Have you ever noticed that following a hard set on the trainer or a speed workout on foot that you are wheezing? Or even worse, following a race or a hard training session you develop phlegm or even a “cold”. You can blame it on the fellow in the third row of seats on the flight home, the air pollution and allergies, or recognize that your immunity has been affected by pushing just a little too hard.
This is a common problem and although I’d like to think that it is just due to chance, we know that hard training commonly results in coughing, wheezing and feeling badly. Yet as athletes we want to be able to push hard training sessions without getting sick.
Although it is not possible to fully prevent all illnesses, you can arm yourself when training, by using Beta Glucans.
What are Beta Glucans? These are structural polymers derived from cell walls of saccharomyces cervisiae, a type of yeast. They form a cell wall of many fungi and have been used for their anti-infective and anti-tumorigenic activity for many years. These polysaccharides do not exist in humans or animals, they are however, recognized by the immune system of vertebrates, resulting in the development of immune responses for the control of some pathogens. Historically, the ability of yeast to affect human cell function (the complement activation pathway) has been recognized since the early 1900’s. Beta Glucan was identified initially in 1964. Zymosan, a form of Beta Glucan, has been used in the study of the immune system since that time. It is not surprising that Beta Glucans were considered when pharmaceutical scientists were developing medicines to support our ability to fight off infections.
Data from randomized studies supports the view-point that near daily physical activity reduces the number of days of sickness. There is a reduction in upper respiratory tract infection (URTI) in those engaging in regular versus irregular training. However, over-training results in a lowered resistance to URTI. A high percentage of self reported illnesses occur when athletes exceed individually identifiable training thresholds typical of race day intensity.
Figure 2. Infection risk and immune function are related to the exercise workload.
(From Nieman et al, undated monograph)
Several recent studies looking at 1,3/1,6 Beta Glucan, have shown an improvement in the ability of athletes to ward off illness with the incorporation of this nutrient into their diet. 1,3/1,6 Beta Glucan is derived from a proprietary strain of Baker’s yeast. 1,3/1,6 Beta Glucan triggers our immune system by enhancing the ability of our own white cells to fight off a variety of pathogens. The following studies done on athletes use a double blind, placebo controlled design at a 95% confidence level which is considered the ‘Gold Standard’ of research methodology and statistics.
University of Houston Laboratory Study:
The Department of Health and Human Performance conducted a study using 1,3/1,6 Beta Glucan to evaluate the effectiveness of the immune system when the athlete is most susceptible to infection. This was a randomized double blind placebo controlled study evaluating 60 recreational athletes, including 31 women and 29 men. Following an initial screening the subjects were given a placebo or 250 mg of 1,3/1,6 Beta Glucan daly for 10 days. At the end of the period they rode an exercise bicycle at high intensity for one hour in the heat stress chamber at a Human Performance lab. Blood samples were drawn at day 0 and then ten days later, immediately before and after the exercise session and again two hours post exercise. Multiple immune system measurements were analyzed. Those who received 1,3/1,6 Beta Glucan had higher levels of key cytokines and monocytes in their blood following simulation of the immune system. The increase in cytokines suggests that Beta Glucans improved innate and humoral dependent immune responses. This reduces the “open window” effect and results in a higher level of immune responsiveness in the study subjects, translating to less down time and thus improved ability to train.
Carlsbad Marathon study:
This double blind, placebo-controlled study was designed to evaluate the effects of a 1,3/1,6 Beta Glucan on upper respiratory tract illness (URTI) and profile of mood state (POMS is a clinically validated study method). This study evaluated 75 marathon runners, including 35 men and 40 women training for and competing in the 2007 Carlsbad Marathon. The athletes ranged in age from 18 to 53 and each were given a dose of either 250 mg or 500 mg 1,3/1,6 Beta Glucan. A random group also received placebo. Beta Glucan was given during the 4 weeks post marathon and assessments were done using the POMS. Results documented fewer URTI symptoms, overall improved health and increased vigor (sense of energy) with less fatigue and tension. These studies showed a significant decrease in symptoms by those taking 1,3/1,6 Beta Glucan for four weeks following an intense exercise bout. Slight improvements were seen with 500 mg over the 250 mg dose.
Live-Strong Marathon Study: University of Houston
This subsequent marathon study and was completed in 2011 using a randomized double blind placebo controlled model which also evaluated using POMS and symptoms of URTI. The study included 96 men and 86 women with an average age of 34 and an average finish time of 4 hours. Participants were given a placebo or 250mg 1,3/1,6 Beta Glucan for four weeks following the race. Results indicated a significant reduction in average number of days reported with cold or flu symptoms in the group taking 1,3/1,6 Beta Glucan. These reduced symptoms help athletes train following hard efforts or races.
Japanese Institute of Health Study:
A study from the Japanese Institute of Health Foods Society and Associated Universities evaluated fatigue from stress in healthy subjects. Exclusions included those who smoke, those with allergy or sensitivity to any food, those with severe diseases or who use medicines or supplements or who have a family history of severe disease. Subjects selected were over 18, had a BMI less than 25, normal blood pressure and followed and completed the study as prescribed.
The sample provided was a drink with 300mg 1,3/1,6 Beta Glucan or without (placebo) . This study used a crossover study design so that all subjects were their own controls and included an 11-day washout period. The validated survey (POMS) was administered at day 1, 10, 22, and 31. The results demonstrate a significant reduction in fatigue and decrease in confusion. Improvement was noted in vigor, coupled with a decrease in symptoms of illness .
The aforementioned studies were performed using methods recognized as Gold Standard in study design. Of importance, the results are reproducible in different locations, in different environments utilizing the same nutrient. Sample size is adequate to show significance at p values of <0.05. This high level of data collection over several studies shows a clear indication of benefit to hard training athletes.
Immune boosting nutrients are nothing new; what is newly recognized and unique is the mechanism of action by which 1,3/1,6 Beta Glucan works. Historically athletes used high levels of antioxidants or vitamin C to ward off illness and to strengthen the immune. These methods have been shown to hinder mitochondrial biogenysis. In other words, these antioxidants limit the very endurance gains you are seeking. With 1,3/1,6 Beta Glucan, you can make endurance gains and simultaneously strengthen your immune system, allowing you to remain healthy and continue training every day.
1,3/1,6 Beta Glucan is not a cure or a solution in itself but can be a beneficial addition to a training program. Hard training athletes that consume at least 250mg 1,3-1,6 Beta Glucans daily can expect better training through less downtime, improved vigor and recovery. This can be achieved without relying on antioxidants which have been shown to hinder endurance gains. First Endurance MultiV-PRO is free of
Vitamin C and contains a clinically effective dose of 300mg 1,3/1,6 Beta Glucan from three different sources.
Fungal Beta Glucans and Mammalian Immunity
GD Brown, S Gordan
Immunity 2003, 19; 311-315
Journal of Sports Sciences, 2004, 22; 115-125
Exercise, nutrition and immune function
M Gleeson, DC Nieman, BK Pedersen
Baker’s yeast β-glucan supplementation increases monocytes and cytokines post-exercise: implications for infection risk?
Carpenter KC1, Breslin WL1, Davidson T1, Adams A1, McFarlin BK1.
Br J Nutr. 2013 Feb 14;109(3):478-86.
Effect of BETA 1, 3/1, 6 GLUCAN on upper respiratory tract infection symptoms and mood state in marathon athletes
Shawn Talbott, Julie Talbott
Journal of Sports Science and Medicine 2009; 8; 509-515
Baker’s yeast beta glucan supplementation increases salivary IgA and decreases cold/flu symptomatic days after intense exercise.
McFarlin BK, Carpenter KC, Davidson T, McFarlin MA
J Diet Suppl. 2013 Sep;10:171-83
Randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study to evaluate the
effects of beta-1,3/1,6 glucan on stress associated with daily lifestyle in healthy subjects
Yoshihiko Ojiri, Hiroshi Endoh, Tadashi Okumoto, Kazushi Atsuta, Orie Yoshinari, Hiroyoshi Moriyama
Functional Foods in Health and Disease 2015; 5: 145-154
Exercise and Immune function: Nutritional Influences