Off-Season Report: How to Not Get Sick (according to April and Abbey)
This week, April and Abbey discuss how they keep healthy during the winter. We’ve included lots of hyperlinks! Enjoy.
April: During the winter months it can be easy to let our healthy habits lapse, especially when we don’t have the pressure of a racing calendar to keep us focused and motivated. But staying healthy during training season is important, since the off season is our chance to establish the best base possible for a summer of hard racing. Just because you might consider yourself a super fit athlete doesn’t mean you’re automatically immune to every bug out there–so don’t get lazy and let your guard down!
Abbey: The off-season is not only a time to rest and recover from the race season, it is also the time of year where most of us are putting in some of our highest training volume weeks. It is important to stay healthy so that your body can absorb all the quality training time you are putting in.
DON’T GET OVERCONFIDENT
April: Like I said, just because you consider yourself in the healthiest 1% slice of the population (you might be flattering yourself), don’t let your guard down. Any time you’re training hard, you’re stressing your body and temporarily making it more vulnerable to pestilence and disease.
WASH YOUR HANDS
April: Your parents and your kindergarten teacher probably told you a million times. You don’t have to bleach them (lots of biota is good: your body is basically one huge mass of microorganisms, and if you kill all the little guys, you won’t have much left), but at least make a minimal effort to keep the evil vermin at bay.
Abbey: If you don’t rest and sleep enough your body will be too tired to absorb all the hard hours you are putting in. Try to get at least 10 hours of sleep a night. If you can’t get that many hours in, try to take a nap during the day to make up for it. (I realize this will be hard for those working full time or with families, but try to get as close to the 10 hour mark as possible.)
April: Here in the Northeast, we’re getting into the dark hibernation months. It is actually nearly impossible to work a full time job; train enough to establish a solid competitive base; sleep enough to support the extra base training hours; and have any additional life, so you have to make a decision here. If you haven’t made it to the big leagues yet but you’re serious about competitive cycling, you need to cut your family and friends out (unless they’re willing to hang out with you while you ride your trainer in the garage). If you aren’t willing to cut people and all other meaning out of your life, you’ll have to quit your job (the national unemployment rate dropped down to 5.8% in October, but seriously, I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who would love to take your job) or cut back on sleep (you’ll get sick and you’ll suffer: don’t say I didn’t warn you). So I’ll leave that one up to you to figure out.
April: This could be a blog post in itself. Eat live things. Eat fermented things. Beyond beer, I’m talking live culture yogurt, kefir, raw apple cider vinegar, kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, and so on. Sprout yourself some lentils or sunflower seeds, they’re delicious and nutritious. Eat greens, garlic, and ginger. Enjoy in-season foods. I’ve been living off of roasted root vegetables and steamed cabbage for weeks now, and I feel… great. I’m reading Eating on the Wild Side by Jo Robinson, and she presents some pretty fascinating science on how to get the most nutrients out of your fresh foods (read it).
- Eat a lot of garlic. Preferably raw to get all the benefits. As a child my mum would force me to eat raw garlic to keep me healthy during the winter. She would slice the clove of garlic really thin and put it on jam toast to hide it. You may not think that jam, toast, and garlic go together, but it is surprisingly good.
- Eat a lot of ginger. Juice it and shoot it. If this is too much for you to take, make a full on vegetable juice. My favorite juice recipe is: Beets, carrots, garlic, hot peppers, ginger, apple and what ever else I can find in the house. You can add spinach or kale to add some green to it.
- Frozen Vegetables. In the winter, it is hard to get a good variety of fresh vegetables and what vegetables you can get, have been picked before they are ripe and shipped from warmer climates, losing a lot of their nutrients. Frozen vegetables have been picked when they are ripe and flash frozen, so they can have more nutrients than vegetables imported in from warmer climates. This is also a good way to have a little more variety in your diet.
- Iron: Many female athletes have iron deficiencies. When you have an iron deficiency you will feel over trained and under rested. Try to eat iron rich food such as spinach, red meats, clams, oysters, and liver.
April: Sure, it’s cold. Just keep moving. Go chop some firewood. Pour some cold water over your head (no, not the Ice Bucket Challenge—more along the lines of the daily dousing in some Siberian kindergartens). Get some thick socks and get some fresh air. Participate in one of those winter sports.
Abbey: Spending hours in your basement on a trainer or doing all your workouts inside can get depressing and demotivating. Try to find a winter sport that will take you outside and into the fresh air. Not only is cross training good for you, this can be good for your mental health in the dark grey days of winter. I recommend trying cross-country skiing, which complements mountain biking. Katrina Nash and Evelyn Dong, two if the fastest female racers in the US, both have cross-country ski racing backgrounds.
Abbey: In the era of the “Polar Vortex” you need to keep warm. You don’t ever want to get cold. There are three main ways to get cold.
- You are not dressed warm enough. Choose appropriate clothing when exercising outside in the winter or whenever you are going out in the cold. Remember COTTON KILLS. When cotton gets wet it draws heat away from the body and will make you much colder. Choose fleece or wool. I prefer fleece because wool absorbs water/sweat and becomes heavier.
- You have not eaten enough. If you have all your warm clothes on and you are still cold, you maybe be calorically deficient. You burn more calories when it is cold so you need to eat more to keep warm. Mmmmm, bacon!
- You are dehydrated. Drink more. Carry a thermos of hot tea with you to help keep warm.
STAY COZY AND HAPPY
April: Don’t get down because it’s so dark and cold. Practice hygge. If you don’t know what, how, or who to hygge, learn! Get some houseplants, for crying out loud, especially some that might give you a winter bloom, like cacti or lemon trees. Keep your house vacuumed, too, and open the windows for fresh air if weather permits (turn down your heater first). Forget that mug of hot chocolate before bed and drink some delicious golden milk (less romantically known as turmeric tea), instead.
LISTEN TO YOUR HEART
Abbey: Monitor your resting heart rate. Every morning when you wake up take your heart rate. This way you can get a good base line your resting heart rate it.Then if you see that it spikes you’ll know you are overtraining or getting fatigued and you can react before something bad happens, like getting sick. There are several ways to do this. You can go with the traditional fingers on your pulse or download an app. I use an app called Instant Heart Rate. It is free. Simply download it onto your smart phone and then all you have to do it put your index finger on the camera.
Say you get sick. Or injured.
April: What’s the number one (#1!!!) rule? No refined sugar. It’s inflammatory. It’s terrible for you. If you have to have some sweetener while you’re ill, restrict yourself to something with natural antibiotic properties (like honey) or something that is entirely plant-based and hasn’t been unnaturally concentrated (like stevia, which is just a sweet little plant you can easily grow on your windowsill). Processed white flour is basically the same thing as refined sugar, so cut that out, too.
What about training while you’re sick?
April: This is my rule: no training if I’m still in the contagious stages or while I am still getting sicker. First I wait for the tide to turn. The fever needs to break; the sore throat needs to go away; the vomiting has to stop. Being snotty on the bicycle is no big deal; snot rockets are our friends (unless you’re on your trainer, in which case you should please use a tissue). But do yourself a favor and don’t try to ride away the flu.
Best of luck staying healthy!
~April and Abbey