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Is Your Training Making You Sick?

  • By Susan Lacke
  • Published Nov 5, 2013
  • Updated Jan 31, 2014 at 1:45 PM UTC
Photo: Shutterstock.com


Bulletproof your immune system with these expert tips.

Have a case of the sniffles? Your workouts may be to blame. Though moderate exercise can bolster a person’s immune system, intense or prolonged efforts can have the opposite effect. When training volume increases, many triathletes find they are more susceptible to illness.

“High physiologic and mental stress are associated with an increased incidence of acute respiratory illness,” says Dr. David Nieman, Professor and Director of the Human Performance Lab at Appalachian State University. “That stress is associated with immune dysfunction.”

Sleep disruption, overtraining, high mental stress, poor diet and lax hygiene practices can contribute to a weakened immune system, knocking even the strongest athletes into bed with illness. Bulletproof your immune system with these expert tips.

Eat Right

A good diet can keep illness at bay, even when immunity is low.

“In our research, we have shown that the single most important dietary habit to prevent illness is eating at least three servings of fruit each day,” says Dr. Nieman. “Fruit contains high levels of flavonoid that exert anti-pathogenic influences.”

As a general rule of thumb, more colorful fruits tend to pack the biggest nutritional punch. Look for purple, blue, red and orange hues in the produce section of the supermarket, and eat fruits in their natural, raw state (in other words, blueberries are great—blueberry pie, not so much).

Vegetables are also of importance, with greens topping the list. In a study published in the journal Nature Immunology, cruciferous greens such as broccoli and kale help the body produce immune cells that protect the body from infection.

RELATED: Whole Foods For Recovery

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FILED UNDER: Injury Prevention / Race Recovery / Training

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