The combination of cold weather and heavy training loads can increase the strain on your immune system and amplify your susceptibility to illness and infections. A few simple nutritional strategies can drastically reduce the probability of illness and keep you training through the winter months. Here are my 7 top tips:
- Consume carbohydrate as soon as possible after exercise, and during endurance sessions over 90 minutes, to limit elevations in stress hormones (such as cortisol) and the degree of exercise-induced immune suppression.
- Ensure you have a sufficient amount of protein in your diet. Proteins are used to produce and replicate many different immune cells.
- Consume an adequate amount of carbohydrate to meet your energy requirements. As carbohydrate is the predominant fuel source for the immune system, a negative energy balance and insufficient amount of carbohydrate in the diet, can lead to immune suppression.
- Eat a wide range of fruit and vegetables (over 5 per day) to obtain all the essential vitamins and minerals. Fruit and vegetables also contain high levels of anti-oxidants that benefit the immune system, and reduce the duration and severity of colds and infections. However, be cautious if you use vitamin supplements as mega-dosing can impair some aspects of the immune system and decrease adaptations to training.
- Some studies have shown that including probiotics in your diet can enhance your gut bacteria and immune function, in-turn decreasing the likelihood of infections. Food sources include: kefir, yoghurt and yakult.
- Drinking fluids during exercise will help to maintain saliva flow rate. Saliva contains many anti-bacterial properties (such as immunoglobulin-A), and is one of our first lines of defence against pathogens (germs).
- Last but not least, maintain good hygiene standards. This is one aspect that is often overlooked, but is critically important in minimising illness and time out of training. Using hand sanitisers, disinfectant in your water bottle and washing your hands before mealtime can all help minimise your susceptibility to illness.
About the Author
Mark Funnell holds a BSc (Honours) degree in Sport and Exercise Science and an MSc in Sport and Exercise Nutrition from Loughborough University. He is currently working as a Performance Nutritionist for the England and Wales Cricket Board with both the England Women’s Academy and Midlands Regional Disability Cricket squads. Additionally, Mark is a graduate member of the Sport and Exercise Nutrition Register (SENr), an ISAK Level 1 Anthropometrist and a UK Anti-Doping advisor.