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The growth of competitive virtual cycling could be a great equalizer. Gone are the days when North American athletes are required to head to Europe for the highest levels of competition. Virtual cycling also reduces the complexities of event hosting relating to local officiating capacity, road closures, and inclement weather.

This winter, many Canadians will head outdoors to participate in winter activities such as cross-country skiing, ice skating, and snowmobiling. Unfortunately, approximately 35% of drownings in Canada occur between October and April, when most people have no intention of going into the water. To stay safe around ice this winter, know the thickness and quality of ice before venturing onto it, consider wearing a lifejacket, and know what steps to take should an accident occur.

Sleep loss reduces physical performance, eye-hand coordination, and attention span. Chronic sleep loss contributes to higher risk for cancer, heart disease, dementia and depression. A recent article from ESPN examines the impacts of competition and travel schedules on the sleep patterns, and ultimately the health, of NBA athletes.

While many are concerned with reducing the negative effects of travelling on athletes, relatively less attention is paid to the effects for sport administrators, coaches and support staff. Research indicates travelling for work is bad for your health, increasing your risk of physical and mental health issues. Making healthy eating choices and sticking to an “on the road” physical activity routine (and policies that support positive practices), can help mitigate the risks.

Athletes are travelling more than ever, flying across the world for competition and training. Even competing in the same country can require travelling through multiple time zones. At a time when athletes want to be in peak form, jet lag can interfere with mood and performance. Understanding of the body’s natural clock, however, can help us plan for and manage jet lag symptoms.

Jet Lag vs. Travel Fatigue
Jet lag must be differentiated from travel fatigue. Travel fatigue is the fatigue and dehydration associated with travelling that can be fairly quickly improved with rest and rehydration upon arrival. It can also represent an accumulation of physiological and psychological weariness from travels during a season that lead to loss of motivation, continual fatigue, and/or frequent illness. Jet lag, in contrast, occurs when changing time zones, and the symptoms are a result of a desynchronization of the body’s internal clock (circadian rhythms) and the new local time. The direction of travel (east vs. west), as well as the number of time zones traversed, influence the circadian mismatch. Common symptoms are gastrointestinal and sleep disturbances, decreased concentration, and loss of appetite, and usually disappear once the body adapts to the new time zone.

The Body’s Internal Clock
One of the big players that governs your daily sleep-wake cycle is the hormone melatonin. Melatonin is secreted in the brain at night, prompting lower levels of alertness and a greater desire to sleep. Because light suppresses melatonin production, by manipulating exposure to light, we can shift circadian rhythms to better match the new time zone.

The body’s core temperature also follows a cycle, peaking in the late afternoon or early evening. The lowest point is in the early morning, usually two hours before regular waking time in the home time zone. This low point, called the circadian nadir, also corresponds to the time when it is the hardest to stay awake, or the easiest to stay asleep.

Based on those principles, this table (Table III. on page 3) outlines when the best and worst times for light exposure are when trying to adapt to a new time zone, depending on the direction of travel and the number of time zones crossed. Travelling west requires a phase shift later, whereas travelling east causes the circadian phase to shift earlier.

There are other strategies to reduce the symptoms of jet lag and promote the fastest adaptation to local time:

Before Travel

During Travel

After Travel

The most effective strategies to accelerate adaptation to a new time zone involve deliberate light exposure and avoidance. Use of melatonin supplements are also an option, but should be used under the direction of a sports medicine professional.

Bjorvatn B, Pallesen S. A practical approach to circadian rhythm sleep disorders. Sleep Medicine Reviews. 2009; 13(1): 47-60.
Reilly T, Atkinson G, Edwards B, Waterhouse J, Åkerstedt T, Davenne D, Lemmer B, Wirz-Justice A. Coping with jet lag: A position statement for the European College of Sport Science. European Journal of Sport Science. 2007; 7(1): 1-7.
Samuels CH. Jet lag and travel fatigue: A comprehensive management plan for sport medicine physicians and high-performance support teams. Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine. 2012; 22(3): 268-273.
Williams B, Clarke R, Aspe R, Cole M, Hughes J. Managing performance throughout periods of travel. Strength and Conditioning Journal. 2017; 39(4): 22-29.

About the Author: Lily is a fourth-year student in the kinesiology program at Western University, currently interning with SIRC. With a background in synchronized swimming, she continues to be actively involved in sport as a coach and varsity athlete.

