It’s definitely that time of year again. In fact I’ve heard it from a number of people now: “I’ve got a sniffle.”and “Shoot, my nose is running and I’m sneezing.” and “Ah, help, I think I’m coming down with a cold!”. These are the first warning signs – the runny nose or congestion, the scratchy sore throat, the sneezing. And to fight it off as fast as possible (or even possibly completely bypass it) you’ll want to take action immediately – within 12 hours of first feeling the symptoms.
Part of the rationale behind ‘eating 2 run’ is to build a strong immune system in order that we hopefully won’t get sick in the first place. One client, Kim, came to see me because she kept getting sick over and over again and it was having such a negative impact on her running and overall health. She experienced first hand the amazing results of eating 2 run and got through an entire winter season without getting sick! This led to a personal best in the 10K and the half marathon… And most importantly, she got to the start line of her first full marathon fully healthy.
But even with a strong immune system we’ll need to fight off viruses that come our way and inevitably sometimes, despite our best efforts, we get hit when we find ourselves under periods of high stress or when good nutritional habits slip (or both!).
So what exactly should you do in those first 12 hours when you feel something coming on? Try these 3 nutritional tricks (plus 2 bonus non-nutritional tips) to help you fight off the virus as quickly as possible and thereby minimize any lost training time due to sickness.
1. Eat These Foods
- Drink lots of lemon/lime water (warm or hot water with juice of half to a full lemon or lime);
- Drink lots of fresh ginger tea;
- Eat oatmeal with almond butter and/or sunflower seed butter mixed in (for the immune boosting beta-glucan in the oats and vitamin E in the almonds and sunflower seeds);
- Drink lots of fresh pressed juices (such as carrot / orange / lemon / ginger).
- Eat vitamin A and C rich foods such as papaya, bell peppers, strawberries, broccoli, pineapple, kiwi, oranges, cantaloupe and kale. Make soups such as potato kale soup or tomato soup for dinners/lunches, eat bell peppers (especially red) and broccoli dipped in hummus, and have a tropical green smoothie everyday with pineapple (if you can throw in papaya in it also).
2. Avoid These Foods
- Fat and protein rich foods – anything that contains a lot of fat or protein is more work for the body to break down… And when you’re fighting a virus, it’s best to spare as much energy as possible for doing just that and not digesting fats and proteins. This is why soups and simple foods tend to be what you want to reach for when you’re not feeling well;
- Dairy – as it is a mucous forming food which is not helpful when attempting to clear mucous;
- Sugar – sugar suppresses the immune system when eaten in large amounts – it causes inflammation and appears to decrease the immune systems efficacy by causing a “neutrophilic-dampening effect”. In other words, a bowl of ice cream or that can of ginger ale is not actually going to help matters.
3. Take These Supplements (but only short-term, no longer than 3-4 days!)
There are 2 key supplements I’ll recommend (and take myself if ever I feel something coming on): vitamin C and zinc. Studies suggest Vitamin C taken at the onset of a cold will reduce the duration and severity of symptoms. Zinc has been shown to significantly reduce duration of cold symptoms.
Zinc: Take 10-20mg zinc as a lozenge (can be found at your local health food store) every 3-4 hours that you are awake (or 2-3 times per day) for 3 to 4 days (such as this).
Vitamin C: Take 2-4 grams (2,000mg to 4,000mg) of a whole foods vitamin C with bioflavoinods 1-2 times daily for 3-4 days (such as this).
This is something you’d only do when you feel something coming on, it is not to be used as prevention. Why? Because long-term supplementation has not been shown to prevent illness. On the contrary, many studies have shown it can in fact be detrimental. For example one study showed that daily supplementation of 1,000mg of vitamin C blocked endurance gains – not good for training! If you are interested in reading more on this, Alex Hutchinson wrote a great article on the Seductive Lure of Supplements here.
Studies show that sleep deprivation lowers your immune system and while you want to get good sleep and enough sleep all the time, certainly when you are actually fighting a virus one of the best things you can do for yourself is to just rest. And if you can’t sleep, do your best to relax – a study showed those who are stressed develop more severe symptoms (especially as we get older).
Yes, I said run… But nothing hard or long! Many people tend to either push through their scheduled workout hoping the symptoms will pass, or skip their run altogether. The best option (assuming you’ve got ‘above the neck’ symptoms) is to go for a light and very easy 30-40 minute run (or walk). This stimulates the immune systems and gets things moving. However any type of hard (tempo, intervals, hills) or long run (longer than 45 minutes) can actually suppress the immune system and make symptoms more severe.
I know you want to make it through this fall and winter season healthfully… I do too! Let’s do our best to build up our immune systems in advance, but in the case you feel a cold coming on… You know what to do 😉
Eat clean, run strong, be well… Cheers,