Autumn has a way of making us feel invincible; the crisp air makes our lungs feel energized, roasted vegetables suddenly become delicious and the holiday spirit begins to draw us in. This season can be a great motivation for eating well and being active as well. That is, until you come down with a bad cold, flu or other illness. It happens to us all, and it tends to happen when the temps begin to drop.
Being sick is no fun and is a definite disruptor to a normal active lifestyle, putting serious training on pause, causing performance to suffer and potentially providing a long setback. While feeling under the weather happens to everyone, athletes are especially at risk due to frequent travel, close quarters, inadequate diet, training in extreme weather and being under constant high physical and mental stress.
While there's no way to completely avoid coming down with something, there are steps you can take to help keep your immune system healthy. Supporting it with a healthy diet should be part of your fall routine.
Acute inflammation helps us grow stronger from workouts, but chronic inflammation negatively affects many aspects of health, including reducing the strength of your immune system. Eat foods that have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body, such as minimally or unprocessed whole fruits, while decreasing inflammatory foods, such as poor quality meat, dairy and refined sugars.
This is a buzzword, sure, but foods labeled as 'super' tend to be those loaded with antioxidants. Antioxidants are compounds that fight off free radicals (the buzzword for those is 'toxins') and help keep bodies performing optimally. Aim to consume berries, beets, goji, seeds, dark greens, dark chocolate, herbs and other plant foods on a daily basis, as research has found those to be highest in antioxidant compounds.
Athletes expend a lot of calories. If you aren't taking in enough to meet these demands and support general body functions (physical and mental), your system becomes worn down. If this depletion continues over a long period of time, you'll be at a much greater risk of becoming sick. To combat this, simply make sure you are taking in the amount of high quality, nutritious calories you need each day.
Vitamins & Minerals
Vitamin C is well known as being crucial to supporting your body's defenses. Obtaining it through diet is easy, as the compound is found in many foods including citrus, bell peppers papaya and broccoli. Vitamin D is another compound vital to immunity, although much more difficult to obtain through diet alone as it is found in few foods: egg yolk, fatty fish, dairy and fortified foods. Minerals Copper and Zinc also assist immune system function and are found in shellfish and seeds, among other foods.
Relying on a high quality and diverse diet is the best way to prep your body for good health, but many athletes have a difficult time getting the nutrients they need through food alone. Taking a daily supplement is an easy way to make sure your body has the vitamins and minerals it needs. Other ingredients such as Manuka honey, echinacea, cordyceps, garlic, parsley and Reishi are regarded in holistic nutrition to have healing and antimicrobial properties. While much of the science is still out, it won't hurt you to add these items to your normal diet.
In addition to diet, controlling stress through meditation, therapy and quality sleep can go a long way in promoting a strong immune system. Getting outside in fresh air, even if it is cold air, can also help invigorate your health and spirit.
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