Runners tend to be really healthy, and sometimes that can be to their detriment. Not the being healthy part, but getting cocky about being healthy. Runners need to be really careful in the fall, especially if they're training for a big endurance event. Often when you train your hardest right before the taper your immune system can actually become weakened by the added stress. Ever been training and everything is going great, only to get "the crud" right before the big race. That's often due do to the training stress decreasing the effectiveness of your immune system and making you more susceptable to bacteria and viruses.
So, what's a runner to do? Listed below are 10 tips to help keep your immune system going strong and keep you healthy during your late summer and fall training.
1. Be careful not to over-train. Over-training can not only weaken the immune system, it can cause fatigue, sore muscles, lack of drive, lack of energy, and increased resting heart rate. If you're feeling fatigued, take a rest day. Better to take a day or two off from running and rejuvenate your body than to "stick to the plan" and drive yourself into the ground.
2. Get your "D"! During the winter you're exposed to less sunshine, the main source of vitamin D. Vitamin D is key to a strong immune system as well as strong bones, both important to runners. Taking a vitamin D supplement can help ensure you're getting enough. The daily recommended allowance is only around 250IUs, but more and more research is showing that higher amounts are safe and provide more benefits. (Because of my colitis, I take a rather large dose of Vitamin D each day, plus what I get in dairy products and I've seen no adverse effects and I've been taking it for several years.) Vitamin D is obtained from a few different sources. Research shows the D3 provides the most benefits. Be sure the Vitamin D supplement you purchase has D3 listed as the main ingredient.
3. Wash, wash, wash your hands! Simple, but washing your hands is one of the most effective ways to catching or spreading illness. Also, try to avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unclean hands. Carry a small bottle of hand sanitizer in your pocket or purse, or keep one in the car, for times when washing your hands is not an option.
4. Have a "spot of tea." Research shows that the immune systems of tea drinkers react much faster to bacteria and viruses than non-tea drinkers. They think it has something to do with L-theanine that's in the tea. It kind of "primes the pump" and puts the immune system on high alert for intruders. Doesn't seem to matter what kind of tea, either. Just be careful not to load it up with sugar!
5. Order mushrooms on your pizza instead of pepperoni! (Whole wheat crust of course.) Mushrooms support the thymus gland. This gland produces immune cells which increase your resistance to infection. Any mushroom will do, but Shiitake mushrooms are one of the best.
6. SLEEP! Be sure you're getting your Zzzzzzzzs. Your immune system actually does a lot of work while you're snoozing. If you cheat yourself out of sleep, not only will you not be well rested, you're body doesn't have the opportunity to release as much immune-enhancing compounds to keep you healthy when you're awake.
7. Eat your veggies, especially broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and kale. These are high in antioxidants that help protect you from viruses.
8. Snack on Almonds. A handful of almonds (~1 oz.) is a great way to boost your immune system. They are high in vitamin E which boosts production of immune cells that attack bacteria. Be sure to buy raw almonds. Steer clear of the heavily salted variety or the ones cooked in oil. Even if it's a "healthy oil" that's a lot of unneeded calories and fat.
9. Have some yogurt. Yogurt contains good bacteria that helps protect the body from the bad bacteria and infections. Yogurt also makes a great medium in which to put some fruit and low-fat granola adding even more vitamins, minerals and fiber. And men, hear this! Research has shown that eating nonfat or low-fat yogurt each day can help reduce abdominal fat in males.
10. Don't forget the C! Vitamin C has long been hailed as a cold fighter. Research shows that 8g of vitamin C a day will shorten the length of a cold. Doesn't have to be orange juice either. Bell peppers (red, green, and yellow) actually have more vitamin C than oranges.