Winter is upon us and, particularly in the UK, this means guaranteed rain, storms, frost and – *atchoo* – colds! Fed up of reaching for the hot lemon and tissues all winter? Want to supercharge your immune system? Read on!
Firstly, let’s look at why footballers need to keep on top of their immunity. It all comes down to exercise.
You may have read that exercise can be an ally to your immune system, and this is true. However, exercise can also have the opposite effect and compromise your immunity.
Sound confusing? Don’t worry – things become a little clearer when we look at the type of exercise.
Performing light exercise sessions on a regular basis can indeed boost your immune system. For example, a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine revealed that upper respiratory tract infections (i.e. colds) are reduced in physically fit and active adults when engaging in 20+ minutes of daily exercise for five days or more every week.
Sounds good, right? However, as your exercise load and intensity increase, so does the stress on your body. While there are debates surrounding the exact science, this increased intensity can actually result in lower immunity, leaving you more vulnerable to viral and bacterial infections.
Most footballers who take the game seriously may find that they fit into the higher-risk category. Consider that you may be hitting the gym every other day, training as a team twice a week and then playing a full 90 minutes on a Sunday, and it’s no wonder your body becomes more vulnerable to illness.
So how do we boost our immunity and avoid catching whatever is out there?
Minimising your exposure to infection is sensible – and we have heard a lot about this over the past year! Washing your hands, avoid touching your face, and keeping a safe distance from people are all worthwhile practices this winter.
However, while getting stuck into a game of football, you can’t avoid coming into close contact with others. This means that your best bet is to try to improve your immunity instead.
Eating a balanced diet is perhaps the best way to go about this. You should focus on eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, which will give you natural supplies of immunity-boosting vitamins. However, while eating healthily is important, a good diet alone may not be enough if you are training hard while also juggling a busy work, family and social life.
This is where vitamin and mineral supplements come into play.
Don’t think of them as magic pills that will turn you into a superhuman – rather, as insurance policies that are there to offer you extra doses of what your body needs should you fail to get everything from your diet.
While each vitamin and mineral plays its part in a healthy body, there are some that are seen as particularly crucial in keeping your immune system fighting fit.
Vitamin D, for example. If you could only ever take one vitamin for the rest of your life, vitamin D would be in the running! In terms of immunity, it plays a vital role in protecting you from respiratory infection.
The good news is that the body naturally produces this essential vitamin through exposure to sunlight. The bad news is that we live in the UK and sunlight is at a premium for most of the year!
While it can be found in foods such as mushrooms, salmon and free-range eggs, vitamin D supplementation is wise all year around, especially in the winter.
Other important vitamins for preventing and fighting infection include vitamin B6, vitamin C, vitamin A and vitamin E. Meanwhile, zinc is an important mineral that is known to fight infection and keep the immune system strong, and selenium is another nutrient that can strengthen your defences.
If you know exactly what you need, you can take individual vitamin supplements, or you can look at taking a good multivitamin, such as our unique Multivitamin – created to meet the daily vitamin and mineral needs of footballers.
Each of the 120 tablets (that’s a two-month supply) contains an advanced vitamin B complex, vitamin D3 and zinc, as well as a myriad of other vitamins and minerals, to help lift your energy levels, support recovery and boost your immunity.
Meanwhile, our Vitamin Pack bundle is a convenient way to buy your multivitamin, along with other supplements to keep your body in tip-top condition. These include a separate pack of vitamin D3, omega 3 and probiotics.
Nutrition aside, another thing you should focus on this winter is good recovery. Sure, train hard, but rest just as hard!
In particular, pay attention to your sleep. While sleeping, your body produces and releases cytokines; small proteins that fight infection and inflammation. Sleep is vital, so make sure you are getting between seven and eight hours of it every night. Consider having an afternoon nap if this is feasible.
In fact, napping can improve your stress response, which is another important consideration when striving to keep fit this winter. This is because stress can supress our immune system. Ever notice that at times of great stress you are suddenly hit with a cold? This is no coincidence.
You can improve your chances of keeping fit and strong this winter by calming down (perhaps easier said than done in the social media era!). Try some relaxation techniques such as mindfulness, yoga or simply getting out in the fresh air for a walk. Improve your sense of wellbeing by spending quality time with friends and family, and ignore your Facebook page and 24-hour news for a while.
To recap, make sure that you are eating a balanced diet that is full of fresh fruit and vegetables, while you can top up your levels of vital nutrients by supplementing with a good multivitamin.
Ensure that you are staying hydrated and sleeping well, while managing stress appropriately. Keep these things in mind and practice them consistently, and you will be cold and flu-proof this winter; ready for anything football can throw at you!