Training partners cancelling last minute, the office getting mysteriously empty, aches and pains that don’t come from training – all telltale signs that flu season has arrived. Although we can’t change the season, we can avoid falling victim to the flu. How? By jam packing our plates with all the vitamins our body needs to fight it. Stand your ground with our A to Z of flu fighting nutrients:
First of all: Do athletes need more vitamins?
Intensive training produces more free radicals within the body, (raised oxygen turnover, inflammation reactions) which can lead to tissue damage as well as contribute to muscle tiredness and cause inflammation. For this reason, the answer is yes – an athlete requires double to triple the amount of vitamins compared to a normally active person. However, this extra dose should not come from supplements alone. Why? Isolated vitamins don’t have the same effect as those found as a whole in the foods we eat. So the question is, in which foods can we find these vital vitamins?
The vitamin dictionary
What: Although this fat soluble vitamin is essential for good vision, it also plays an important role in the strengthening of the immune system by providing a barrier against infections of the skin, lungs and mouth. Genes involved in immune responses are regulated by vitamin A, which means it is essential for fighting the flu.
Where: Vitamin A is most commonly found in foods that come from animals like milk products and eggs – tuna is also a good source. But don’t worry if you’re a vegan or vegetarian, you can still get your dose of Vitamin A through Beta – carotene (plants) which can be found in carrots, spinach, paprika, pumpkin and apricots.
Our tip: If you’re stuck for sources of this stuff, remember that yellow, orange and red fruits and vegetables are always a good choice to keep your Vitamin A levels high.
Vitamin B (B6, B12, Folic acid)
What: Vitamin B is a water-soluble vitamin, necessary for cell division and cell regeneration. The immune system depends on this vitamin to form enough immune cells to ward off illnesses. Ensuring you have a sufficient supply will protect you against most infections that could potentially keep you from the training ground.
Where: Vitamin B6 can be found in whole grain products like oats as well as meat, fish and green vegetables. Folic acid is included in green leafy vegetables, meat, cheese, milk, tomatoes and fruits. And last but not least, B12 can be found also in meat, fish and milk products.
What: It’s got a name for itself as the wonder weapon against the cold. But is this actually true? We hate to break it to you but the common belief that Vitamin C can magically cure a cold is not fully supported by science. The good news is that it can stave off colds. In order to really benefit from vitamin C you have to consume it regularly – every day – instead of only when you begin to feel a cold coming on. Vitamin C also plays an important role when it comes to the healing process of skin, scar tissue, tendons, ligaments and blood vessels. So if you’ve recently had surgery, vitamin C will help replace connective tissue, heal your wound and get you back on the training ground fighting fit in no time.
Where: Fresh fruits and vegetables like paprika, citrus fruits, broccoli, berries, cabbage and potatoes are all great sources of Vitamin C – total coincidence that they all taste great too?
What: The main task of Vitamin D is the regulation of the mineral balance. But that’s not all: it also helps our immune cells to recover faster from a cold.
Where: Unfortunately finding foods that supply us with enough Vitamin D isn’t easy. Instead, it comes from natural sunlight and is absorbed by our body through our skin. That’s why even when temperatures drop in winter, it’s important you try to catch the sunlight either in the morning on the training ground, during your coffee break or weekend run.
Our tip: If the sun is hiding all day or you don’t get the opportunity to see it whilst it’s out, you should try to take Vitamin D supplements 800 IU.
What: Iron is essential for the transport and the storage of oxygen. Without it, the metabolism as well as the immune system, are not able to work properly. This means the infection susceptibility increases. Another point many people are not familiar with is that Iron from animal products can be better utilized by your body than iron from plants. Still, it’s important to get your iron from any source you can stomach.
Where: Good sources of iron are meat, fish, potatoes, beans, tofu and whole grain products.
What: There’s more than one reason your immune system relies heavily on Zinc to help you to prevent against a cold. Cold viruses usually gain entry into the blood via the thin linings of the nostrils. Interestingly, Zinc coats these viruses and makes them too big for the tiny holes in the linings of the smooth muscle. Studies have also proven that Zinc can reduce the duration and severity of a cold within the first 24 hours of you feeling any symptoms.
Where: Zinc can be found in meat, fish, seafood and nuts.