Asics Frontrunner Renee McGregor discusses how to maintain a healthy immune system during the lockdown.
It is well documented that taking part in some daily activity benefits the immune system. While some of us have had to change our usual routines, presently in the UK (at time of publication) we are still able to get outside and exercise alone as long as we maintain the regulations around social distancing. However there are also a number of ways of staying active indoors; many gyms are using technology to bring classes into the home space, online programs by PTs and coaches, and even just having a good old dance around the kitchen to some feel-good tunes. These are all great not just for your physical and mental health, but also maintaining your immune system.
However, what you do need to be mindful of is that this is also not the time to stress your body out by overcompensating and training harder or more frequently than you have done before. While it may provide some distraction from the current situation, there are a number of studies that have shown that overreaching the body in this way, can actually depress the immune system.
As a recommendation, aim for a third of a plate at every meal of wholegrain nutrient dense carbohydrates such as sweet potato, pasta, rice etc. on training days and a quarter plate on non-training days. In addition, leading into higher intensity and longer endurance days, take on more carb-based snacks and during endurance training session that are over 90 minutes, aim for 30-60g of carbs an hour.
In addition, these whole grains along with beans and pulses are prebiotics, nutrients necessary for the correct action of probiotics to encourage a positive environment for gut flora to thrive, benefitting immune health.
Another nutrient to be mindful of is Iron. Low iron levels can leave you more susceptible to contracting infections. Good dietary sources include red meat, eggs, fortified cereals, wholegrains, dried fruit, legumes, tofu and nuts. However, remember that it is much harder to obtain iron from plant-based sources; combining these with Vitamin C can help to enhance absorption.
The final point on iron is there is no need to supplement if you do not have low iron levels and taking a supplement is not going to “boost” your immune system. Studies have shown that only those who have low levels of haemoglobin or ferritin stores actually benefit from taking a supplement.
While you can obtain most of the nutrition you need through your diet, there are two supplements that are worth considering.
One of the main challenges, especially for UK based individuals due to the limited/lack of sunshine, is to ensure enough Vitamin D.
Vitamin D is a very important nutrient when it comes to immune function and mood (He et al, 2013; He et al, 2016). Luckily it is very easy to supplement. The general recommendations in the UK are that we supplement from September through to April. From April through to September, the advice is to get outside for a minimum of 20 minutes a day without sun cream (this can then be applied after 20 minutes), between the hours of 11-3pm in order to absorb sufficient sunlight to make Vitamin D within the body. During these challenging times, even if you are able to just stand outside or sit in your garden for 20 minutes, it will definitely give you a boost. If this is not possible, then I would recommend maintaining supplementation during the current climate.
One thing to point out is that the darker you skin, the more difficult to make Vitamin D so you may need a bit more time outside but also still need supplementation in addition.
Numerous studies have demonstrated that a 12-week course of high strength probiotics can prevent the incidence and reduce the severity of upper respiratory tract infections in athletes in the lead up to and after a major competition (Gleeson & Thomas 2008, Cox et al 2010; Gleeson et al 2011; West et al 2011, 2014). While all our races for the first half of the year may be cancelled, many of us are still maintaining some form of training routine while we can and so this is probably worth considering.