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How To NOT Get Sick – A Guide for Exhausted Endurance Athletes

cold and flu prevention supplies

Getting sick really screws up your schedule.

You’ll probably have to go shopping for medicine, cough drops, tissues, etc.. You might even have to go to the doctor if it’s bad. Worst of all, you’ll have to skip training sessions… and make up for them later.

Feeling sick isn’t particularly pleasant, either.

Here’s how to avoid the problem in the first place:

Lifestyle Factors to Prevent Catching a Cold

Your normal routine plays a very important role in preventing colds and the flu. Here are a few daily habits that will be simple to implement.

De-stress yourself.

Do this right away, and repeat often.

If you are overtraining and stressed out, your immune system will pay for it. And then you’ll pay (in the form of a cold that your compromised immune system couldn’t fight off.)

De-stressing is fun. You could get a massage (monthly,) do some yoga (weekly,) think happy thoughts (daily,) and sleep lots (nightly.) I also have good luck with positive affirmations, such as, “I’m healthy, I don’t get sick.” (That works great… until it doesn’t.)

Avoid the infected.

Yeah, it’s kind of like you’re in a real-life zombie video game. Except that the enemy – sick people in this case – isn’t quite as obvious. So, it’s best to assume that any person is potentially going to spread germs that will make you sick.

Avoid enclosed spaces that are filled with people, especially school kids (since they spend so much time surrounded by even more people.) There is always at least one kid that will be spreading germs, so it’s best to avoid them completely. Any crowded space, such as a shopping center or restaurant, will have you surrounded by germs.

Employ the fist bump.

Rather than shaking hands, try a fist bump. It’s getting more common in certain sports, and thanks to a recent study showing that it spreads fewer germs than either hand shakes or high fives, it may become more common in everyday life.

To initiate a fist bump, hold out your closed fist. If that’s met with a bewildered look, simply say, “pound it.”

Wash your hands.

When you inevitably come in contact with the infected, whether directly or indirectly, you need to clean off the germs ASAP. It’s easy, though – just wash your hands.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) refers to hand-washing as a “‘do-it-yourself’ vaccine.” (And I think it used to be their #1 recommendation, back before the flu vaccine garnered all the attention.) The high praise, coupled with the relative ease and low price, make this a no-brainer.

For even more germ-fighting ability, use disinfectant wipes on household surfaces and carry some instant hand sanitizer with you.

(And for Pete’s sake, don’t touch your face with your dirty hands! Wash them first!)

These are rules that virtually everyone knows, but they’re important enough to deserve repeating. Next, we’ll get into more specifics relating to your training itself…

Why You Might Want to Alter Your Training Program

Exercise plays a role – both positive and negative – in the functioning of your immune system. Here are some tips on how to train effectively yet carefully.

Structure your training schedule to lessen the impact.

In part 2 of this paper on maintaining immune health, the authors make a few suggestions on setting up your training schedule so that it doesn’t hamper your immune function. Most of the suggestions revolve around the the idea of starting slow, adding variety, not working too much or too hard, not getting exhausted, etc. Those suggestions might work for the average person, but if you’re building toward peak performance, you have to be a little more aggressive.

There are two key suggestions that apply to athletes:

  • Use shorter training sessions, with increased frequency.
  • Reduce overall training volume.

At this time of year, you are likely to be reducing your overall training volume anyway. So that works itself out.

However, you may be doing lots of long rides. If so, try to keep them at a lower intensity.

When doing hard workouts, keep them short. You can keep the intensity high, and maintain the same workout volume by increasing frequency of the hard workouts. That’s better than doing long, intense workouts, as those will wreak havoc on your immune system.

Love science? Go back to part 1 of the paper, which goes into great detail on the finer points of exercise and immunity.

Be careful with Exercise-Induced Immunosuppression.

A lot of fancy terminology is used when referencing the “post workout window” when it comes to good things like fat loss and absorbing nutrients. Unfortunately, this is not one of those good things.

