New cold and flu study could help athlete performance

12 October 2023

Endurance athletes living close to Derby are being invited to take part in a study that could help reduce the numbers of times athletes catch colds and flu, which can impact on their performance.

The study is being led by Dr Corinna Chidley, Lecturer in Sport, Outdoor and Exercise Science at the University of Derby. Working with colleagues at the University of Kent and the University of Cardiff, she is exploring the effectiveness of throat sprays in preventing incidence of cold and flu in athletes.

The team is looking for runners, cyclists, swimmers and triathletes aged 18 and over who train and/or compete regularly and have done so for three years or more. Participants who complete the study will receive £100 as a thank you for taking part.

She explained:

“Athletes who are moderately active tend to have a better immune system than the general population. However, when training intensifies over a sustained period, this can place the immune system under more stress, leading to more colds, especially in the colder months. This impacts their ability to train, and can ultimately have repercussions for their competition performance – it can make the difference between whether they finish on the podium or not.”

During the 90-day trial participants will be given a commercially available throat spray or a placebo. They will be asked to complete a daily questionnaire to record their training and any illnesses. If they have any cold or flu symptoms, they will be asked to complete a throat swab which will then be tested to determine which pathogens are present. These swabs will be used to identify what pathogen has caused the illness. This will help determine which common illnesses the spray is protecting against, as well as helping to inform future research studies in similar populations.

Dr Chidley added:

“We are excited to see what this study will tell us and hope that we will be able to draw conclusions that make it easier for endurance athletes to train and compete with minimal disruption from colds and flu.”

One previous participant commented that “with two young children who attend pre-school and school there are always bugs and illnesses being brought home. As a keen cyclist who tries to balance family life with five hours or more of riding each week illness is always a concern. It would be great if a simple throat spray could help prevent illness and keep me riding my bike so taking part in the study was a bit of a no brainer for me.”

Athletes wishing to take part in the study can contact Dr Corinna Chidley by email ( for further information.

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