It’s that time of year again. The weather is cold and wet. Kids are back at school. The days are short and the nights are long. Every other person seems to be a coughing, spluttering germ factory. You are trying to avoid these people and their germs like the plague. You know that if you don’t you too will succumb to the bugs doing the rounds and your training will be interrupted, your sleep crap, and your recovery compromised.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it is cold and flu season!
You don’t want any part of it and you want to know as many tips, tricks, or hacks you can to avoid falling victim to this germ-fest.
Good news! I’ve got a list of supplements below that can help to boost your immune system, fight off infections, and keep you making gains all through winter.
It would be irresponsible of me to jump straight to supplements without addressing some other more powerful immune enhancers. These things are the biggest bang for your buck so, make sure you have these in place first. Then, strategically supplement, to take things to the next level.
As I have said time and again, the two most powerful recovery tools you have at your disposal (in order of priority) are:
These two play a critical role in immune function too.
So, be sure to pay attention to these. To help you I will write up detailed posts on both but, here are some cliff notes to keep you going…
- Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep every night
- Go to bed at the same time
- Wake up at the same time
- Aim to wake without an alarm clock
- Sleep the whole night through – multiple bathroom trips are a sure sign of poor sleep quality (or drinking waaaaaay to much just before bed!)
- Waking up in almost the same position you fell asleep in (not tossing and turning all night) is a good sign!
- You should wake up refreshed
- High protein (it supports immune function). I suggest eating 1.6-2.2 grams of protein per KG of body weight each day
- Consume a calorie surplus
- If you are cutting and not in calorie surplus, be sure to have nutrient rich food. Being in a calorie deficit is ok. Being in a nutrient deficit is not!
- Eat a wide array of fruits and vegetables
- Aim for half of your plate to be veggies
- Use a variety of fat sources in your diet. For example, olive oil, coconut oil, avocado, walnuts, almonds, brazil nuts, and pistachios.
Avoidance is better than cure!
Next up is a fairly obvious, yet important tip…
And that is…
The simplest way to avoid picking up germs is to avoid them. Well, duh!
Bacteria is what causes the illness so it makes sense to minimise contact with them.
Co-worker coughing and sneezing everywhere? Give them a wide birth! Commuter train full of sick people? Work from home (kidding – kind of!). Perhaps walk, jog, or cycle to work if at all possible, or take a taxi, or just be mindful not to grab the handrail that snotty bloke just sneezed all over. Try not to make contact with your face with your hands while on public transport. Whatever you can do to avoid contact will help!
Then, wash your hands frequently. It’s one of the most effective sickness avoidance strategies. Scrub up like you’d hope a surgeon would before surgery. Sure, you’ll look like a crazy-obsessed OCD weirdo but, at least you’ll be a sickness-free, crazy-obsessed OCD weirdo!
Right that covers the lifestyle stuff. Now on the sexy stuff…
These go in order of what I consider to be most effective to least effective.
There is a wide array of health benefits to vitamin D and if you live in London like me (or north of Lisbon for that matter) the chances are you are deficient in the stuff.
Research published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition estimates that by doubling current recommended vitamin D levels more people would avoid disease and an early death, and people might extend their lifespans.
The key thing for the topic of this article is, that there is a good depth of evidence to support vitamin D’s ability to minimise your chances of getting flu.
Even better, it’s kind of trendy right now so, if you are a bit savvy, you can probably get your levels checked by your GP on the NHS.
If you do get your levels checked, remember that the ranges reported as guidelines are based on averages. You don’t want to be average. Instead aim to be in the top 25% of the reference range.
It seems that supplementing daily with 3,000IUs is effective at reducing your risk of getting sick. Given a lot of companies sell them in 5,000IUs per capsule you should easily be able to get this and some extra insurance on top at a reasonable price.
A Note for Parents: Research shows that children who supplement with vitamin D (around 1,200IU per day) are nearly 50% less likely to get flu. To protect your kids and protect yourself from the risk of catching bugs off them, it might be worth giving them a lower dose of 1,000-2,000IU per day during this time of the year.
Vitamin C is a water-soluble essential vitamin. It has been shown to reduce the risk of athletes catching a cold by 50%! Research also indicates it can reduce the length of a cold by up to 14% when taken daily.
