With winter approaching, athletes might be expecting to lose a few training sessions or games because of illness or feeling under the weather. With dark nights and bad weather, athletes’ schedules will have to change as their sessions move indoors, or they maybe even have to brave the elements in outdoor sessions. Add this to the endless list of the other stresses associated with athlete life like intense training, school life stress, poor food choices and low-quality sleep and it’s easy to see how athletes are at increased risk of illness .
But that doesn’t have to be the case! Good nutrition is key to surviving the winter.
Now more than ever, it’s essential to support our bodies to stay healthy. To help keep youth athletes in top health throughout the winter months, we’ve put together 5 simple areas they can focus on to keep them in the game and performing at their best.
1. Eat to Stay Healthy
Good nutrition is vital to staying fit and healthy and supporting the immune system. And this doesn’t just mean eating a balanced diet, but also means simply eating enough. We already know that youth athletes have incredibly high energy needs that they have to match with the food they eat. Not only are under fuelled athletes 4-8 times more likely to become ill , but under fuelling will also cause micronutrient deficiencies too as well as lots of potential long term health effetcs. For a quick way to check if you’re eating enough, give this blog a quick read.
Now that we’ve got enough food on our plates to support the immune system and keep us healthy, let’s talk about what these foods should be.
2. Carbs Are King
Not only are carbohydrates the bodies preferred energy source during hard or intense exercise but having an adequate store in the muscles before and during training helps to reduce the release of stress hormones and hormones that limit the immune system . If you have a particularly hard session planned for the winter nights, make sure you fuel with plenty of carbohydrates before, during and after the session to keep you feeling healthy.
For more info on exactly which carbohydrates to eat and when, take a look at our guide on carbohydrates for youth athletes.
3. Eat the Rainbow
There’s too many different vitamins and minerals that are key to the immune system and staying healthy to name them all. Ban the beige and add plenty of colour to your plates to meet your bodies needs and prevent deficiency. Carbs and fats might be more appealing in the winter months (and are certainly very important to eat) but make sure you get in your 5-a-day as a minimum as well!
Soups and smoothies are a great way to do this, especially for those who don’t really like fruit and veg too much. Or even better, did you know that PRO-TEEN® is packed with a unique blend of vitamins and minerals tailored specially to youth athletes? Grab a shake after your sessions and know you won’t be deficient!
Did you know that 80% of the body’s immune system is found in the gut? This means that keeping it healthy and functioning right is key to having a health immune system. This is especially important for youth athletes because lots of strenuous exercise can cause damage to the lining of the gut.
Probiotics, or ‘good bacteria’ as they’re often known as can help support gut health. Foods like live yoghurts, fermented foods, fortified drinks (think Yakult) or even supplements can help increase the number of good bacteria in the body which will keep the immune system strong and reduce the incidence and duration of URTIs (upper respiratory tract infections) [3,4]
5. Stay Hydrated
This is something you hear us talk about a lot, but we really can’t stress just how important this is! The mouth is full of lots of antibodies that help to fight any bacteria that might enter. Staying hydrated keeps the mouth from going dry which means these antibodies can keep working.
Grab a refillable water bottle and sip on it throughout the day. Or if you’re after a hot drink on those cold days, choose herbal or fruit teas or even hot fruit squash.
Remember: Prevention is better than cure when it comes to health and illness!
To stay fit and healthy all winter long athletes need to eat plenty of varied food prevent under fuelling and deficiencies, keep carbohydrate intake high and to drink plenty and stay hydrated.
- Walsh, N.P. Nutrition and Athlete Immune Health: New Perspectives on an Old Paradigm. Sports Med 49, 153–168 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-019-01160-3
- Walsh, N., Gleeson, M., Pyne, D., Nieman, D., Dhabhar, F., Shephard, R., Oliver, S., Bermon, S., & Kajeniene, A. (2016). Loughborough University Institutional Repository Position statement part two : maintaining immune health.
- HaoQ, Dong BR, Wu T. Probiotics for preventing acute upper respiratory tract infections. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015; Feb3 (2). CD 006895.
- Pyne et al. Probiotics supplementation for athletes – clinical and physiological effects. Euro J Sport Sci.2015;15: 63-72