Stay fit stay healthy and survive the winter.

Now we are well into winter and the emphasis for all you runners is how to survive the rigorous hard winter training that will take you through to spring time, stronger, fitter, faster. However you need to be able to survive the dark winter nights without illness or injury.

Here’s a guide to supporting your immune system and digestion and staying injury free this season to ensure your health stays in tip-top condition.

Consider your diet and lifestyle factors. The key to supporting this is through judicious eating of a wide variety of foods from all food groups and plenty of colourful fruit and vegetables. If you are vegetarian you can address this by using, the wide variety of different pulses rather than sticking to the same format, use pinto beans, aduki beans, kidney beans , haricot and lentils as the more diverse you are with foods the more you will benefit from the antioxidants that these foods give to support your nervous system and immune system.

Aim for the rainbow diet; the colourful vegetables supply so many good nutrients to support your well-being. Vitamin A is important to help support our mucous membranes , so ensure a good supply from fruit and vegetables, such as carrots, spinach, broccoli, kales, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, swede, tomatoes, peaches, prunes apricots, all are good sources of beta carotene which gets converted to vitamin A in the body. Other sources of vitamin A are liver and eggs, oily fish and cheese.

Zinc is also needed for the immune system and for repair and for energy pathways and also for the body to utilise vitamin A. It is found in fish, seafood, eggs, and though it can be found in cereals and nuts the phytic acid in these foods can make it difficult for the body to absorb. Low levels will affect wound healing, immune suppression and loss of taste, skin problems, just to name a few.

Vitamin C, is rapidly depleted at times of stress and infection, so it’s really important you keep levels topped up during winter. Good sources of Vitamin C are red/ green /yellow peppers, which are higher in vitamin C than oranges, though they are also a good source, other sources are cherries , blackcurrants, gooseberries, tomatoes, broccoli. It is used in at least 300 processes in the body, and at times of stress, be it physical or mental will be used up at a rapid rate. You may benefit from taking a powder supplement of vitamin C during the winter months to support these systems.

Limit your sugar intake, you don’t have to ban yourself from yummy treats, however if you over dose on sugars this will compromise your immune system and may well lay you open to infections. 70% of our immune system is located in the lining of our gut, so it is very important to support the gut flora. Good food choices which can support the gut are fermented products such as live yoghurts, saurkraut, kamuchi, kefir. Aim to replace some sugary snacks with nuts, seeds, sugar free bars from the ‘free from section’ in the supermarkets, fresh fruit, live mini yoghurts, and try making your own low sugar flap jacks. Excess sugars can also feed unwanted bacteria and yeasts which can be found in the gut, upsetting the healthy flora.

Beta -glucans are naturally occurring polysaccharides which play an important role in kick starting the body’s immune army when infection starts. These are found in oats, barley, plant foods, yeasts and algae, the latter can be bought from supermarkets in the form of sea vegetables.

For enhanced immunity, research shows omega 3 from fish oil (at least 2 portions a week or add a fish oil supplement to your daily diet if not keen), will help . If you are vegetarian then you can substitute this with flax oil or hemp oil drizzled onto salads.

Another mineral which athletes often become short of is Magnesium. As it is used in the energy pathways of the body, as well as relaxation of muscles, it is vital that you get some in your diet every day. It may be when training hard that an additional magnesium supplement may well be beneficial. Tight muscles are more prone to injury and also cramps. Sources of magnesium are dark green leafy vegetables, brown rice, almonds, seafoods, cereals.

Use herbs in your cooking as they have anti-inflammatory properties. Herbs such as curcumin and oregano can also help ward off viruses , bacteria and yeast overgrowth. Add herbs and add flavour whilst also supporting your immune and inflammatory pathways.

Finally don’t forget to keep hydrated, easy to forget on cold days, but 2% dehydration can cause a 20% drop in physical and mental activity and can contribute to injury .

If you are suffering from continual colds and feel run down all the time or you have digestive issues and you have seen your GP but still these issues keep plaguing you then it may help to see a Nutritionist to plan a bespoke nutrition plan for you.

Best wishes for a healthy and injury free winter

Sheila Illingworth Bsc (Hons) Dip I.O.N., mBANT, mCNHC

Sheila Illingworth is a former International athlete who trained at the Institute of Optimum Nutrition, which is regarded as the leader in its field., and at Leeds Beckett Park in Health and Fitness. Sheila has worked with many top international and club athletes to improve their performance, has worked as a Nutritional Advisor on television and in schools and colleges, as well as her own personal clients.

If you would like to find out more about one-to-one consultations please contact

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