We’re talking about Exercise-Induced Immunosuppression, aka Post-Exercise Immunosuppression, or PEIS. This is not the post workout window you want! See, your immune system gets suppressed after a workout, basically because of extra stress hormones that are now circulating through your body. I’ve heard this can last anywhere from 3 hours to 3 days.

Definitely don’t visit crowded, public spaces right after you do a workout, when your immune system is slightly impaired. It might be worth altering your schedule if you can. Say you drive a carpool of kids to basketball practice on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. You might not want to schedule your intense interval sessions for Tuesday and Thursday lunch hour!

Backup plan: if you can’t figure out the optimal schedule, there is one simple strategy which can help alleviate the issue – consume carbs during your workout.

Think you might be sick? No exercise for you!

If you unfortunately did get sick, there’s just one recommendation now – don’t exercise. That’s stress that your immune system does not want to deal with at the moment. Stick with some gentle yoga and other recovery tools.

And make sure you’re eating right…

Boost Your Immunity Through Diet and Nutrition

Allow me to answer the “what to eat?” question.

Strive for a balanced diet.

As usual, a balanced diet containing a variety of meats, veggies, fruits and other natural foods is the top priority. One of those studies referenced earlier says a balanced diet is fine – you don’t even need a multivitamin!

Just don’t skimp on carbs! Oatmeal, beans, potatoes, and sweet potatoes are good options. As are rice cakes during your workouts. (Remember, carbs during workouts can keep your immune system going!)

If “eat a balanced diet” is too basic, don’t worry, I have more suggestions!

Eat more garlic and ginger.

These two foods are excellent immunity boosters. Ginger fights GI distress, and with 80% of your immune system in your gut, it’s probably a good plan to keep your gastrointestinal tract happy. Garlic is packed with antioxidants and even has some antibacterial properties from the allicin content.

Perhaps best of all, it’s a tasty combination to add to omelets, rice, stir frys, etc. Though, feel free to eat either one raw. It’s not for the faint of heart, but I enjoy the ‘kick’ of chomping on a fresh, raw garlic clove.

Other foods to eat when you are sick include chicken soup, green tea with honey, elderberries, yogurt, and more. (The linked article explains why.)

Take your vitamins.

If there’s a time to take vitamins on top of already eating healthy, this is it. Vitamin C and zinc are some of the most popular choices. You can get pills, or opt for the fun, fizzy choice: Emergen-C packets.

Also worth a shot are:

  • Fish oil
  • Vitamin D
  • Green tea extract
  • Probiotics (especially Lactobacillus probiotics)
  • Quercetin

An interesting quercetin cocktail!

Also from the Maintaining Immune Health paper, in Table 2, they reviewed the research behind some supplements and presented their findings. And the vitamin and supplement companies probably weren’t thrilled about it!

The paper says Vitamin C is not recommended since it’s no better than a placebo, and a multivitamin is not necessary (a balanced diet is sufficient.)

Quercetin is the only recommended supplement in there! This is what they have to say about it:

“Recommended, especially when mixed with other flavonoids and nutrients; human studies show strong reduction in illness rates during heavy training and mild stimulation of mitochondrial biogenesis and endurance performance in untrained subjects; anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative effects when mixed with green tea extract and fish oil”

I don’t think the improved endurance performance aspect applies to trained athletes, but the reduced illness rates might carry over. So, consider taking a stack of quercetin, green tea extract, and fish oil.

FRS Healthy Energy, or my alternative supplement stack, may have helped me even more than I thought it did!

Magic Potions, Quick Fixes, and More

If you have a big event coming up and can’t risk catching a cold, or will stop at nothing to avoid getting sick, here’s some fun stuff that is rumored to work, or has seemed to work for me.

Swype Cold & Flu Shield

I have not gotten sick when actively using Swype. I’ve come to believe it really works! The problem is, since I average about one cold every two years, I often forget to use it, even if I’m carrying it with me!

A tube is only $8.99, about the same as a tube of Airborne tablets, and it will last the entire flu season (it says it’s a 2-month supply but it lasts longer than that in my experience.)

