As the nights draw in and wet, cold and windy training nights become the norm, a plethora of coughs, cold and illnesses start to do the rounds. Alas, there is a ray of light on the horizon! I have compiled a couple of practical nutrition tips to bolster your immune system and ensure you are fighting fit for the matches ahead.
Your body is made of ~60% water. Maintaining hydration is essential for optimal performance and reducing your risk of illness. Losing a meager 2% of your total body water during exercise may result in impairments to your endurance, cognitive and skill performance. I don’t know about you, but I really can’t afford any loss in skill performance. Research we conducted on junior international hockey players looked at the difference in levels of dehydration during matches played in England during the winter and in South Africa during the summer. Data indicated that players experienced higher levels of dehydration in England during the winter! Therefore, good hydration practice is just as important in the winter as it is in the summer. TOP TIP: Ensure you arrive to training well hydrated. Try to drink 400-600 ml of fluid 2 hours before exercise. This allows sufficient time for you to void any excess liquid.
Colds and flu are all too common at this time of year. However, there are things you can do to reduce your chances of catching them. A shortage of carbohydrate and protein can decrease your immune response. Micronutrients such as iron (meat, beans, lentils), zinc (milk, peanuts, turkey), vitamins A (milk, eggs, spinach, carrots), E (seeds, nuts, avocado), B6 (tuna, banana, chicken) and B12 (fish, beef, cheese) are also particularly important. A diet containing plenty of variety, fresh fruit and vegetables, nutrient-dense carbohydrates, quality protein and some good fats is recommended. TOP TIPS: Select a wide variety of fruit and vegetables during the day. Eat at least 2 different vegetables with at least 2 of your meals a day and snack on up to 3 pieces of fruit. Also try having a carbohydrate-based snack with a small amount of protein shortly after training to kick-start the recovery process. E.g. Peanut butter sandwich, Greek yoghurt with almonds and honey, homemade chocolate milkshake.
Despite all the claims you may have heard about cold remedies, there is no scientifically proven supplement effective in preventing a cold. However, some studies have shown that 1,000 mg of Vitamin C supplements a day may reduce the length of your cold. More recent research has indicated that probiotics (the friendly bacteria) may also shorten the length of your cold. Start your day with a Yakult drink. TOP TIPS: Wash your hands regularly. Hand gels are best and available in all supermarkets. Water bottles are breeding grounds for bacteria and germs so avoid sharing water bottles at all times.
The combination of a drop in temperature, an increase in the number of viruses circulating and the temptation to over-indulge in poor quality foods increases your chances of getting ill and missing training. First and foremost you need to make sure you are eating sufficient amounts of carbohydrate, protein and fat to support your training load and body composition goals. If your intake of any of these macronutrients is too high or too low, you may be compromising your ability to fight off disease and illness.
There are specific foods that we know can improve immunity levels. By including these foods into your regular diet or routine you can build up your body’s immunity: Dark (75% cocoa) chocolate, Garlic, Chilli’s, Green tea, Berries (raspberries, blueberries etc), Manuka honey, 2-3 litres of water per day.
Make sure you eat some low fat, quality protein with every meal and snack. Turkey, venison, chicken, fish, eggs and nuts are excellent choices. An adequate intake of iron, zinc, vitamins A, E, B6 and B12 are also important. You should eat a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables to ensure an adequate intake of these vitamins and minerals. The majority of your diet should focus around whole unprocessed foods, vegetables and fruits.
Examples of how to get these into your diet
Anti immunity foods and factors which reduce your immunity