While intense athletic training can benefit your body in the long run, it's possible that a new rigorous workout schedule can compromise your immune system when you dive into a more challenging routine. Fortunately your body will develop a stronger defense system to the stress you put on it over time so avoid being a "weekend warrior" and keep on a regular schedule to allow yourself time to adjust. The following are some tips to help you reduce the risk of illness so you can stay focused on training and give it your all.
These strategies are ones that I have always recommended in particular to my client Jorge Gurgel who works incredibly hard during training camp. Jorge keeps up his omega-3 intake by mixing a can of wild salmon, hot sauce and oatmeal together as an afternoon snack. It took me 2 years to take his advice and try it and though I hate to admit it to him, I really enjoy it!
• Seek out Omega-3 fats
Fish like wild salmon, sardines, anchovies, herring and pacific oysters are some of the most potent sources of this essential fat that your body can't make. Plant based sources like flaxseed and walnuts are less powerful forms. If seafood isn't your favorite, pick a brand of omega-3 fish oil supplements that have EPA & DHA fats. Be sure to keep the bottle refrigerated.
• Include foods rich in sulfides
Sulfides found in things like fresh garlic, onions, leeks and scallions may help support your immune system too. Add them to omelets or a stir-fry on a regular basis.
• Eat foods with Selenium
Some of the best sources chunk light tuna, crab, oysters, tilapia, wheat germ, whole-wheat breads and lean beef. High doses of supplemental selenium may be harmful to your health so its best to stick with real foods for this nutrient. Brazil nuts are so rich in selenium that I only recommend one per day.
• Vitamin D
It's unfortunate that many people are walking around with a slight vitamin D deficiency without even knowing it. A simple blood test can determine your vitamin D status.
The body can make this vitamin from exposure to sunlight but during winter months it can be difficult to rely solely on the sun. During the summer it can also be difficult to get enough exposure from responsible sunscreen use. Vitamin D is famous for its role in helping calcium absorb, and recent research is showing it may play a significant role in immune and inflammatory responses too.
Increase your vitamin D intake with salmon, low fat dairy products, fortified grains, and egg yolks (1 yolk per day is a good bet). If you decided to supplement with vitamin D, choose a brand that contains the D3 form- cholecalciferol, which is the most potent form of the vitamin. Aim for a supplement that will give you a daily total of 400-800 IU of vitamin D that also contains 400 milligrams of magnesium. (This is including whatever is in your multivitamin).
• Choose foods with Quercetin
New research suggests that quercetin may boost immune function for athletes, but it also has anti-inflammatory properties. Here are my top picks for foods that offer quercetin- Kale, leeks, onions, cherry tomatoes, broccoli, blueberries, red apples (with skin), red cabbage, peppers (chili, green, yellow), and grapefruit.
• Use a sports beverage
When workouts are less than an hour, it's usually fine to hydrate with water (unless you're working out in extreme heat). When you have a workout scheduled for longer than 60 minutes, bring a sports beverage. Replenishing blood sugar and electrolytes will ward off fatigue and likely reduce your risk of developing a weakened immune system from prolonged training. Per 8oz serving the ideal sports beverage offers 15 grams of carbohydrates, 110-220 milligrams of sodium and around 30 milligrams of potassium. Sip every 10 minutes or so.
• Get Enough Sleep
Getting enough sleep is such an important part of an athlete's training that is all too often overlooked. During deep sleep a number of repairs take place, and you allow your systems to relax and recover so that you can feel energized for your next workout. Getting enough sleep also helps to keep hunger and satiety hormones in check.
• Take a multivitamin
No supplement is a substitute for a healthy diet but a standard multivitamin is a good bet if you're increasing training load and/or dieting at the same time. Choose a brand that contains no more than 100% of the daily-recommended value of vitamins and minerals. High doses from supplements of many vitamins and minerals (iron, zinc, vitamin A, vitamin E) will actually impair immune function.