January brings a new year and with that, an intense drive and energy to achieve all your goals asap! You hit the ground running and feeling great until WHAM, a week into the new year and you’ve come down with a bad cold, flu or other illness. It happens to us all, at this moment you’re probably sick, or a family member, friend or coworker is, even as I write this, my fiancé is a week into a deep cold. Not fun and a definite stop to your active lifestyle. Especially as an athlete, training suffers if it doesn’t come to a complete halt and no athlete appreciates putting training on the back burner. Athletes are also at greater risk of coming down with an illness due to frequent travel, close quarters, inadequate diet, training in extreme weather, high physical and mental stress.
While there’s no way to completely avoid feeling under the weather, there are steps you can take to help keep your immune system healthy. Supporting your immunity is a great thing to do all year long, and especially important in the winter.
Three Ways to Support your Immune Defenses
Handle your Stressors
Stress creates inflammation. Chronic inflammation negatively affects many aspects of health, including reducing the strength of your immune system. You might notice that in times of high stress, you get sick. Many autoimmune disease also pop up due to a high stress life event. Reducing stress is a silly term. Most of us can’t get rid of the things that cause stress in our lives; workload, friend drama, family obligations, races, travel, money, etc… What you can do is adjust how you react to these stressors. Figuring out better ways to deal with your stressors lessens the internal hormone response (such as cortisol) and improves your overall health. Try meditation, being more mindful, improving sleep, changing your outlook or talking with an expert.
The biggest thing you can do to boost your body’s defenses is to eat well and enough. Athletes need to consume adequate carbohydrates to meet the energy demands of training and consume a variety of plant foods to provide higher than average vitamin and mineral needs. Vitamin C is key to the immune system and found in citrus, bell peppers, papaya, and broccoli among other plant foods. Vitamin D also assists the body in staying healthy but is found in fewer foods; dairy, egg yolks, fatty fish, and some fortified foods, and of course, obtained through sunlight. Two lesser known immune supporting nutrients are Zinc and Copper which are supplied by shellfish and seeds respectively. Some foods have special properties to boost your immunity, such as Manuka honey. This specific honey is rich in antioxidants, has been suggested to have anti-inflammatory properties and has been used for centuries for soothing, wound healing, and supporting immune health. In the end, calories, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients all work together to create a strong body so your best defense is eating a nutrient rich and energy dense diet that includes lots of variety!
Most athletes cannot obtain everything they need through whole foods alone; their needs are too great and training can limit variety of foods consumed. Quality supplements can help. I mentioned Manuka honey previous, but have you ever tried traveling with a jar of honey? It’s a mess. Luckily you can get the benefits of this powerful substance in supplement form which is ideal for anyone on constantly on the go. My preferred supplement is the Swisse Vitamin C + Manuka Honey chewable. Adding adaptogens* to your daily routine is also recommended to build a strong internal system. These plant substances are commonly used in tradional ayurvedic medicine and work to support your cells abilities to deal with adverse conditions, like stress and sickness. Adaptogens include many substances and a variety of different plants and it is most beneficial to vary or rotate use. My favorites include maca, lion mane, reishi and ashwagandha. Another age old medicinal plant used for immunity is Echinacea. To include echinacea in my wellness routine, I turn to Swisse Immune Forte which combines the powers of Echinacea with elderflower, vitamin C and zinc.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.