If you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen me post an update yesterday about my prep for my upcoming powerlifting meet. The update was that I woke up on Saturday morning with a raw throat and runny nose. More on why this matters at the end of this post.
You Shouldn't Be Getting Sick
When it comes to immunity, it’s my belief that if you are treating your body right, you really shouldn’t get sick more than once or twice per year (and by sick I mean something that leaves you incapacitated in bed).
This might sound absurd to some, but I don’t think I have ever once had to take a sick day from work, and I haven’t had anything that left me bed bound in years. I get a cold once a year around January, but nothing debilitating. This is not because I have a naturally great immune system. In fact when I was younger I would get sick fairly regularly. What changed?
If you find yourself getting sick regularly, there are one of two things happening:
Your fitness sucks
Your diet / sleep sucks
These are really two sides of the same coin, which is your immune function.
Fitness, particularly cardiovascular fitness, has been shown to provide a significant boost in immune function. There are many ways in which this process may occur, including a decrease in bacteria in our airways and improved function of antibodies like white blood cells.
Basically you should be doing something that gets your heart rate up and makes you sweaty at least twice per week for 15 - 30 mins at a time.
Diet / Sleep
As for diet: getting an adequate amount of fruits and vegetables is going to make your immune system much stronger. I’m not qualified to go more in depth on this (and neither are most coaches for that matter, unless they are registered dieticians!), but this is just common sense.
Your body needs vitamins and minerals for everything to work right, and one of those things is your immunity. Get a portion of fruit or veg in at every meal ideally.
Alcohol is also damaging to your immune system, so be cautious with your intake.
As far as sleep goes, get 7 - 9 hours a night.
Exercise can however also make your immune system much weaker. Training is a stress which takes a toll on our body. If we train very hard, our body has to use significant resources to repair and recover from that session. This process can temporarily weaken our immune system and leave us more susceptible to infection.
Does this mean we should avoid hard training? Certainly not. Instead we should ensure our training is only as hard as it needs to be for us to see progress, and as always, increases in volume and/or intensity should be done slowly so that your body has time to adjust.
How Did I Get Sick?
So, how did I get sick if I know all this? Simple - I screw up here and there like everyone does. On Thursday I did heavy deadlifts - then on Friday I did heavy squats. I ate practically no greens on either day because I failed to meal prep in advance of busy days. The result was a body that was highly stressed from training and not receiving adequate nutrition to defend against infection. And what do you know, I wake up Saturday morning with a cold. Lesson learned!
Improve your fitness - particularly your cardiovascular fitness
Improve your diet - plenty of fruits and veg
Plenty of sleep and go easy on the drink
Don’t go too hard too soon in training