Be it for business or for pleasure, travelling often shakes up your normal schedule. Meals, sleep, and fitness routines change to accommodate meetings or activities. Travel doesn’t need to set you back from your fitness goals, though. There are several strategies you can use while on the road to help you stay in shape without your usual equipment or regimen.

Depending on your current physical activity routine, you may have to be flexible in the ways you fulfill your fitness needs while away. Long hours of sitting in the car, train, or plane, as well as disruptions to other aspects of your daily routine, such as meal times and jet lag, can be discouraging. These ideas could help you overcome the challenges that travelling presents:

Lack of Equipment or Limited by Hotel Gym Equipment
Gym-goers and strength training enthusiasts may feel limited without access to regular equipment, or if the hotel gym does not have heavy enough weights. Here are some suggestions:

In Transit
You can’t reasonably expect to be doing lunges or sit-ups in the aisle of the airplane or in the middle of a board meeting. And though you would have more space, few people are willing to spontaneously begin working out during a layover, either. For those situations, these strategies are better than nothing:

It’s very easy to forgo physical activity when on vacation or away for business. Sometimes it can be a good thing to take a break, but if you know ahead of time you want to commit to staying active, make a plan before you leave. It’ll take some creativity and some flexibility, but if you put in the effort, there is no reason you can’t keep up your fitness while travelling.

It is well documented that moderate exercise prevents many infections and greatly improves immune system function. In contrast, among elite athletes who train at a faster pace and at a higher intensity, the risk of illness increases significantly and the effectiveness of the immune system to fight infections is reduced. Other factors, including exposure to pathogens, lifestyle, sleep and recovery, the overall nutrition of the athlete and the psychosocial aspects should be considered in addition to volume and intensity of training. Each episode of acute prolonged exercise performed at high intensity causes a significant physiological stress on immunity and host-pathogen defense, in addition to having an effect on the level of stress hormones, cytokines, pro- and anti-inflammatories and increased oxidative stress.

From these facts, many researchers have examined the nutritional strategies to implement before, during and after workouts and travel to major competitions to better understand how it is possible to prevent infections in athletes and maintain a strong and healthy immune system. We briefly present solutions for minimizing these concerns as they can greatly affect the performance of your athletes.

Key Points:
1. Food and sleep

The most important aspect in terms of the prevention of diseases and infections among athletes are two main factors that go together: food and sleep. Elite athletes may have an advantage when they pay attention to their diet, ensuring adequate energy intake, intake of carbohydrates and protein to meet their needs and avoiding any restrictions that would lead to a micronutrient deficiency. It is clearly demonstrated that by meeting their nutritional needs, athletes can better maintain their immune function. Athletes must be able to eat three meals a day, including snacks as needed and pay attention to their recovery after each workout to give their body what it needs to be ready for the next workout.

Several studies have shown significant results between the total amount of sleep (number of hours per night) and sleep quality (number of times a person wakes up during the night) as the protective effect of preventing infections in healthy adults. A recent study showed that when 143 healthy adults were exposed to a virus for 14 days, all subjects with poorer sleep quality (who woke up more often during the night) were five times more likely to get sick than those who had a higher quality of sleep. While there is little information on the link between sleep and the rate of infection in athletes, it is still important to put forth this factor to maximize the recovery and performance in athletes and thus reduce their risk of infections.

2. Carbohydrate stress and stress hormones

A nutritional strategy that has shown very successful results through the study is carbohydrate intake during prolonged exercise. From 1995 until the present, a number of studies have shown that ingestion of carbohydrate (~ 60g of carbs per hour) during prolonged exercise (> 2 hours) significantly reduces the increase in neutrophil and monocytes (white blood cells) count, stress hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine, and cytokines such as IL-6, IL-10 recognized for their pro-inflammatory effect. In the negative, carbohydrate intake does not seem to have any effect on immune function or on the oxidative stress caused by prolonged stress. Other studies are looking at nutritional strategies to better maintain these functions and to see if it is possible to add something before exercise or to increase carbohydrates consumed during effort.

3. Recovery after exercise

It is well established that following an endurance exercise > 2 hours, there is a window of opportunity where immune system defence against pathogens is reduced, thereby dramatically increasing the risk of infections. This period may last from 3 to 72 hours after prolonged and intense effort. Studies with marathoners and ultra-endurance athletes have shown that these athletes had more URTI (upper respiratory infections) due to their endurance event than athletes training in shorter distances and for shorter times. It is recommended to eat within 30 minutes of high intensity physical exercise to properly rebuild energy reserves (glycogen) and repair muscle fibers broken during the exercise. This post-workout time allows the athlete to maximize the absorption of nutrients, but also to seize the opportunity of the metabolic and hormonal response to the effort. The body is ready! If the athlete waits too long before eating (1 hour or more) the recovery is compromised and it increases his chances in the long run, to frequently catch infections.

