Heavy training can take a huge toll on your immune system, with both acute (short term) effects, and also chronic or long term consequences. Immunologists explain that there is an ‘open window’ of impaired immunity after considerable exertion which can last anywhere from 3 hours to 3 days, depending on the level of effort. This impaired immunity means you are at higher risk of infection taking hold (eg a viral or bacterial infection), and combined with other factors such as travel, lack of sleep, poor nutrition, weight loss or even mental stress and this risk is further heightened.
As an athlete, there are some warning signs here. There is every chance that you will have heavy training sessions or races where your immune system will be impaired and you are at subsequent increased risk of illness. But it really is the combination of factors that creates the perfect storm, and so if you know the hard training is coming it is vital to address the rest of these factors and give yourself every chance of keeping fit and well.
With that in mind, Part 3 of sports nutrition essentials is focused on nourishing your body. In these steps we look at nutrition as just one component of a holistic approach to wellness and training.
Here are our 4 steps to nourish your body while you train hard:
- Fruit and Veg: Yes, we hear it all the time because it really is IMPORTANT. Make half your plate at lunch and dinner either veggies or salad. Every day. You can add in all the sports nutrition you like, but if you’ve skipping this step your’re not going to thrive as your body won’t have the vital nutrients it needs. If you’re not making this happen every day, add in our Supergreens powder to get your nutrients and particularly to top up on B12 vitamins, antioxidants and Iron.
- Support your immune system: Recognising that your immune system will be depleted after training is vital – and the most important macronutrient it needs in this window is carbohydrates. Protein is helpful for muscle repair, but carbs are just as important in recovery so your immune system is supported. Focus on a 4:1 ratio of carbs:protein after training (check out a smoothie recipe here which has the perfect ratio)
- Sleep time: During sleep your adrenal glands can rest and recharge. This allows your immune system to become stronger at resisting illness and decreases the chance of chronic diseases such as diabetes, stroke and high blood pressure. More sleep also helps balance your hunger hormones and helps with weight control so prioritising sleep is vital in a heavy training program.
- Take a break: Every good training program will have inbuilt rest days and easier weeks. Respect your body (and your coach) and learns to love these easier days as they are vital to maintaining physical AND mental balance and well-being. Basically, take some time out to chill and something else you love!
The neat thing with approaching your nutrition as part of a wellness program is that you can put all the pieces of the puzzle together to really thrive. There is no ‘one thing’ that is key here, but looking at your heavy training load as part of a bigger wellness program can really pay long term dividends.
What do you do consistently to keep your immune system strong?
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