Many seasoned veterans will tell you that one of that major contributing factors to successful preparation for an important competition is consistency in training. This means having no set-backs from missed workouts. Two primary causes of missed workouts among elite athletes are illness and injury. If you’re sick or hurt, you simply can’t train optimally and progress can quickly stagnate or regress. Injury may be caused by several factors, including excess training load leading to overuse, muscle imbalances or asymmetries, performing high risk movements, training under fatigue, etc. The development of illness is less well studied and may also be caused by a variety of factors. Therefore, further research into potential causes of illness among athletes is needed for coaches to address warning signs and inform their athletes.
A new cross-sectional study published ahead of print in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sports surveyed Olympic level athletes from over ten different sports to draw associations with training, nutrition and life style factors that may relate with the occurrence of illness. A total of 221 Olympians were invited to complete a series of validated questionnaires approximately nine months before the 2016 Olympic games in Rio. In addition to responding to questionnaires pertaining to sleep, travel, energy intake, supplementation, stress, depression and so on, athletes also documented incidences of recent illness. Illness was defined as an event which limited training or competition in the prior month.
Of the 221 athletes invited to participate in the study, a total of 81 (n = 26 male, n =55 female) actually completed the questionnaires to meet criteria for inclusion. Of the sample, 16 athletes got sick and 65 athletes did not get sick. The results showed that females had greater odds of illness (OR = 9,4). In addition, low energy availability (OR = 7.4), depressive symptoms (OR = 8.4) and reports of higher perceived stress levels all significantly increased the odds of experiencing an illness. The authors state that low energy availability stands out as a primary factor among both males and females associated with time loss due to illness. Thus, coaches should carefully monitor dietary intake as well as perceived levels of stress and depression in effort to avoid illness.
Drew, M. K., Vlahovich, N., Hughes, D., Appaneal, R., Peterson, K., Burke, L., … & Praet, S. (2017). A multifactorial evaluation of illness risk factors in athletes preparing for the Summer Olympic Games. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport.