How to keep your immune system strong for running
Friday, March 08, 2019
Whether you’re a new runner who wants to know how to run properly, an experienced runner who wants to work on breathing techniques for running, or even just someone looking for tips for a 5K, it’s tough to train when you’re sick.
Health and a strong immune system are prerequisites for running training. So how do we keep our immune system strong and ensure that we can achieve our specific training goals no matter the season?
In this article we’ve got tips on everything from what’s in your blood when you’re sick to which foods you can eat to get better. Let’s dive in!
Why do we get sick in the winter?
It’s just that time of year. Sickness is going around like it does every year around this time. Why does that happen? There are a few contributing factors.
First, we’re just inside more in the winter. We don’t get as much fresh air, and we get a lot more stuffy, indoor air that is usually carrying germs.
The more we’re all inside, the longer those germs live. And not only are we missing out on fresh air, we’re not getting enough vitamin D either.
And the germs in that indoor air are often ones we picked up after traveling a lot for the holidays. Traveling exposes us to germs our bodies are not used to, and those new germs can linger into the new year as well.
Winter also tends to be a time of high stress for most people. After a busy holiday season, the first few months of the year are often used to play catch up.
Maybe we feel behind at work, or we’re struggling to keep up with our training in the new year. January and February are always extremely busy months. Seasonal depression can also play a role in increasing our stress levels.
No matter the reason for high stress levels, when stress is high, your immune system does not work as well.
Something else that comes with high stress — an irregular sleep schedule. Sleep is vital in maintaining the immune system, yet it’s often the first thing to go when we get stressed.
On a similar note, our diet tends to be worse in the winter. We love to indulge during the holidays but it can be tough to get back on track, especially when we are stressed with work and other commitments during these months.
What’s going on internally when we’re sick?
Now that we know why we might be getting sick, let’s take a look what is going on internally.
A great way to do this is to test your blood for biomarkers. These biomarkers will show you if you’re already sick, and they will also tell you if you’re going to get sick in the future.
The main thing to look for are white blood cells. Your white blood cells are your attack cells. They help fight infection, and they strengthen your immune system. If your white blood cell count is high, that’s a direct indication that your body is healthy.
On a similar note, iron is responsible for building, strengthening, and maintaining your white blood cells. This makes iron an essential component of your diet, and something to note if your blood shows you are lacking it.
Next, check your cortisol levels. Cortisol is an indicator of your stress level. As cortisol goes up, your immune system weakens. High cortisol is a warning sign that your body is weaker and might not be able to fight off infection as well.
Electrolytes, potassium, and sodium are all essential to immune function because they reflect your hydration level. If your biomarkers are showing that potassium and sodium levels are off, your body may already be fighting an infection.
The last biomarker to look for is magnesium. Magnesium helps create antibodies which fight infection, it helps prevent infections in the first place, and it helps improve your sleep. All of these are essential in keeping your immune system strong.
What foods can I eat to stay healthy for running?
Excellent nutrition for runners is very vital to give great performance. The million-dollar question: what foods can I eat so that I do not get sick? It should come as no surprise that No. 1 is fruits and vegetables. They are chock-full of vitamins and minerals.
The second category to be sure you’re getting is Omega-3s. Nuts, seeds, and fatty fish are all great sources. These anti-inflammatory foods are great to keep your immune system strong, because your inflammation is often one of the results of sickness.
To keep that white blood cell count high, iron-rich foods are also crucial. Red meat, dark chocolate, and spirulina are a couple of options.
To get your magnesium the following foods are all great options: nuts, pumpkin seeds, whole grains, spinach, black beans, and avocados. Try to work some ginger and garlic into your diet as well.
Supplements will also help during this time of year. Vitamin D is crucial, because you’re likely not getting enough given the winter weather.
Gut health is immune health, so probiotics are going to be your best friend here.
Some others that have been found to help the immune system: echinacea, ginseng, vitamin C, and zinc.
Also: oregano oil. It’s absolute magic when it comes to your immune system. More palatable in pill form, oregano oil should be the first thing you grab when you start to feel sick.
And lastly, sick season is not the time to cut carbs! Carbohydrates are necessary for fueling and recovery. Be sure to keep good carbohydrates in your diet during this time of year.
What habits keep me healthy for running?
Lastly, let’s go over a few practical tips for staying healthy for running.
Tip 1: SLEEP.
If you’re sick or getting sick, sleep is going to do more for you than any food or medicine can. It is arguably the most necessary component of keeping your immune system strong, and if you do get sick, it’s the fastest way to recover.
Tip 2: Avoid touching your eyes and mouth.
This is a simple tip that will definitely help you stay healthy. On a similarly simple note, wash your hands. A little soap and water go a long way. We all know this, but it’s good to be reminded every once in a while.
Tip 3: Lower your stress.
Do what you can to lower your stress when you’re worried about getting sick. Be sure you’re not over-training, take tasks off your to-do list where you can. Be smart about your priorities — it’s hard to accomplish things when you’re sick, so don’t let it get there.
And when you’re training, be sure you are implementing good recovery processes. Eat well, and avoid big caloric deficits and crazy detoxes.
Tip 4: Avoid the sick.
If you can, stay away from sick people. Another simple tip with big results.
Tip 5: Disinfect surfaces.
Disinfect things like door handles, your phone, and anything else that carries a lot of germs.
Tip 6: Stay hydrated.
Hydration needs to be a non-negotiable at this time of year. Don’t expect your immune system to function properly if you are not giving it the hydration it needs. Go above and beyond when sickness is a concern. Along with the above tips, you can also check out my blog that covers detailed insights on how to run in cold weather.
Go above and beyond! There is no such thing as being too cautious when it comes to avoiding sickness.
Incorporate the listed foods, supplements, and habits as much as you can. And check in with yourself constantly! Even if you cannot test your blood, be honest with how you feel, how hydrated you are, how your diet is going, etc.
Take care of yourself, and spring will be here before you know it!
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