How many times have you been training hard for a race only to get a cold or the "bug" the last few weeks before the race. There's often a fine line between building up your body and breaking it down. If you're not careful, as your workouts get tougher, your immune system can get weaker making you more susceptible to colds and viruses.
So what's a runner to do? Well, first of all use the 90% rule that I use with my runners. Save the 100% max effort for race day. Shoot more for 90% on your weekly speed workouts. Always finish strong, but with the feeling, "That was great, but I could have gone even harder."
This will do several things. First, it will drastically decrease your chance of injury before race day. Second, it will help prevent you from peaking too soon. And last, but not least, it won't tax your immune system as much, keeping it strong and hopefully "bug-free."
Getting your fall flu shot is also a great idea!
In addition to the tips above, your diet can play a big part in maintaining and even boosting your immune system. Listed below are some super foods that help do just that. Adding these foods to your regular diet is ideal, particularly when training and after your race when your immune system may be compromised.
Immune Boosting Foods:
Sweet Potatoes (the sweet potato should be known as "SuperSpud." One sweet potato has more than twice your daily value of Vitamin A, which is an immune booster; sweet potatoes are also lower on the glycemic index than regular potatoes and they're full of fiber and minerals)
Butternut Squash (this super veggie is the King of Vitamin A; contains 22,868 IUs of Vitamin A per cup!
Okra (one of the few foods that naturally contains glutathione which is an antioxidant needed to support the immune system; okra is also high in fiber even more so that whole grain bread or cereal; okra is also high in protein for a veggie)
Pumpkin (high in Vitamin A (more than 12,000 IUs) and also packed with potassium; one cup of cooked pumpkin contain 33% more potassium than a medium banana)
Kale (loaded with Vitamins A and C)
Watercress (1 cup provides 1,500 IUs of Vitamin A and 14mg of Vitamin C; interesting fact: Kale contains 4 times the calcium of same number of calories of 2% milk)
Carrots (cooking carrots releases carotenoids which makes it easier for your body to absorb them as vitamin A)
Broccoli (contains Vitamins A and C)
Bell Peppers (rich in Vitamins A and C, and potassium)
Summer Squash (doesn't have the mega-star status of its cousin the butternut squash, but summer squash does contain Vitamin A and a ton of potassium [a runner's best friend]; 1 cup contain 3 times the potassium found in the typical potassium supplement)
Mushrooms (Shiitake, maitake and reishi pack the biggest immunity-building punch)
Onions (contains quercetin which supports the immune system; onions also promote bone health)
Cantaloupe (rich in Vitamin A, C, and potassium)
Kiwifruit (contains almost twice the amount of Vitamin C as an orange)
Avocado (contains Vitamin A)
Prunes (great source of Vitamins A, C, and potassium; prunes have more antioxidants than any other fruit)
Pistachio Nuts (great potassium-to-sodium ratio which helps stabilize blood pressure and maintain water balance [i.e., good for maintaining good hydration in runners]; also contains Vitamin E, a big immune booster)
Almonds (rich in calcium and Vitamin E; also promotes heart and brain health; great pre-workout snack; good choice for diabetics since it contains hardly any carbohydrates)
Garlic (in addition to keeping Vampires away, garlic neutralizes dozens of bacteria, viruses, and fungi)
Oregano (highest antioxidant activity of the herbs; also high in potassium, Vitamin A and calcium)
Green Tea (high in immune boosting antioxidants)
Whey Protein (in addition to the protein benefits, whey protein is highly stimulating to the immune system. It seems to be the best method for obtaining the building blocks of glutathione, probably the most valuable antioxidant in the body)
Sunflower and Safflower Oil (high in Vitamin E)
Yogurt (probiotics [lactobacillus] found in yogurt support and improve immunity; probiotics like bulgaricus also found in yogurt help increase "natural killer" cells, which also keep the immune system strong. Be sure to look the National Yogurt Association's LAC seal on the yogurt you buy. Yogurt with that seal contain "Live and Active Cultures" which are the immune supporting probiotics you want.)
A Variety of Fish (i.e., herring, trout, kipper, mackerel, salmon, sardines, tuna; these fish contain Vitamin D; Scientist have discovered that Vitamin D plays an important part in activating immune defences. Lack of Vitamin D can hinder the "killer cells" in fighting off serious infections in the body. Vitamin D can also be obtained through daily limited sun exposure and through a Vitamin D3 supplement)
Chicken Soup (Grandma was right! The amino acid cysteine, released from chicken when cooking, helps block inflammatory white cells; cold symptoms are a response to the accumulation of these cells in the bronchial tubes)
Try this Immune Supporting Smoothie. It makes a great pre-run fueling snack!