Eat, drink and be healthy

There's nothing like announcing to the world you've got a run in a few days to bring on a case of man flu. Mere hours after posting yesterday's blog entry I started to feel the beginnings of an illness. It's not surprising really, in the last couple of weeks Mrs Trihard, Toddler Trihard and now Baby Trihard have been producing industrial quantities of mucus. I'd managed to fend it off for a while but yesterday I started to get a lot of sinus pain and a headache. Obviously this would have put a lesser man down but I still managed to make it to turbo training last night. While I intend to lay about the house moaning incessantly to Mrs Trihard about how close to death I am over the next few days I still have every intention of making it to the starting line on Sunday - as I've mentioned before the general rule is that it's OK to exercise unless the symptoms of illness are below the neck.

There is no avoiding the fact that this time of year all the nasty bugs and viruses come out but it does seem that man flu knows whenever I've got a race on and that's the time to strike. Over the last year or so I have adopted the policy of taking double the recommended daily amount of vitamin supplements in a bid to ward off illness but apparently you can increase the odds of staying healthy by fine tuning your diet.

Nutrition journalist Kate Percy, who is also a highly competent marathon runner, says that winter training puts additional demands on the athlete's body, so it's sensible for athletes to adjust their dietary intake to give their bodies the best chance possible to fight infection. These are her five tips for staying healthy enough to train and compete in the winter months.

Boost 'nutrient-dense' calories

Intensive training out in the cold puts greater demands on the body than it does during the summer months. It is important to take in enough energy to support this, both to get what we want out of training and to recover well from each training session. When it is cold we instinctively reach for comfort foods to satisfy our hunger. Choose these foods unwisely and we'll end up emerging in the spring with unwanted extra layers. Comfort foods may soothe and nurture us during the winter months, but many are also high in quick-release carbohydrates, sugar and saturated fat.

Creamy pasta dishes, gooey chocolate puddings and jacket potatoes slathered in butter will improve our mood and give us a short term energy boost, but will unfortunately pile on the kilos and leave us yearning for more within a short period of time.  Fortunately there are plenty of 'nutrient-dense' comfort foods to choose, such as high-fibre breads, vegetable soups, casseroles with pulses and beans and fruit-based desserts such as baked apples or poached pears.  These will provide the type of calories to power us through winter.

A diet made up of about 60% carbohydrates, 15% protein and the rest from fats should keep the average athlete with a spring in their step. Carbohydrates, particularly unrefined, slow-release carbohydrates, play an important role in fighting infection. Protein, found in eggs, milk, lean meat, fish, cheese and yoghurt, is also essential for an efficient immune system, as well as keeping the muscles in good condition. Fats are not necessarily the enemy either; an essential source of energy, they fulfil important physiological roles in the body. Unsaturated fats, particularly omega-6 and -3s, found in nuts, seeds, plant oils, avocado and oily fish will not only reduce vulnerability against disease but also improve the mood during the dark, colder months.

Super-defend the body with 'rainbow' foods

A 'rainbow' selection of different coloured fruit and vegetables such as sweet potato, tomatoes, butternut squash, beetroot, broccoli, citrus fruits, kiwis and red berries will provide vital vitamins and minerals, each colour representing a different combination of disease-fighting nutrients.
Time meals and snacks according to your exercise routine

Immunity is reduced after heavy exercise. Carbohydrate levels become depleted and important vitamins and minerals are lost through sweat. It is important to plan meals and snacks so that we refuel properly after exercise. The amount we sweat when it is cold can be deceptive, so we need to make sure we hydrate well during and after our workouts. A drink to replenish electrolytes and a carbohydrate/protein-combo snack within 15 minutes of a workout will enhance the immune function, as well as top up glycogen stores and synthesise new muscle and cells for repair and regeneration. Try a home-made smoothie, hot chocolate or sports drink, a honey sandwich and a piece of fruit.

Cut out high-glycaemic, processed foods

Replace processed foods with natural, unprocessed foods to help the body recover faster and become stronger. This will also improve general health and make us feel so much better. Go one step further by eating lower glycaemic foods. These will sustain energy levels and make you feel fuller for longer. Swap high-glycaemic sugary cereals for piping hot porridge in the mornings; swap the mid-morning pain au chocolat for a banana and a few brazil nuts, and eat plenty of starchy fruit and vegetables with your evening meal.

Spice it up

Spice up meals with ginger, garlic, turmeric and chilli to help stave off winter bugs and reduce muscle inflammation. Brimming with vitamins and minerals, these spices will add delicious flavour to food and act as a natural 'winter booster'. A delicious homemade Thai green curry will enhance the immune system, mood and morale so much more effectively than a vitamin or mineral supplement will.

So there we have it, tme to ditch the vitamins and don the chef's hat. You find more food related racing tips at Kate's website


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