The last few weeks has seen global efforts to thwart COVID-19 the latest Corona virus strain which is creating momentum worldwide with escalating infection rates. Over the last few days we as athletes have also seen the postponement and cancellation of some major sporting events which as hard a pill as it is to swallow , but its definitely the correct course of action to reduce high a infection risk. Plenty of training and racing goals have been thrown a curve ball and these goal posts have had to be shifted. Personally right now I feel the focus should be on our health and ensuring we are not just responsible for ourselves but for those around us.
The training for us all should continue as we do not just do this for finish line medals and kudos. For most of us it’s a lifestyle and yes racing motivates us to train. However right now we have a much more important motivating factor which should keep us on our toes and that my friends is health. As we stand without a treatment for this virus our only course of action is to boost our own immune systems and make sure that we are in excellent condition to be able to fight off any infection that comes our way.
Training and racing especially as intensity and volumes increase so does immune system suppression which makes us far more susceptible to infection and illness. In line with a real war we are just about to face, I decided to put together a short guide of how we as athletes can strengthen our health and boost our immune systems to be able to navigate this next part of our journey.
WHAT IS YOUR CURRENT HEALTH STATUS
Starting with the basics, it’s always best to get a proper snapshot of your health first. How can you hope to strengthen your immune system if you have an underlying condition? In my line of work I come across many athletes with underlying conditions such as anaemia, insufficient vitamin levels, improper organ function or underlying infections and inflammation. If you have an underlying condition and do not know about it then you basically starting on the back foot and this needs to be addressed first.
What should you do?
A full medical with a nice batch of basic bloods & some additional vitamin and mineral testing to make sure everything is in good order. Remember as an athlete you place your body under stress and if certain levels are on the low end its highly likely that you will reduce them further and impact your health. Vitamin drips in my view are a complete waste of time without understanding exactly what you are treating. There is something called excessive vitamin and mineral dosing and in some cases this can be highly toxic to the body. My advice is to see a medical professional and get it done properly without playing a guessing game. I wrote in a previous blog called Blood’s don’t Lie you can check it out by clicking here.
LISTEN TO YOUR MESSAGES
Once you get the results from your physician its best to discuss them with him or her and make sure everything is in line. Remember you are an athlete not a couch potato. So make sure the physician understands that because some might say your levels are normal. However that is the general population norm. You want to rather be on the upper end of the spectrum not on the lower end due to the amount of stress the body goes through daily. If you do have an underlying condition you have to address it. Athletes are so good at ignoring issues when it comes to injury and illness. Don’t ignore them and adhere to proper medical advice.
Proper nutrition is absolutely the health fuel for your engine. Healthy nutrition allows the body to fortify and strengthen itself against illness and disease as well as ensure our energy system is kept up at all times. When we make bad food choices we place additional stresses on the body and in times of need when we should be our strongest to fight off foreign invaders this should be kept to a bare minimum. After all our own natural defences are all we have and we need to make sure that they are fortified. Eat nutrient dense meals with plenty of vegetables and fruit and ensure that you are eating properly for your unique needs. As an athlete ensure your calorie intake is not an excessive deficit so that the body gets sufficient nutrients to help with restoration and repair. Carbohydrates often get a bad rap however when it comes down to endurance sport carbohydrates are your fuel king and when it comes to recovery there is nothing that will get your fuel tank recovered quicker than carbs. Remember carbohydrates can come in healthy forms such as fruits and vegetables which are high in anti-oxidants and free radical fighting nutrients. Eat with intent and insure that whatever goes into your mouth has a purpose for strengthening your body.
It’s a scientific fact that exercise boosts the body’s ability to fight off infection and illness. However, one should not over do it. Endurance athletes tend to place huge stresses on the body with intense bouts of volume training. This will certainly place the immune system at risk. Over-training places any athlete at risk to infection. Rather stagger your sessions properly, reduce intensity ratios and volumes and allow the body to fortify itself without over stressing it. With most events now cancelled or postponed do yourself a favour and switch your focus to health especially in these trying times. Get outdoors more and limit your visits to the gyms in order to protect yourself more from infection risk. Most importantly just keep on going.
Alongside a healthy eating regime supplementation can play a beneficial role. I mentioned earlier blood tests can show where there are areas of deficiency and those can be addressed. Right now though our focus is on immune system strengthening and there are a number of supplements which have been shown to aid immunity.
Its amazing how Vitamin C is at the top of most people’s lists when it comes to immune boosting. However it is not really the king on the list. It is an antioxidant which helps fortify and reduce inflammation however its over estimated by a large amount due to massive ongoing marketing in the supplements sector.
If someone asks me what to take for immune system strength I will always advocate vitamin D as one of the best immune system defences. Vitamin D can improve immune system responses and a deficiency in vitamin D is associated with increased susceptibility to infection. Research suggests that vitamin D can help reduce the risk of respiratory infections, including colds and flu especially among people who don’t get enough of the vitamin from diet or exposure to sunlight which is most of the population. Athletes tend to train in the early morning hours and many also indoors which limits exposure to sunlight and then again sun creams further limit the body from it. It is worth dosing with vitamin D and a simple blood test.
This is something you have probably never heard of but it is the bomb. Wellmune® is a leading natural yeast beta glucan clinically proven to help strengthen your immune system. In a clinical study, marathoners taking Wellmune® for four weeks experienced a 40% reduction in upper respiratory tract infection symptoms. Wellmune® primes immune cells helping them find and kill foreign invaders.Where can you get this ingredient. 32Gi’s new plant based pure protein being launched this week contains the correct dosage of Wellmune® to ensure your immune system is properly fortified. A medically backed natural supplement is absolutely worth taking.
I think zinc is an awesome mineral . It does help the immune system fight off invading bacteria and viruses and worth dosing to keep immunity up nicely as well as it being good for the skin.
Elderberry is packed with antioxidants and vitamins that may boost your immune system. It can aid the reduction of inflammation, lower stress levels and help protect the heart. It is often advocated in the prevention and ease of cold and flu symptoms.
Probiotics are there to keep the gut healthy and to ensure the immune system functions well. Taken from a peer reviewed research publication it states that probiotics can also modulate the immune system, enhancing the body’s innate immunity. This modulating effect helps alleviate excessive inflammation in the gut, thereby boosting immune function. We know that health gut bacteria is important for proper health and immune system function and there is no harm in dosing with probiotics on a daily basis.
In short there are many avenues we can try to help fortify and improve our immune system function and health. Not all vitamins and minerals have been researched to such an extent that they are conclusively providing the best benefit. We are after all unique and what works for one individual may not work for another. One thing we do know and that is proven, is that proper healthy nutrition, plenty of good sleep and exercise goes a long way to ensure that our body’s remain physically strong and healthy to weather the storms.
all the best
Mark Wolff is a certified exercise & sports nutritionist, endurance nutrition and physiology expert with over 20 years experience. An endurance multi-sport athlete with a running, triathlon, mountain biking and weight lifting background, he works extensively with professional and amateur athletes in a variety of sports disciplines as well as those just wanting to change their lifestyles. He firmly believes that a person can only reach their full potential when their health and nutrition is given the proper focus. Mark’s focus on nutrition and physiology is not just on training and racing, but he places major emphasis on recovery, immune system health, emotional stability, stress management and performance. Mark is co-founder of 32Gi, a sports nutrition company, focused mainly on health and endurance nutrition. He is also co-founder of Rapid Recover focused on pneumatic compression equipment to improve circulation for recovery, rehabilitation and health.