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Thursday, March 08, 2007

How much vitamin C should an athlete take to avoid colds?

It is the common experience of many athletes to finish an exhausting event like a marathon or iron man triathlon and feel surprisingly good; only to crash several days later going down with a virus an injury like tendonitis or feeling very depressed and tired or all of the latter. This may be fully or partially due to the delayed effects of the extreme oxidative stress suffered during the exhausting exercise (This can be either from competition or heavy training). In many cases, such as multiday events there is the added stress of sleep deprivation which hammers one's immune system.

"A practical way to reason is that, if a person carrying out heavy exercise feels that he or she has colds too often, he or she could (should?) try vitamin C.

The doses have been about 0.5 to 2 grams per day in the controlled trials and that kind of doses are safe for ordinary people (and cheap). In the US nutritional recommendations they consider that safe range goes to some 2 g/day. That is a conservative limit in my opinion, but with the current knowledge, I do not think it makes much sense to use substantially larger doses even though I consider them safe.

If we assume that the oxidative stress caused by the marathon would b protected against by higher vitamin C levels in the body, I think that the time scale would be initiation a few days before and continuing a few days after the marathon (one or two times per day I would think)". Harri

(Excerpt from correspondence between Gary Moller and Harri Hemilä, MD, PhD,Department of Public Health,University of Helsinki, Finland. Dr Hemilä is one of the world's leading researchers into the benefits or otherwide of substances like vitamin C and vitamin E).

Dr Hemilä's impressive work in this area makes fascinating reading.

With what we know about free radicals and how they are generated during exhasting or intense exercise, it would make good sense to anticipate excessive oxidative stress to your body and take preventive measures, if you are doing heavy training or have an exhausting competition coming up. This migh also apply to work and personal situations that may be emotionally as well as physically exhausting.

Using Dr Hemilä's advice as our guide, here is my guidance:

  • If you are doing exhausting training take 1-2,000mg of vitamin C per day
    • If you have a history of frequent colds, take towards the upper level (2,000mg)
  • Take 2,000mg per day over the 2 days before an exhausting competition and for 2 days afterwards
  • If you are taking Wagner Ester C, then you could reduce these guidelines to 50% and you will probably get the same protection or still better.
  • Regardless of vitamin C supplementation, take a daily Super Smoothie that has red berries and whey protein added and eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables.
  • Go to sleep before 11pm every night and be out of bed by 7am
  • Get plenty of sunlight on your body to boost your vitamin D levels. Get a blood test of your levels.
  • An athlete requires more minerals and B group vitamins than most
  • Other antioxidant food extracts like high potency garlic extracts could be added to the diet
  • Have recovery days within your training schedule and take 3-5 days rest after an exhausting competition like a marathon.
I will be posting some guidelines about use of vitamin E which is currently a confused and controversial matter.

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