An Athlete's Guide to the Immune System

With cold and flu season upon us, it's important to keep our immune systems functioning as well as possible. Athletes need a strong immune system; this is key to a consistent season. A few weeks off the bike here and there adds up and can have a lasting impact on your training cycles.

Although I'm convinced some of us enjoy being brought hot soup in bed, watching movies while sick and telling our spouses "I think I'm dying," (you know who you are....) at the end of the day I think we could admit that we'd rather feel alert, vibrant and healthy. Being sick sucks!

More: How to Keep Your Immune System Strong

Immune System Primer

Your immune system generally does a remarkable job of defending you against disease-causing microorganisms. There are some key cells that make up a large part of the immune system. These include phagocytes and lymphocytes or white blood cells (T-cells and B-cells).

Put simply, "phagocytes" are cells responsible for "eating" bacteria, viruses or dead and injured body tissue. Lymphocytes, which originate in bone marrow, are specialized cells that recognize foreign substances and filter out dead cells and invading organisms. If you have heard the term "antibody" before, this refers to specific proteins made from the B-cells that search out and help destroy intruders. Plasma cells make antibodies. These cells have a lot of work to do so we must be super supportive of them.

Sometimes this system falters: germs get in, "invade" and you get sick. Call me crazy but if anything is going to successfully invade this temple I call my body, I don't want it to be germs.

More: 4 Ways to Flu-Proof Your Winter

Can you do anything about it? Can you take measures to make elements of your immune system stronger? What if you improve your diet? Can you make other lifestyle changes to try to create better immunity?

The immune system is precisely that, a system. It requires balance and harmony to work well. There is still much to be learned about the interconnectedness of the immune system and its response.

What we do know is that the human body always works optimally when in homeostasis. The body requires nutrients to attain this balance and diet is where they come from. Logically, if we work to balance all aspects of our bodies such as our blood sugar, stress levels, hormones, how much sleep we get and how many macro and micro nutrients we consume in our diets, we set ourselves up to be the healthiest versions of ourselves. The immune system can in turn become stronger.

More: Answering Your Questions About Immunity

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