If you eat a varied diet, rich in fruits and vegetables you will easily reach the RDI of vitamin C. To support the immune system and shorten the length of illness during cold and flu season take 2,000mg per day. Split this into two doses.
Zinc plays a role in enzyme function, nutrient metabolism, collagen formation,
cell replication and growth. It is also considered the most anabolic of all the minerals. Zinc also plays an important role in supporting the immune system. Research has shown it to be effective at reducing the duration of colds. All in all, it’s good stuff!
Too much of a good thing.
While zinc is great, you can have too much. It competes with other minerals such as magnesium and can interfere with the absorption of copper. So, stick to a safe dose of 5-10mg per day. This is effective as a daily preventative dose. If you’re at risk of zinc deficiency then the suggested dose is 25-45mg per day.
Different forms of zinc yield different quantities of actual elemental zinc. Zinc citrate for example is about 34% zinc by weight, while Zinc gluconate is only 13%. Bear this in mind when selecting the exact zinc supplement you will use.
Personally, I often use Zinc Picolinate which is extremely cheap. Another excellent choice is Zinc Balance by Jarrowwhich Zinc L-Monomethionine and Copper Gluconate in a 15:1 ratio. This reduces the concern of low copper levels from zinc supplementation.
Garlic contributes towards improved circulation and is an antioxidant. Garlic can work as prevention rather than cure. I suggest you take it throughout cold & flu season to reduce your risk of catching a cold.
It has been shown to improve the ability of white blood cells to fight off germy invaders – that’s a technical term ;). It can also boost the production of certain immune cells within the body. These immune cells help to kill off bugs. When taking supplemental garlic, using aged garlic extract is suggested because it removes the odour that creates smelly garlic breath.
Take 300-1,500mg per day. Split this up into 2-3 doses across the day.
Blindingly Obvious Tip: You can also get these benefits by eating garlic. On the downside, the quantity required (about 3 cloves) might give you extremely stinky breath. On the upside, this could help keep people with germs at a safe distance!
Research on Echinacea is mixed. Some is very promising and indicates reduced risk of catching a cold and the ability to reduce the duration of a cold. Other studies, meanwhile report no significant positive effects.
Personally, I have used it and would say that it seemed to speed up the rate at which I can shift a cold. This is purely anecdotal and might well be a placebo effect. Regardless, it is something I will use should I catch a cold.
Studies seem to mostly use between 1,000 to 1,500mg per day split into multiple doses. On that basis, assuming budget is not a limiting factor, I’d say to grab some and take the higher end of the range if you get sick. For example, 500mg, 3 x day.
Magnesium is an important mineral for anyone looking to improve their physique. It can also have positive impacts upon immune function. These are more secondary factors than primary, in as much as, magnesium can aid factors which have a direct impact on your immune system.
Firstly, low levels of magnesium are associated with poor thyroid function and low vitamin D production. Improving your magnesium levels can have a positive effect on these which, will in turn, positively impact your health.
Secondly, magnesium has a calming effect and can aid sleep. Given sleep is crucial to your immune function, anything which boosts sleep quality helps to bolster your resources when it comes to fighting off germs.
I have seen fantastic results with people using the Magnesium Glycinate form in the evening and Magnesium Malate post-training.
That concludes the list of supplements that seem to be effective in helping to avoid colds and flu or, at least, reduce the length of sickness should you be struck down with them. Get yourself stocked up just in case so that you can minimise your risk of illness.
Bonus Tip: If you do get sick stuff like Lemsip Max Strength does often make you feel a whole lot better. The last time I got a bad cold this stuff really made me feel better for about four hours at a time. Sometimes when you’ve caught a nasty cold you need something to help you feel a bit more human. If prevention has failed then resorting to coping while you cure yourself doesn’t make you a weak or bad person.
Second Bonus Tip: If you live in a cold, wet climate like I do then, hot drinks can help you feel better when you have a cold. They can also soothe your throat. With that in mind you could try my “Natures Lemsip Max” Tea Concoction. To make it I use a lemon and honey herbal tea, stir in some cinnamon, a teaspoon of honey and a teaspoon of coconut oil. It tastes great. Is really comforting when you are cold and miserable and maybe, just maybe, helps you recover faster.