We all know that the icy winter weather brings with it the dreaded cold and flu season.
Infection risks rise as people spend more time indoors, which makes it easier to transmit viruses between people at work, the gym and at home.
To give you a fighting chance this winter, here are the Living Fit team’s top tips to avoid winter colds and flu.
#1. Eat for immunity
Proper nutrition is the bedrock on which we build strong immune systems. An abundance of natural, nutrient-rich foods are also our best weapon for fighting infections during the flu season. Likewise, a poor diet will increase your susceptibility to illness.
The body derives what it needs to produce and maintain the immune system by producing disease-fighting immune cells from the vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients we get from the food we eat.
Accordingly, a nutrient deficiency may hamper the immune system from functioning optimally. That’s why a balanced, healthful diet that contains nutrient-dense, fresh fruits and vegetables, particularly leafy greens, becomes more important than ever during winter.
#2. Avoid restrictive diets
Individuals who follow a restrictive diet during the flu season, be it reduced calories or limiting a food group, often become more susceptible to infections.
For instance, studies show that training in a glycogen-depleted state increases the release of stress hormones when compared with more balanced diets.
One study stated that athletes training in this state demonstrated “a greater perturbation of several immune function indices” as this enhanced stress hormone release is linked to a decrease in immune function.
The researchers suggested that “consuming 30–60 g carbohydrate (per hour) during sustained intensive exercise attenuates rises in stress hormones such as cortisol and appears to limit the degree of exercise-induced immune depression” and that “this practice appears to attenuate some of the immunosuppressive effects of prolonged exercise.”
#3. Boost your vitamin and mineral intake
Scientific research into nutrition shows that you can strengthen the immune system and achieve optimal immunity with an adequate supply of vitamins A, B6, B12, D and E, zinc, selenium, iron, beta carotene and coenzyme Q10.
While you’ll get most of these micronutrients from a healthful diet comprised predominantly of natural, fresh whole foods, modern farming and high-heat cooking methods can reduce the nutritional content.
These products will ensure that your body gets all the micronutrients it needs to support your immune system and its response to any possible infection this winter.
#4. Add supplement support
After exercise, our bodies experience a slight fall in circulating glutamine levels. As glutamine stimulates the activity of certain immune cells, a shortfall can increase your susceptibility to infection.
Studies also show that various immune cells utilise substantially more glutamine when fighting infections, but are unable to synthesise it in its original state.
In these instances, your body requires sufficient diet-derived glutamine, with supplements a convenient and effective means to meet these heightened demands.
And BCAAs can help your body naturally produce more glutamine. You can get more of these important amino acids from dietary protein sources including meat and dairy, as well as BCAA and whey protein supplements for added immune support.
Various herbs, such as echinacea purpurea and spirulina, may also provide immune system support. For example, research suggests that spirulina can boost the production of white blood cells and antibodies that fight viruses and bacteria in your body, while echinacea may help to combat colds and flu, which can shorten the duration of an infection.
#5. Boost intestinal health
A healthy gut with the right balance of beneficial probiotic bacteria not only helps to promote optimal digestion and intestinal health but can also support optimal immunity.
Over the last decade, there has been an explosion of research into the immuno-stimulatory properties of probiotics.
For example, a study on the effects of probiotics found that their use caused circulating natural immune killer cells to return back to normal pre-exercise resting levels after exercise at a faster rate. This indicates that probiotics may be able to reduce the likelihood of infections, especially after heavy bouts of training.
#6. Listen to your body
Research shows that exercising during the incubation period of an infection, particularly an upper-respiratory-tract infection, can actually worsen the symptoms once it becomes full-blown.
Therefore, it is very important to recognise the signs of an imminent infection, listen to your body and give it time to fight off the infection before engaging in intense exercise.