4. Supplements to diminish respiratory tract infections

There is more and more evidence that certain supplements can have a big impact. Supplements such as flavonoids, quercetin and some strains of probiotics (Lactobacillus) may increase some aspects of immune function and thus reduce the incidence of disease in athletes and those who have a weaker immune system . Limited, conflicting or insufficient data, limits interest in supplements such as omega-3, B-glucans, bovine colostrum, ginseng, echinacea or the use of large doses of some vitamins, such as vitamin C and vitamin E. There is also not enough evidence that glutamine and amino acids somehow help to prevent infections. The body has a large storage pool of these nutrients, and studies show that exercise alone cannot significantly reduce these reserves.

A recent hypothesis has been propogated over the latest studies. Because the immune system is so complex and diverse, the approach should rather be to use a combination of supplements rather than studying them individually. It is stated that using large doses of a single supplement may perhaps not be as effective as strategy using a cocktail-type approach with a combination of supplements together.

The table below is a review of all available studies on the use of supplements that can play a role in the immunity of athletes as well as recommendations as to their use.

Carbohydrate Maintains blood glucose during exercise, lowers release of stress hormones, counters negative immune changes post-exercise Recommended: up to 60 g per hour of heavy exertion helps dampen immune inflammatory responses, but not immune dysfunction
Fruit & vegetable extracts rich in polyphenols & flavonoïds Act as ibuprofen substitutes by attenuating exercise induced inflammation: also decrease oxidative stress. Recommended: but most research focused on oxidative stress
Quercetin (aglycone and isoquercetin) In vitro studies show strong anti- inflammatory, anti-oxidative, and anti- pathogenic effects. Animal data indicate increase in mitochondrial biogenesis and endurance performance, reduction in illness Recommended: especially when mixed with other flavonoids and nutrients.


Human studies show strong reduction in illness rates during heavy training and mild stimulation of mitochondrial biogenesis and endurance performance in untrained subjects; anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative effects when mixed with green tea extract and fish oil

Bovine colostrums Mix of immune, growth, and hormonal factors to improve immune function and lower illness risk Mixed results, and more data needed
Probiotics Improve intestinal microbial flora, and thereby enhance gut and systematic immune function Mixed results, and more data needed
β-glucan Receptors found on intestinal wall immune cells interact with β -glucan improving innate immunity Mixed results, mushroom β-glucan may be effective, but more data needed
Vitamin E Quenches exercise-induced reactive oxygen species (ROS) and augments immunity Not recommended: may be pro-oxidative and pro-inflammatory
Vitamin C Quenches ROS and augments immunity Not recommended: not consistently different from placebo
Multiple vitamins and minerals Work together to quench ROS and reduce inflammation Not recommended: not different from placebo: balanced diet is sufficient
Glutamine Important immune cell energy substrate that is lowered with prolonged exercise Not recommended: body stores exceed exercise-lowering effects
Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) BCAAs (valine, isoleucine, and leucine) are the major nitrogen source for glutamine synthesis in muscle Not recommended: Not recommended; data inconclusive, and rationale based on glutamine is faulty
N-3 PUFAs (fish oil) Exerts anti-inflammatory and immune-regulatory effects post-exercise Not recommended: no different than placebo
Herbal supplements (e.g., Ginseng, Echinacea) Contain bioactive molecules that augment immunity and counter infection Not recommended: humans studies do not show consistent support within an athletic content

Source: Walsh et al. 2011

The physiological effects of certain polyphenols such as quercetin, EGCG (green tea extract), turmeric, lycopene and resveratrol generated a lot of interest from exercise immunologists due to their anti-oxidative, anti-inflammatory, anti-pathogenic, cardioprotective, anti-carcinogenic effects. Several recent studies of quercetin supplementation in humans have been conducted to determine its mechanism of action on the post-exercise inflammation, oxidative stress, immune dysfunction, its ability to improve endurance and reduce incidence of infections due to physical stress. When quercetin combined with other polyphenols and nutrients such as green tea extract, iso-quercetin and fish oils, it was noted that there was a significant reduction of inflammation induced by exercise and oxidative stress caused by exertion. In addition, improved innate immune system functions, the ability to defend themselves and to protect themselves from pathogen, are largely increased. Quercetin supplementation (1000 mg / day for 2 to 3 weeks) also reduced the rate of infections in athletes subjected to great physical stress. Quercetin has several bioactive effects and is the polyphenol the most absorbed in the intestine. However, yet to be determined remains the optimal dose for the athletic population and the best cocktail from which they could benefit most during each of the following: periods of intense workouts, trips, and competitions as well as during their recovery.

