I can think of many reasons you might want to avoid getting sick. But my primary reason for dishing out advice today on how to beat those seasonal colds and flus is to ensure your training schedule doesn’t get interrupted.
For example, let’s say you’re out there training hard for a few weeks, or a few months. Your level of fitness improves. You’re feeling good! That next race you’ve got planned – better watch out, you’re going to rock it.
And then… Boom, you come down with a cold. Or wake up race morning with the flu. You are forced to take time off. It’s imperative you regain your health before putting your body under the stress of training again. In fact, if you try to train through your illness, the stress of heavy training can turn what might be a minor illness into something more serious. Don’t want to go there. (However, a very easy 30-40 minutes of easy running [or walking] can be immune-boosting, given the cold is not “below the neck”.)
Time off means lost fitness. More than 5 days off and you’ll notice your speed and endurance begin a slow decline. Ugh. Interesting to note – it takes about 72 days to reach the end of possible fitness deterioration.
So how do you prevent ever have to take forced time off due to getting sick?
Here are five things to include in your diet on a regular basis to prevent getting sick (as in, each day) (yep, as in every single day):
Now, I’m not referring to just any tea. The specific types of tea I am recommending you drink are as follows (pick one or two or all of them):
- Green tea (contains powerful antioxidants including catechins)
- Matcha tea (8-10x stronger than green tea)
- White tea (same benefits as green tea, although not as widely studied)
- Ginger tea (a natural anti-viral and contains highly anti-inflammatory gingerols)
- Chamomile tea (increases blood levels of polyphenols [antioxidants])
Drink the caffeinated green, matcha and/or white teas in the morning, ginger throughout the remainder of the day, and finish your day with a cup of chamomile (chamomile contains glycine, a mild nerve relaxant).
Note I didn’t mention anything about coffee or black tea. Drink it if you so desire… But maybe have ginger tea first and green tea after. And only have one. (Not that I’m trying to tell you what to do… Okay, I’m done.)
Or try going without that coffee or black tea and just relying on the teas listed above. (Now I’m done.)
2. Green Smoothie
When it comes to avoiding sickness, it’s important to ensure you’re getting enough vitamin A and and vitamin C. Luckily, leafy greens provide ~300-400% RDI vitamin A and between 30-130% RDI vitamin C per serving. Plus, they are packed full of antioxidants including many flavonoid compounds. Lastly, greens are known to be detoxifying. Add mango (for additional vitamin A and C), pineapple (for anti-inflammatory bromelaine enzymes) and ginger (for anti-inflammatory gingerols) to your green smoothie to make it even more powerful. Click here for a green smoothie recipe.
Not only do spices literally ‘spice up’ your food adding taste and excitement (well, I find them exciting anyway), they also contribute a number of immune boosting properties to your meals. Yay! (Like, I said, exciting stuff.) Include one or more of these spices in your daily eats:
- Ginger, as I’ve already mentioned, is immune boosting and can be used in many dishes such as Miso Nut Rice Bowl.
- Garlic contains over 100 sulfuric compounds known to banish bacteria and viruses (other foods containing these compounds include cabbage, chives, leeks and onions). Note raw garlic is more powerful than cooked.
- Turmeric is strongly anti-inflammatory and can be used in dishes other than curries, such as Chili and Red Lentil Soup.
- Parsley, basil and cilantro are all leafy greens known for their detox qualities and are full of immune-boosing vitamins and minerals also.
4. Seeds and/or Nuts
Eating nuts and seeds, or using the butters of these nuts and seeds is a great way to get the many vitamins and minerals associated with a strong immune system.
Sunflower seeds and almonds are high in vitamin E, a potent antioxidant known for boosting the immune system. Chia seeds contain insoluble fibre which is a prebiotic, which in feeds friendly bacteria, boosting immunity (you knew I was going to include chia in here somewhere, right?!!).
Getting enough iron is also critical for a strong immune system, and pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds provide this important nutrient. And pumpkin seeds, along with sunflower seeds, offer zinc – which is a mineral that strengthens immunity. Cashews, sunflower seeds and pumpkins offer copper, and Brazil nuts and sunflowers seeds boast selenium – you guessed, two more nutrients that we need to stay well. Yay! (Yes, I find nuts and seeds exciting too.)
When it comes to antioxidant superheros, berries reign supreme. Blueberries especially. In fact just last month a study showed that pterostilbene, a compound found in blueberries, actually defends against bacterial infection. But really, they are all great – blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries – because they are all rich in antioxidants.
I must also include cherries here, especially tart cherries, because they are especially known for reducing post-run muscle damage. And they are a rich source of antioxidants, which eat up free radicals that seek to damage immune cells. Yay! (Obviously that is exciting stuff.)
Now, it would be inaccurate of me to say the items above form a complete list of foods that boost our immunity. And while I cannot list them all save for room, time and your attention span – a few more I’d like to mention include tomatoes, which contain lycopene – a strong antioxidant that some studies have shown increase immunity; oats, which contain beta-glucon – a component of fibre that boosts immunity; and mushrooms, which contain antiviral, anti-fungal and antibacterial compounds.
So eat your oatmeal with berries and nuts/seeds, drink your teas and green smoothies and enjoy cooking with ginger, garlic, turmeric and parsley, use tart cherry juice in your post-run recovery shake… And comfort yourself with tomato soup (instead of chicken noodle) when you’re sick.
Do you find yourself getting sick all the time? Or conversely, do manage to always avoid catching the latest cold or flu? If so, what do find works for you to help keep you strong and healthy? Share your thoughts and tips in the comments below!
Happy running :)
Sarah J Cuff, RHN