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Build up your defences

by Martin Yelling
Tuesday 18th May 2010

Being ill really is dull. For the first time in as long as I can remember I've recently been forced to lie shivering and shaking in the bed whilst my body wrestles a bug for a few days. I'd forgotten how deliberating being ill can be and am thankful for my normal good health and vitality.

Our bodies are amazing. From the moment we are born they start to build a defensive shield to protect us against the onslaught of bacteria. Our immune system hunts down invaders to the body and eliminates them. It also protects us by developing anti-bodies and immunity to certain ‘nasties’ preventing us having the same illness again and again. I'm hoping this is true as my daughter Ruby got ill with this bug just before me and I'm hoping she doesn't get it back again!

As a runner being ill wreaks total havoc with the training! Infact, more often than not it slides to a total standstill. This is the best course of action. Your body needs its energy for repair and to get healthy and doesn't need to expend it training.

Healthy people are ill less often, feel better in themselves, have more energy and are less stressed! However when we run, especially if we’ve run hard, we a leave a window of low immunity open for a while. This can leave us more prone to bugs and illness. That’s why it’s really important for active people to think about how we can minimise our risk of catching bugs. Finishing your run and then not refuelling adequately, going out for a run and then heading straight back into a warm, air conditioned, bacteria laden office with people coughing and spluttering, or not changing your clothes and being cold post-run really doesn’t help keep bugs at bay, So, what does?

A big key to a healthy immune system is to eat a healthy balanced diet. Stack up with junk and the price could be illness. Fresh fruit and vegetables, carbohydrate, proteins, and essential fatty acids all play a part in keeping our defences strong and fit for action. The key vitamins to support your immune system are zinc, iron, copper, selenium, A, B6, C and E. All of these can be found in sufficient quantities in a well balanced diet. If you are concerned over a lack of any essential vitamins or minerals a ‘top up’ in the form of supplementation might work for you.

Carbohydrate plays an important role in supporting the immune function. The Atkins diet is not good for fighting the winter lurgy. Trying to loose weight quickly simply adds stress your body. A steady weight management programme that is based on eating the right amount of the right foods at the right time coupled with a regular, progressive and appropriate exercise routine is the way to go. Protein and essential fatty acids are also vital for immune function.

Protein is important to help your body recover and re-build your muscles after running. A lack of protein will mean that your body will not be able to repair itself adequately and your run the risk of getting over tired and run down. Great protein choices are soya, lean cuts of meat, fish, and eggs.

Probiotics are ‘friendly bacteria’. Everyone needs these to survive. They help us to syntheses vitamins and help rid our bodies of harmful bacteria found in the gut, such as viruses, helping stimulate the gut immunity and enhancing our disease resistance. Probiotics can be eaten in foods such as live yoghurt, but it has been found more effective to stimulate the activity of existing healthy bacteria in the gut by eating certain foods such as bananas, asparagus, garlic, wheat, tomatoes and onions.

Wash your hands regularly. Our hands pass over countless objects in the day that many people have touched, including money, door handles, pens, taps, hand railings, buttons on cash machines, telephones. The constant contact spreads virus. By washing your hands with soap and warm water you will be reducing your chances of catching whatever lurks! Avoid touching your face. Viruses like to get into your body through your eyes mouth or nose.

If you feel like you are coming down with something and are questioning if you should run that day – DON’T! Remember the 3D’s; If in DOUBT DON’T DO it! Exercising when you are ill can only prolong your illness, so rest and allow your body to put all its energy into fighting the illness.

After your run make sure you get warm and dry, rehydrate with plenty of fluids (even if it’s cold outside), and eat something healthy to replace your energy within 30minutes of finishing your workout.

When you see someone has a cold, cough of the flu steer clear! That might be tricky when they are your husband, partner, child or the person you sit next to at work yet you can think about strategies to minimise physical contact when they are really ill!

When you are tired your body just can’t catch up and something has to give, and it’s usually your health. Avoid constantly driving yourself into the ground. Aim to get enough sleep so that feel rested. At least once a week try and wake naturally and not to your alarm.


About The Author

Martin Yelling

Martin Yelling used to do a lot more running that he does now.   He once sneaked a AAA’s medal over 1500m, finished in the top 10 in the National XC, clocked some sub 30min 10k’s and even won a few races. 

Once his legs stopped enjoying the pounding quite so much switched to multisport and won the British elite duathlon championships a couple of times, competed at some scarily fast world championships events, came top 15 at Ironman Switzerland and bagged the big one in Kona. 

Now he enjoys running on leafy trails, trying (and failing) to keep up with his wife (2xOlympic marathon runner Liz Yelling), and helping coach runners and triathletes of all standards achieve things they’d previously thought impossible.  He also likes trying to paddleboard, eating the same amount as he used to when training very hard and smiling. www.lizyelling.com


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