Avoiding illness this season

Influenza_virus_2008765-300x225I hate getting sick! I am pretty sure I am not alone.

We endurance athletes are a funny bunch. We are more than willing to hammer for hours on end on the bike, run mile after mile, complete brick after brick and strength train like Olympic weight lifters without a complaint. Inevitably we all push our luck, get sick and whine like its the end of the earth. So what happened to all the Super Men and Super Women? More than likely we are all guilty of not following some better habits or at the worse we are over trained. In my last article I covered over training pretty well if you missed it have a read here.

To summarize, we get sick because we become immune compromised, or have poor nutrition habits and or even poor hygiene habits. It really is that simple. There are several things we can do to mitigate the chances of becoming ill. What happens when we get ill? We can’t train at our best and compete at our best or at all and none of us want that!

The image in this post is a visualization of your enemy! The flu bug. Now you have an image to think about while you are trying to defeat the enemy!

I just got sick for the 2nd time this season and it was just before my last bike race of the season. So I am determined not to get sick for the rest of this season or next! I honestly do not know if its possible but I am going to try my best to make it happen and at the very least I will have developed some better habits along the way. I should also mention that both times I have gotten sick this season it happened shortly after both peaks and A races. Its always a good idea to find a patterned cause to an illness so you can unravel why it may have been caused.

Basically I think most of us know the things we are suppose to do but I thought I would share a laundry list of what I have learned with you. Much of this comes from the CDC and other sources but I have added my own observations and experiences so you may recognize some of these to dos and to don’ts.

In no particular order…

Avoid Close Contact
Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too. I try to avoid crowds in the winter months as much as I can. I know it sounds anti social but if it wasn’t for for Christmas Shopping and some large races The largest crowds I will be around are family and coworkers.

Stay home when you are sick
If possible, stay home from work, school, and errands when you are sick. You will help prevent others from catching your illness. I can’t stress this enough but must admit this is getting harder and harder to do for many of us with shrinking work place benefits. If you have to go to work limit your exposure to others when sick.

Cover your mouth and nose
Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. It may prevent those around you from getting sick.

Clean your hands
Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub. There have been studies showing that alcohol-based hand rub may not be as effective as first thought. My first choice is always hand washing but will use alcohol-based hand rub when I can’t get to a sink.

Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth
Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth. Most experts believe that flu viruses spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby. Less often, a person might also get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, eyes or nose. I strongly believe between this tip and keeping your hands clean is 80% of staying healthy.

Practice other good health habits
Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work or school, especially when someone is ill. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food. Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like the flu can help slow the spread of influenza.

Get plenty of sleep
Sleep allows your body to recharge and gives your immune system a chance to replenish after a long day of fighting off microscopic invaders. Failing to get enough sleep is setting your body up for easy access to infection. Also restrict calories 2-3 hours before going to bed. It’s tough but doing so will lead to a longer release of Human Growth Hormone which is natures janitor.

Limit stress
This could be the toughest challenge to overcome for many of us Competitive Type A Personalities. The long term effects of stress are numerous compared to the short term effects. Short term effects usually are displayed as moodiness, having a hard time falling a sleep or sleeping, restlessness, upset stomach, raised blood pressure among others. When you look at the potential long term effects of stress such as Heart Disease, Insomnia, Depression, being Immuno Compromised and much more susceptible to serious illnesses and many other diseases. So how do we reduce stress? Here is a great starting list of suggestions.

  • Learn how to say “no”
  • Avoid people who stress you out
  • Take control of your environment
  • Avoid hot-button topics
  • Pare down your to-do list
  • Express your feelings instead of bottling them up
  • Be willing to compromise
  • Be more assertive
  • Manage your time better
  • Reframe problems
  • Look at the big picture
  • Avoid Perfectionism
  • Focus on the positive
  • Don’t try to control the uncontrollable
  • Look for the upside
  • Share your feelings
  • Learn to forgive
  • Set aside relaxation time
  • Connect with others
  • Do something you enjoy every day
  • Keep your sense of humor
  • Exercise regularly
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Reduce caffeine and sugar
  • Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs
  • Get enough sleep

Cut back on the alcohol
Drinking alcohol monopolizes the resources that your body should use to prevent infections.

Salt water has major benefits
Salt is a natural antibacterial agent. You can use it to gargle. It cleans the bacteria-riddled mucus out of your mouth and throat and helps to fight respiratory infections.

Drink lots of water
Your body will function better if not starved for its most important molecule. Your body is made up of about 60% water and is constantly using water for all vital processes. Replenish your body’s water supply to help yourself run at maximum capacity. Many times we think we are hungry when really we need fluids and water should always be your first choice.

Take vitamins and supplements
While many vitamins can be helpful supplements to your diet, Vitamin D is probably the most important, at least during the winter months. Vitamin D is absorbed into your body right from the sun’s rays, but in the winter months, more time is spent indoors than usual and supplements can help make up the difference. A multivitamin, fish oil and 1.5-2 grams of protein per pound of body weight are also fatten looked when supplementing an athletes diet.

Eat your fruits and veggies
This helps vary your diet and allows you to get the vitamins with which fruits and veggies are rich. Giving your body the tools to stay healthy is half the battle, and eating fruits and veggies certainly does this. Eating fruits early in the day transitioning to vegetables later in the day is the best tactic for ensuring that your insulin does not spike in the evening.

Try Probiotics
These supplements contain live bacteria meant to balance the microflora (bacteria) in your digestive tract. By maintaining this balance, we leave ourselves less susceptible to infection. Probiotics are found in yogurt as well as supplements but I prefer to get mine through Greek yogurt. Be careful how much you eat at first as it can upset the lower GI.

Listen to your body
Your body will give you a warning when it’s beginning to succumb to an infection. Whether that warning is a headache, a bad mood or feeling uncharacteristically tired, respond to these warnings by making sure you are keeping up with all the other tips.

What are some of your tips to mitigate illness?

Until next article,

Train Smarter Not Harder,

Coach Rob

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