I really haven’t heard anything new about this stuff since I first reviewed it back in 2011, and they haven’t tweeted since 2013, but it’s still for sale on their website. (I was hoping to find it selling at Amazon.com nowadays, but no luck.)

I’ve heard some anecdotal evidence for Olive leaf

Last Fall, I got a tip via email from Julie Bridge (from Botanic Choice) about olive leaf:

I was sneezing and feeling run down one day and a co-worker turned me onto this product. It was amazing. By the next day I was feeling like myself again.

I’m assuming the supplement in question is this Ultra Olive Leaf they sell.

I did a little research, and within the olive tree, there is a substance called oleuropein, and within that, elenolic acid. That’s the key ingredient.

It is claimed to work like a broad-spectrum antibiotic, meaning it will fight against colds, flu, and upper respiratory and sinus infections, but I haven’t found any research backing that. This one study specifically found that “olive leaf extract was not broad-spectrum in action,” but did have some antimicrobial properties.

It sounds pretty good, but I would not label it a miracle cure yet. If you’re interested, though, more references can be found here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3002804/

Since the supplement sells for only $8, I’d like to test it out, but I’d have no idea if it actually worked, or if something else was protecting me. So, I will say that it’s probably only worth testing if you get sick frequently.

A Simple Recipe to Keep Your Immune System In Shape (from Tim Ferriss)

What magic potion section would be complete without a tip from The 4-Hour Body author, Tim Ferriss?

This is his recipe to keep your immune system in good shape, especially if you’re getting little sleep. According to Tim, this won’t prevent being tired, but it will help keep you from getting sick.

Need these 3 things:

  • L-Lysine (6-10g per day)
  • Liquid Echinacea (use in moderation)
  • Vitamin C (high doses)

A mega-dose of Vitamin C is one of those things that often seems to help, even though the science still says otherwise (as mentioned in an earlier reference.) And it’s probably the cheapest supplement out there, so to me, it’s probably worth trying.

The liquid echinacea, which is likely for the anti-viral properties, might be a good idea for something to keep around for dire times (similar to the Swype gel.) A bottle can be found for under $10.

And the L-Lysine is something I would like to test on myself. Mr. Ferriss says the L-Lysine is “magical.”

If you don’t mind taking 6-10 big pills per day, NOW Foods and Source Naturals both have what you’re looking for. If you’d prefer a powder that can be mixed into smoothies or other foods (my preference,) this NOW Foods lysine powder looks like a great deal.

 

The evidence says the basics work. If you eat healthy, avoid crowds of sick people, and wash your hands, you will stand a good chance at not getting sick. If you’re paranoid, or desperate, try some of the fancy supplements to really decrease your chance of getting sick.

Have you tried any of this advice? Know of other magic potions I don’t? What works for you?

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6 Comments
  1. Worrying about getting sick gets me stressed out. Then I get sick. 🙁

  2. I use colloidal silver. One dropper per day to keep my immune system strong. I’ve even used it on cuts and scrapes and an ear infection, and it cleared up within three days.

    • @Cynthia

      Thanks for chiming in. I’ve used colloidal silver too and always had good luck with it. I can’t say whether or not it boosted my immune system in general, but I did see it do an amazing job healing infected cuts! Worked like magic, allowed me to avoid antibiotics, and no side effects (knock on wood.)

  3. You want magic? It’s called oil of oregano.

    “Oil of oregano has significant antibiotic properties.” says the Dr. Oz show! 😛

  4. I’ve been drinking the Greens drink you told me about everyday. Every day! And a Vitamin C because my mom always told me to. Haven’t gotten sick yet!

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coach levi
Hi, I'm Coach Levi. I'm a USA Cycling Certified Level 3 Coach as well as Level 1 Certified with Precision Nutrition. Want to feel better, ride faster, and look great? Let's work together!

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Coach Levi is my favorite child and favorite cycling coach. I'd choose him over Christoper McCarmikael even. Did I mention that Levi can coach you to a healthier lifestyle where you look and feel your best?
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