover 100% if the four Rs are only implemented once.
Nutritional strategies must also be customised according to the specific sport, athlete and number of matches or competitions he or she takes part. In football, it is not the same to play in one competition (one match a week), as it is to play in two or three competitions, which can mean playing two or three matches a week, generating peaks where recovery will be a fundamental strategy for the players.
The Barça Innovation Hub team
An article published in The Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine —in which members of the club’s medical services participated— now suggests to consider the detailed structure of the area affected, and treating the extracellular matrix as an essential player in the prognosis of the injury.