It’s vital to avoid illness in the run up to the Open, as there’s nothing worse then getting sick before the competition. And it’s this time of year is when athletes are susceptible to getting these Winter nasty’s; upper respiratory infections (URTI’s) and viral infections which are particularly problematic during damp cold mornings and when exercise intensity is high. i.e. CrossFit!
Although exercise is a powerful tool to reduce the likelihood of infection, the severity can also increase URTI incidence (4), especially post WOD when you’re at your most immunosuppressive.
But why? Why are athletes more susceptible?
- Increased exposure to pathogens – Heavy breathing, wounds (hands!) and big group of people can all play a part in higher rates of infection.
- Increased stress – Yes I know CrossFit is fun, but it’s also physically stressful. Environmental stress, poor sleep and inadequate diet also play a role in increasing stress levels.
- Under nutrition – The biggy is not eating enough and can easily lead to immunodepression and the risk of URTI’s.
But how can nutrition help to avoid illness?
- Carbohydrate intake – Plasma glucose helps reduce stress hormones like cortisol, which can inhibit immune function (3). Athletes must be especially aware when training under low glycogen conditions. More reasons not to fear carbs!
- Protein – A deficiency in protein can affect replication of proteins that help immune defence (Igs, cytokines). So ensure you have adequate protein throughout the day (2g.kg.day) and look to consume complete proteins where possible.
- Fish oil and omega 3 – Omega 3 has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties, although more is not necessarily better (8). So eat your oily fish 🙂
- Micronutrient deficiencies – Even though increased exercise can require additional support (iron, zinc, magnesium), try and be aware of RDA’s. More is not always better so still read the label!
- Vitamin D – There’s good evidence to show how vitamin D can help with respiratory infections (7). During winter months when Vit D is chronically low (especially in the UK!), supplementation is important to help reach adequate amounts. There’s also a relationship with adequate vitamin D and saliva IgA, which is the first line of defence against infection.
- Fluid – Dehydration can lead to stress hormone secretion (cortisol) inducing potential infection. Saliva flow rate also maintains Iga, so drink water even if you’re not thirsty.
- Probiotics may reduce URTI’s, however, the athlete must consider the strain, quantity, quality and storage. More is not necessarily better (1).
Anything else you should be doing to help reduce the chances of infection?
- Minimise hand to mouth contact and improve hygiene Wash your hands!
- Medical support – immunisation
- Avoid rapid weight loss
- Reduce stress and look to improve sleep
- Stop or reduce training when you’re feeling run down, be smart about your recovery
When you train, without the right nutrition to assist recovery and fuel performance, you will simply not perform and develop according to your full potential. Try these foods to help keep your nutrition on track.
Not just are they absolutely yum, but they can help you take care of your aching muscles as well. They also help in the production of sleep hormones that help you rest better.
Who doesn’t love a big bowl of colourful berries?!? Berries are regularly touted as a superfood and for good reason. They are full on anthocyanins, fibre, polyphenols and vitamins which help supercharge your recovery. Berries can be eaten anytime but may be of particular use when you are in an intense training cycle and need all the support you can get.
How to use –
- Add to your breakfast – on top of greek yoghurt/porridge/protein pancakes
- Blended in a smoothie – using frozen berries is a cost effective way of buying them and reducing waste
- Add to your meals – berries go really well with game meat such as venison
2. CITRUS FRUITS
Vitamin C is critical for your skin, scar tissues, and blood vessels to heal themselves. Since the body can’t make vitamin C on its own, consuming citrus fruits will ensure that you are pumping in enough of it for your body to fix itself. Vitamin C helps to strengthen the immune system, assist the rate at which we can absorb iron and is an important antioxidant that regenerates other antioxidants within the body. The reduction of stress is a side function, but this helps you to stay relaxed and recover from high intensity training.
WHERE YOU CAN FIND IT?
You can easily cover your vitamin C demand with foods like:
Supplements are not necessarily required. The daily demand of vitamin C amounts 100 mg (equal to one kiwi). The human body can neither store vitamin C nor produce it, so it is absolutely essential as a part of your diet. Symptoms of a deficiency are easy bruising and bleeding, joint and muscle pain and a weakened immune system.