5. Strategies for travel

As the saying goes: Prevention is better than cure. While there is no exact method to completely eliminate the risk of catching a cold or any infection, there are different lifesytle and nutritional strategies that each athlete can implement on a daily basis, during periods of intense training and when traveling. The following recommendations are made by the group of BASES experts to reduce immunosuppression encountered during prolonged high-intensity efforts and to reduce the risk of infections.

Originally published in High Performance SIRCuit, Summer 2013. This article has been translated from the original French text.

Many Canadian athletes take advantage of travel to other regions and countries to experience training in different climates and/or different physical environments. For many it is an opportunity to train at different conditions and for some to escape the cold, hot, rainy or snowy weather of Canada. We asked Jason Dunkerley, Paralympic runner, to share his thoughts on why he goes on training trips during the spring and how he tries to make the most of the experience.

In the spring I had an opportunity to spend ten days training in the Bay Area of California. The trip represented a welcome change – the majority of my winter training, other than running on a treadmill and a few sessions at the indoor track, had taken place in sub-zero temperatures. The moderate northern California weather in early April is optimal for runners whose legs and arms have not seen the light of day in months. Certainly, the promise of good weather is alluring for endurance athletes seeking a break from the cold; however it is not just about replenishing vitamin d, for there is a psychological element also. After so many difficult weeks of slogging through snow and ice, an early dose of sunshine can help to recalibrate our entire attitude in preparation for the rigors of the season ahead.

Then there is the matter of choosing where to go to train. In previous years, I’ve had the chance to spend time training in Florida, Texas and Arizona. Each of these locations offers unique advantages. Athletes generally go to Florida and Texas for the heat, and to Arizona for altitude. We chose Berkeley, California this year because of its proximity to San Francisco and an early season competitive opportunity which coincided nicely with our camp, because of the hills surrounding Berkeley which challenged us on every run in a way that we simply do not encounter at home, and because our coach was familiar with the area, having studied at UC Berkeley in the 1980’s.

One might argue that it is possible for athletes to tailor favourable training conditions at home, irrespective of climate. After all, we have great indoor facilities here in Canada and we even have ways of simulating altitude training through innovative technology such as hypobaric chambers. In my experience however, there is no replacement for time in an optimal environment where training can become the sole focus. When in California, we were able to push the envelope by running more volume than usual and by incorporating hard workouts on some back to back days. In the real world, most athletes strive to balance their training with family, employment or academic commitments and in this respect, training must be worked into the overall puzzle.

Some factors which may be important for athletes to consider when embarking on a period of training away from home include:

Heading south for training in the spring may seem counterintuitive with the weather changing for the better here at home, but in the season of in-betweens, spending time in an optimal training environment can reinvigorate body, mind and soul at the end of a long winter and inspire you to pursue new horizons during the season to come.


About the Author

Jason has proudly represented Canada at 4 Paralympic Games, winning 5 medals in middle distance track events against other blind runners. He has been a member of the national Para Athletics team since 1998, and away from the track, has sought to promote inclusive physical activity so that more people with disabilities might catch the physical activity bug. Along with his guide runner, Josh Karanja, Jason hopes to represent Canada at the Rio de Janeiro Paralympics in 2016. 


Many people have the impression that obstacle races are for elite athletes, when in fact many races accommodate all fitness levels. These types of races are great if you want to give yourself an extra challenge but have a little bit of fun and fitness mixed in as well. Obviously obstacle races are meant to test you mentally and physically so it’s good to have a decent baseline of fitness before race day.

What types of training should I do to prepare?

Start running – Many obstacle courses are probably about 80% running and 20% obstacles so running is an important aspect of your training. If you are already a runner, you might want to increase the intensity of your training depending on your overall goals for the race.

Cross trainPut your body through a workout that is similar to what you will be experiencing. Aim for exercises that get you to move your bodyweight, for example, push-ups, sit-ups, squats, crawling, climbing, planks and burpees are good places to start.

Nutrition and hydration – Your nutrition and hydration strategy will largely depend on the length and intensity of the race. At the bare minimum, consider using a hydration belt or a few gel packs.

