At this time of year it feels like everyone is either sneezing or coughing! Although exercise is proven to be good for us we also know that those of us that exercise regularly can be more susceptible to illness especially during the winter months. Getting ill can lead to missing training sessions and playing catch up which can be really frustrating so read on for some Sport Dietitian expert tips on boosting your immune system over the winter months.
Avoid Energy restriction – Under-Eating or not consuming enough carbohydrate to fuel the demands of training can lead to increased levels of cortisol in your body (a stress hormone). High circulating levels of cortisone can increase your risk of developing illnesses. The key message is balance your intake with your training.
Hydrate well – Our bodies are 70% water and staying hydrated is important for our health, performance and wellbeing. Not hydrating effectively during and after exercise can also reduce your bodies production of saliva. Saliva has anti-microbial properties that protect us from bugs and illnesses entering our bodies. A key tip is to start hydrating from the time you wake up – try diluting 120mls fresh orange juice with water for a great vitamin C and electrolyte boost to start your day.
Eat a balanced diet – Make sure your meals contain colour – the saying ‘Eat a rainbow’ is extremely important at this time of year. Focus on consuming a variety of fruit and vegetables at each meal. These contain important vitamins and minerals to keep you healthy. A great tip that I like to give the athletes I work with is to buy a soup maker – a great way of packing extra vegetables into your diet and also really handy as a grab and go snack or meal after training sessions when you need something quick and easy.
Get enough sleep – Although not directly related to nutrition, research has shown that not getting enough sleep can result in over-eating and cravings which can have a negative affect on the nutritional quality of your diet. We also know that getting fewer than 6hours sleep per night can quadruple your risk of catching a cold. Aim for 7-9 hrs each night.
Be supplement savvy – The evidence in terms of supplement use and cold avoidance is relatively poor. There is however some evidence that consuming Vitamin C (<1g per day) can reduce the severity and duration of the common cold. Probiotics have also been found to be beneficial and can boost your gut health, preventing inflammation and strengthening your immunity. Consider taking a good probiotic supplement or increasing your consumption of natural probiotics such as live yoghurt and kefir. If a cold has taken hold Zinc acetate lozenges sucked throughout the day can reduce the duration of a cold by 44%. Take these in a lozenge form and not in tablet form and ensure any supplements you take are batch tested and safe by visiting the Informed sport website – www.informedsport.com
Wishing you a happy and healthy bug free winter VP X
Victoria Prendiville is a Clinical Dietitian and a SENR Registered Sport and Exercise Performance Dietitian working with recreational up to elite level athletes.
Or follow me on Facebook @sportandexercisenutrition