Yup, I’m sick. So this week’s post is partially self-serving. It’s a reminder to me – from researching the advice of the experts – to get more rest and sleep, consume the nutrients my body needs and chill out from my workout routine. Here’s a little Common Cold 101 for the fitness-minded.
How Sick Are You?
The guidelines in this post are for the common cold. If you have a persistent fever, chances are you have something more than a cold virus – such as the flu or a bacterial infection. In that case, a call to the doctor is warranted. She will determine, based on your symptoms, whether or not you need to nurse the illness at home or go to her office to run tests for a bacterial infection. In either case, illnesses with fever require additional solid foods (unless you have gastrointestinal issues) and hydration, lots of rest and sleep and a complete ban from any type of exercise until the fever breaks and you’re beginning to feel better.
But, more often than not, we suffer from the common cold virus and the protocol for dealing with it is slightly different.
The Good News About Fitness and Colds
The truth is, if you are eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, plenty of proteins and whole grains you are already consuming lots of the nutrients that boost your immunity. Additionally, if you also are exercising regularly and getting enough sleep, you can realize even more protection from common viruses.
But even those of us following all the fitness dos and don’ts will, at times, get colds too. The good news is, you really don’t have to do many things different to assist your body in fighting the virus to get you back to normal again.
Fueling Your Recovery
The nutrients that boost our immunities that help us get fewer colds also help us fight off the virus once we have it, allowing us to recover more quickly. Namely, beta carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E, bioflavonoids, glutathiones, phytochemicals, zinc, good bacteria and proteins (and some specific foods like broth-based soups and teas) all have a role in boosting our immunities.
Important to remember that, while running a fever will burn more calories, there is no evidence that fighting a cold without the presence of fever burns any more calories compared to when we’re healthy. So, be careful not to overdo it on total calories in the process of increasing your consumption of these particular nutrients.
While you could get supplements that have some of these nutrients in them, Mother Nature has a way of combining them naturally in the foods we eat. Take a look at the list of foods associated with each immunity-boosting nutrient and you’ll notice a lot of repetition:
- Beta-carotene: This nutrient is most often associated with the tell-tale yellow-orange hue in carrots, cantaloupe, apricots, corn, mangoes, yellow beets, nectarines, pumpkin, peaches, yellow and butternut squash, sweet potato and nectarines. But it’s also found in green veggies like spinach, kale, asparagus and broccoli.
- Vitamin C: Not only in oranges, this vitamin can also be found in cantaloupe, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, kiwi, papaya, bell peppers, sweet potatoes, strawberries and tomatoes.
- Vitamin E: Plentiful in almonds, cod liver oil, hazelnuts, lobster, peanut butter, salmon steak and sunflower seeds.
- Bioflavonoids: In a class of more recently discovered micronutrients, these are found in the same foods where vitamin C is found (see above) and the two appear to uniquely work together to boost immunity.
- Glutathiones: Found in spinach and cruciferous vegetables.
- Phytochemicals: These are another nutrient powerhouse packed in apples, apricots, broccoli, brussels sprouts, carrots, garlic, legumes, onions, sweet potatoes and tomatoes.
- Zinc: Helps with infection resistance, spurs on tissue repair and is an immune system stimulator. It can be found in eggs, meats, nuts, seafood, seeds, wheat germ and whole grains.
- Good Dietary Bacteria: Found in cultured yogurts, studies have shown that certain common bacteria assist the immune system.
- Protein: Antibodies and immune system cells rely on proteins to survive and thrive. Not enough can lead to weakness and fatigue. Complete proteins are found in meats, seafood, dairy, eggs and soybeans. Some plant-based foods like nuts and legumes contain partial proteins.
- Broth-Based Soups: Broth-based soups contain a nice combination of many of the foods containing immunity-boosting nutrients listed above. But, the fascinating thing is that broth soups, chicken in particular, have shown an alleviation in cold symptoms in many studies. Scientists believe the hot broth clears nasal congestion and thins mucus. In addition, broth soups are a form of hydration, which is also important when fighting a cold.
- Teas: Hot tea has the same affect as the hot broth in soups in thinning mucus and soothing the sinuses as well as provide hydration. Black and green teas also contain flavonoids.
Exercising When You’re Sick
For those trying to establish new exercise habits for better health and/or weight loss: The common cold and other illnesses are one of the big pitfalls for those who are already struggling to establish a regular exercise routine. As long as you’re not feverish, try to at least walk a little while you’re battling a cold. Even a leisurely stroll for 20-30 minutes a day can go a long way in keeping you attached to a routine. Some fresh air coupled with light to moderate exercise can also help to alleviate some of your symptoms. Once you are feeling better, it’s important to get that first, real workout in as soon as possible to avoid the spiraling feelings of guilt and negativity that settle in when you’re away from exercise too long.
For those who are exercise junkies or are training for an endurance event: You are not invincible and even the common cold forces you to pull back. Believe me, I’ve made this mistake before. When you’re sick, even with a mild cold, you should not do a vigorous workout. Moderate, relatively short workouts are best. Listen to your body, if you’re feeling depleted even before you get into the meat of it, your body is telling you to back off. Taking it easy early on will help you to get back at it sooner. If you try to plow through it when your body isn’t ready, you’ll end up having to take more days off in the long run.
Sleep and Rest
These are the days to go to bed early and sleep late, if you can. Not all of us can swing a nap during the day. Do it if you are able. If not, then rest when you can. The more down time you can give your body, the faster it can fight those nasty germs.
Alright, it’s time for some hot tea, warm jammies and then to bed. Here’s hoping your cold and flu season is an uneventful one. But, if need be, use my tips here to get you on your feet and back at it in no time at all.