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Double your protein intake for an intense workout

Due to the situation we are experiencing these days, many people have increased their levels of physical activity. Along with this increase, there are a lot of questions around the effect of increased exercise and its effect on the immune system.

Today, we're going to look at the strategies that can be followed, even by those who work out intensely or do two workouts during the day. Based on a study by Scottish scientists in 2014, increasing the amount of protein in the diet offsets the negative impact that intense physical exercise can have on our immune system.

The study involved 8 well-trained cyclists, where in 2 different cases, they were asked to increase their physical activity by 70% compared to their usual workouts. It is important to mention that in the field of sports, as a golden rule, we only increase weekly training by up to 5%, to avoid a negative impact on the immune system of those being tested.

Physical activity has positive effects on our immune system, but strenuous physical exercise can have the opposite effect. The researchers wanted to see if they could do something about this by increasing the athletes’ protein intake by kg of body weight.

The results showed that a sharp increase in physical activity levels increased the chance of being infected with a virus or bacteria - but at the same time, the extra dietary protein intake kept the immune system strong. During the intensive training week with normal protein intake, individuals reported more symptoms of upper respiratory tract infection - but this was not reported during the extremely intensive training week with high protein intake.

The normal mechanism of action was related to the amount of CD8 + T cells in the athletes' blood, which appeared to decrease during intensive training and throughout the first hour after training. We can consider the above two categories as the soldiers who keep our immune system strong. It was precisely these soldiers and, consequently, the decrease in these soldiers that the increase in protein managed to compensate for.

We can exercise regularly, but we must also increase the amount of our protein intake, always in the context of a healthy and varied diet.

Daniel Kapsis

Dietitian – Sports Nutritionist MSc, PhDc

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