Cold and flu season in Melbourne is well and truly in full swing. As (primarily) endurance cyclists, the nature of the type of training we do means that we expose ourselves to nasty bugs and viruses that aren’t just irritating, but can be a major setback for our training. So what do we do? Do we hang up the wheels over winter and lock ourselves indoors? Or do we keep training and accept the risk of getting ill?
Fortunately there are some simple steps we can follow that will drastically reduce the risk of getting sick.
Aside from maintaining good personal hygiene and washing your hands regularly during flu season, here are three cycling specific tips you can implement to give your finely tuned body the best chance of avoiding illness:
Adhere to recovery methods prescribed by your coach.
It sounds simple, but by correctly warming down after a workout, you allow your body to return to its normal steady state progressively. By not doing this, you will go from highly active to resting far too quickly, leaving your body in a mild state of shock. This will leave you vulnerable and at a high risk of contracting a virus. A good warm down should be a minimum of 10 minutes in duration and progressively decrease intensity to ensure a gradual and controlled drop from work to resting. Furthermore, it is important to adhere to rest days and recovery periods in your program. A good coach understands that recovery is as important as training. Overtraining will lower your bodies immune system.
Dress for the conditions.
Common sense right? Yet this is one of the most regular mistakes I see at races. You need to dress for the conditions! Winter is bitterly cold here in Melbourne, so it is important that your cycling clothing reflects that. It’s no good wearing arm warmers and assuming that they will get you through. By allowing your body's core temperature to drop (especially with an already suppressed immune system from your training session) you further increase the risk of infection. By having arm warmers, leg warmers, thermals, neck and face protection, a cap, full finger gloves and shoe covers, you give your body the best chance it has to stay healthy, plus you will ride better due to being warmer. Another fatal flaw that I regularly see is an athlete not putting on warm clothes after a ride or between races (for track athletes). Just as is the case with the importance of a good warm down, it is just as important after you’ve stopped riding for the day to take off your cold and wet cycling clothing and put on some warm winter appropriate clothes as quickly as possible.
Not refueling correctly after a race can not only be detrimental to performance, but also to our ability to fight off a virus. In the colder months, the temptation can often be to drink soul warming whiskey and eat chocolate. As comforting as these foods are (and great in moderation) it is more important to ensure that you stay adequately hydrated, eat enough carbohydrates (see previous blog post) and consume vitamin rich foods. Vitamin C is a natural immune system booster and should be consumed everyday. Citrus fruits, leafy greens and tomatoes are a great source of this little gem.
Of course even with doing everything possible to prevent a virus, sometimes you just get sick. Pros are no exception to this despite all the medical staff on hand to look after them. If you do find yourself getting sick, make sure to consult your doctor and your coach to make sure the best recovery strategy is implemented. We can always do more to protect our bodies in the winter, and following the above tips will give you the best chance at surviving unscathed.
Ride hard, recover harder.