“I travel frequently for work and am a parent to three kids. Do you have any tips on how to keep my immune system strong throughout the year?”
This recent question from one of my athletes is very applicable to all athletes – therefore I wanted to share, and dive further into, my top recommendations on how to maintain a healthy immune system.
No matter the time of year, it is important to ensure that our immune systems are up to the challenge. This especially holds true for endurance athletes as high-volume training puts additional stress on the immune system. Additionally, endurance athletes are much more focused on developing their cardiovascular system which means your immune system isn’t give much thought until you are sick or injured (which is too late!). So does this mean that you should overload on vitamin C and zinc, or completely avoid flying? Definitely not.
I have a few simple rules for keeping the immune system functioning optimally. I find that by keeping it simple my athletes are more successful in the long run. And really – it doesn’t have to be so complicated. These rules seem intuitive but it always amazes me how many athletes will go astray.
Here are my recommendations:
3. Proper training
4. Limit and clear the stress
Sleep is the most important factor in keeping the immune system working optimally. However, it’s often the first thing that is neglected when life gets really busy. The triathletes disciplines should really be “swim, bike, run, sleep” as a lack of sleep can increase stress, undermine metabolism, suppress immunity and set you up for a host of some serious health issues. Endurance athletes tend to lead especially busy lives. For this reason, sleep is vital in boosting the immune system, coping with stress, and repairing the body.
Nutrition is another common sabotage of immune health. People who reach for the quick and easy processed foods are wreaking havoc on their gut health, which in turn will weaken one’s immune system. Beyond fueling your workouts properly – look at fueling your lifestyle properly. Eat regularly timed meals with emphasis on antioxidant rich foods, cook your own meals as much as you can so you can control the source and quality of your ingredients, get in your omega 3 fatty acids, include a variety of fresh vegetables and fruit, and don’t skimp on certain food groups (protein, carbs or healthy fats).
My third recommendation is proper training. This type of training is solid, consistent, and with a purpose. Every workout has a purpose and the flow of a training week has a purpose. I tell my athletes to focus on their consistency and please do not try to make up workouts on their own.
Finally, it is so important to be able to limit the effects of chronic stress. Stress, in itself, is not a bad thing. It’s how we adapt and grow. However, in a chronic form, stress can be overwhelming and send our immune systems into a tailspin.
Developing healthy habits around these four recommendations will help you support and build a strong immune system. You can do it!
Chris Thomas is an Executive LifeSport coach. He has an extensive multi-sport background and is certified from USA Triathlon. He has over fifteen years of coaching experience and is currently ranked as one of the top amateur triathletes in the world.