What do I wear the day of the event?

Make sure you are wearing well-fitted athletic shoes. The best shoes tend to be light-weight and made with a slick material that helps drain the water out of your shoes. Avoid cotton socks, they will collect moisture, lose their shape and increase the chance that you will get blisters.

Whichever clothes (or costume) you decide to wear, make sure you’re willing to see it destroyed. Obstacle races are notoriously tough on the body as well as your gear. As with socks, wear clothes that aren’t made of cotton and that won’t hold moisture. Skip pants that have pockets, if you’re running through mud they will just collect it and add extra weight. Depending on the type of race you’re signed up for, it might be worth checking out gloves.  Bare, cold and wet hands will get pretty beat up if you are climbing, using rope or carrying heavy objects.

Pro tip: Don’t try anything new on race day! This applies to both what you wear and what you put in your body.

The most important part of training and participating in an obstacle race is to have fun.  Don’t take yourself too seriously – form a team of your friends so you can work towards the same fitness goals and be there to support one another. Keep a positive mindset and train as much as you can since the more prepared you are, the more confidence you will have. Remember during race day no matter what your goals are, be sure to have some laughs and create some good memories along the way.

References from the SIRC Collection:

A Tough Mudder–Maybe Too Tough. Running & Fitnews. May 2013;31(3):5-6.

Get Your Mud On. Runner’s World. October 2011;46(10):100.

Halvorson R. Obstacle Races Are Big Business. IDEA Fitness Journal. October 2014;11(9):12.

Karnazes D. ARE YOU TOUGH ENOUGH?. Ultrarunning. January 2014;33(8):15.

Smith T. To Host or Not to Host: Nontraditional Events. Parks & Recreation. September 2014;49(9):67.

Vigneron P. Mud Running’s Big Hurdle. Outside. November 2014;39(11):30.

Active transportation (AT), can be a great way to get to and from work, school, grocery shopping or simply as a means of visiting friends in your community. It can also be a way of staying active while getting the recommended level of daily physical activity. For those who have busy schedules and feel they lack the time to follow an exercise routine, using AT as a means of commuting can address this obstacle.

Active transportation is any mode of transportation using human power. Rather than using motorized vehicles, it advocates biking, walking, skateboarding, jogging, skiing or using a non-motorized wheelchair to get to and from your desired destination. The most popular forms are biking and walking – sometimes these can also be combined with public transit.

According to the 2011 Statistics Canada National Household Survey, Canadian commuters who walked or biked spent the least amount of time traveling to work with an average of 12.7 minutes and 20.0 minutes respectively. The average Canadian vehicle commuter spent about 23.7 minutes getting to work.

Benefits of active transportation:

In a study prepared by the British Columbia Recreation and Parks Association, research revealed that in neighborhoods where walking was more accessible, adults drove less for home-based trips such as shopping and recreation. The study also showed that public transit use was highest in neighborhoods where walking was more common.

Active transportation is a phenomenon that can address the trends of physical inactivity facing our population. It also provides the opportunity for individuals to attain their recommended daily physical activity while commuting to their desired destinations.

References from the SIRC Collection:

1. Buliung R, Faulkner G, Beesley T, Kennedy J. School Travel Planning: Mobilizing School and Community Resources to Encourage Active School Transportation. Journal Of School Health. November 2011;81(11):704-712.

2. Loitz C, Spencer-Cavaliere N. Exploring the Barriers and Facilitators to Children’s Active Transportation to and From School From the Perspectives of Practitioners. Journal Of Physical Activity & Health. November 2013;10(8):1128-1135.

3. Ransdell L, Mason S, Wuerzer T, Leung K. Predictors of Cycling in College Students. Journal Of American College Health. July 2013;61(5):274-284.

4. Ryan S, Sidelinger D, Saitowitz S, Browner D, Vance S, McDermid L. Designing and Implementing a Regional Active Transportation Monitoring Program Through a County-MPO-University Collaboration. American Journal Of Health Promotion. January 2, 2014;28:S104-S111.

5. Steckly R, McEwan L. Active Transportation for the School Journey. Wellspring. October 2014;25(6):1-4.

6. Van Dyck D, De Meester F, Cardon G, Deforche B, De Bourdeaudhuij I. Physical Environmental Attributes and Active Transportation in Belgium: What About Adults and Adolescents Living in the Same Neighborhoods?. American Journal Of Health Promotion. May 2013;27(5):330-338.