Keep Your Immune System Up and Running

It’s the season of the hustle. Kids are going back to school, you’re trying to get back into your routine after a long summer of weekend adventures and many of you are heading into peak training for fall races.

We’re quick to blame upper respiratory infections and other fall sicknesses on the change of seasons. But the truth is high-intensity training (like speed workouts or increased mileage) coupled with increased stress (like the ‘back to school’ hustle) suppresses your immune system for up to 24 hours, leaving your worked body vulnerable to those nasty germs.

If it were up to me, I’d wear a highlighter colored T-shirt that said “Stay Away If Sick” or “Don’t You Come Near Me With That Cough.” But the reality is, we can’t avoid coming into contact with germs, people or other things that put us at risk of illness. What we can do is take preventative and reactive measures to reduce the chances of contracting a training block ending cold. Here are a few tips.

Fuel The Workouts

Yes, running is a healthy habit. However, the rigorous training we put ourselves through can make us far more susceptible to illness, especially in the period immediately following the workout. Taking in carbohydrates during and after intense exercise can help fight off a rise in immune-suppressing stress hormones. If you’re running for longer than 90 minutes, plan to have a sports drink or gel; and after any long or hard workout, refuel with carbohydrates and protein in a four-to-one ratio.

While it’s important to give your body a blend of both carb and protein post-workout to replenish lost energy, protein is specifically important for stimulating the production of white blood cells. It’s their role to travel through the body, destroy bacteria and produce antibodies against viruses. Reach for glutamine-rich foods, which is rapidly depleted during intense activity and is a key component of digestive and immune system health. Choose foods such as organic eggs, organic dairy, soy, lentils, peas and beans.

Eat Your Colors

Fruits and vegetables are packed with antioxidants and anti-inflammatories, and within each color is a flu-fighting vitamin. Vitamin A, for example, is a key player in boosting immune health by helping produce white blood cells. Vitamin A-rich foods include orange fruits and vegetables such as carrots, squash and sweet potato as well as lettuce, bell peppers and cantaloupe. Eat raw spinach and kale as well as beets, which not only have loads of vitamins and minerals but are also rich in glutamine.

Nuts and Seeds
Pumpkin seeds, nuts, sesame seeds and (my personal favorite) dark chocolate are all great ways to get both protein and a key mineral for immune support—zinc. Zinc creates and activates white blood cells, showing its ability to both help alleviate symptoms of the common cold and accelerate recovery. If you feel like you’re getting sick, ramp up the zinc and grab some zinc lozenges.


If you catch a cold early, taking some downtime could help reduce the duration of illness*. Take those rest days, skip the run and actually call in sick for once. A day or two at home could save you weeks of missed workouts and feeling miserable.