January is prime cold and flu season, friends! As you head to school, work, or the (especially filthy) gym, remember to wash your hands thoroughly and often and maintain your stellar sleep and diet habits. Of course, sometimes things happen and, even if you’ve done the whole sleep and diet bit perfectly, rhinoviruses may still sneak up on your immune system and hold you hostage. There is no cure for the common cold, nor for the flu, but there are steps you can take to bring yourself a little bit closer to tissue-free health.
Consume enough calories and nutrients. This might seem like a no-brainer, but the reality is that we often don’t feel like eating much when we’re sick, and that can be detrimental to getting better. When you are sick, your body’s metabolic rate may rev up, especially if you are battling a fever. This isn’t an invitation to stuff your face all day, of course, but simply a reminder that eating adequately is especially important when you’re under the weather. Make it a priority to consume nutrient-dense foods like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.
Drink fluids. Consuming clear, thin fluids is beneficial for maintaining hydration and thinning out mucous secretions, which may prevent or alleviate congestion and other discomforts associated with an upper respiratory infection. Warm liquids are also soothing for the throat, so sip some warm chamomile tea or enjoy a quick homemade chicken noodle soup.
Take it easy. I know: it’s only day 3 of your training regimen and you just had to get sick. You might be tempted to tough it out anyway to avoid losing gains, but refusing to slow down and listen to your body could set you back more than a few days of rest would. Follow the general neck-down rule: if your symptoms are isolated above the neck (runny nose, sore throat), proceed with your workout without going too intense. But if your symptoms include muscle soreness or cramping, stomach distress, diarrhea, or a high fever, do yourself a favor and rest for the next few days.
Get rest. Studies have observed that poor sleep may elevate your risk of contracting the cold or flu, so sleep has a clear impact on the immune system. Despite the importance of adequate sleep, symptoms of the cold and flu like congestion and sore throat often make it difficult to fall or stay asleep. Some suggestions for alleviating congestion include using a humidifier, taking a shower before bed and breathing in the steam, or simply elevating the head with an extra pillow to relieve pressure on the nasal cavity. Throat lozenges, warm tea, and a salt water gargle before bed all may be effective for relieving a sore throat.
What about supplements? It’s widely claimed that mega-dosing on certain supplements, such as ginseng and vitamin C, can help cure or prevent the cold or flu. Unfortunately, there is little evidence to back up these claims for most supplements. In general, stick with fruits and vegetables for your nutrient needs; they won’t let you down, even when you’re sick!
*PLEASE NOTE THESE ARE ONLY SUGGESTIONS, AND NOT PROFESSIONAL MEDICAL ADVICE. See your doctor right away if you have a high or persistent fever, you have difficulty breathing, or your cough lasts longer than a week.*