As an endurance athlete, you know how hard your body works to train, race, and recover. You’re out there in all weathers, putting in the miles. Make sure your nutrition choices give your body the support it needs.
We all know how it feels when our immune system is weakened. Coughs, colds, sickness, and sniffles. But do you actually know what your immune system is?
Turns out, your immune system is a huge and very complex system of cells, tissues, and organs. It includes your lymph nodes, white blood cells, mucus membranes, and even your skin itself.
Your immune system works as a system to identify “invaders” and get rid of them. It recognises your body’s own cells, and moves anything unfamiliar, including parasites, bacteria, and viruses. Sometimes it gets things wrong and overdose the response (see: hay fever!) But most of the time, your immune system is working around the clock to keep you safe and healthy.
The relationship between exercise and immune health is a bit complicated. Too little, and you risk having a sub-optimal immune system (especially circulation and lymphatic) which will struggle to get rid of bacteria. Too much, and you could place your body under excess stress. This 2015 study into the effects of exercise intensity and endurance on immunity found that long bouts of exercise temporarily weaken the immune system. This isn’t permanent, but does mean you should pay particular attention to immune-system threats after long training sessions or races.
However, healthy levels of exercise are great for your immune system. Training can help clear bacteria from your lungs, mouth, and nasal passages (which might keep colds at bay). Exercise causes your antibodies and white blood cells to circulate more rapidly, which could mean they detect viruses sooner than if you were sedentary. And training raises your blood temperature, which could help your body fight infection.
Whatever the science says, you don’t want to change your training habits. But you do want to take every possible measure to support and strengthen your immune system so you can enjoy your sport all year round. Your choice of nutrition will definitely help.
Organic foods have been scientifically proven to contain significantly higher levels of antioxidants than non-organic ingredients. This is true for fruits, berries, cereals, and even milk. It’s obvious that organic ingredients are a smart choice for endurance athletes (or anyone who wants to give their immune system the best chance!)
Higher levels of antioxidants in the food = more nutrients in the body = greater amount of nutrient support for the immune system
The best nutrition for a stronger immune system is common sense. Choose real, whole foods. Buy fresh and organic. Cook more of your food (and buy less processed, packaged stuff). Eat a wide variety of protein sources, fruits, vegetables, berries, and grains.
But if you want a go-to list of immune-friendly foods, we’ve got you covered.
All berries are high in antioxidants (the bright colour is a giveaway). Choose berries that you really enjoy eating. Add them to your breakfast, eat them as snacks, put them in smoothies, or use them as a topping for yoghurt. We add organic blueberry powder to our Organic Coconut Water Powder because of its high levels of Vitamin C.
It’s our instinct to put chilis in food during wintery months. As usual, nature knows best. Chilis contain a lot of Vitamin A plus capsaicin which can help clear congestion and provide a temporary boost to the metabolism.
Another natural cure-all with a sound basis in nutrition. Both lemons and limes contain high levels of the antioxidant Vitamin C, plus plant polyphenols which can help support your immune system.
Protein intake is key to immune health. And whey protein is the best-quality form of protein supplement you can use, with the best bioavailability and best spectrum of amino acids. But make sure your whey protein uses organic milk from grass-fed cows. Studies show that organic milk has more micronutrients and significantly higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids.
Cacao is the healthy part of chocolate! You can use it in cacao powder form, as cacao nibs, or as dark chocolate with high cacao content. Cacao is rich (so you need less of it to get the flavour), high in fibre, and high in those important antioxidants. It’s the good-for-you form of chocolate which actually does your body good.
Look after your body from the inside out, and it will repay you by staying fit, strong, and healthy all year round. You won’t need to miss a training session!