Runners are looking for ways to optimize their immune systems in the face of coronavirus. On top of keeping active, social distancing and getting lots of rest, following a good, steady diet is a great way to boost your immune system. Runners are encouraged to maintain a well-balanced diet, as always, and it’s important to remember that neither carbs, nor calories, are something they should be cutting right now—here’s why.
I'm doing my best to provide evidence-based advice on movement right now. Key points:
-Keep moving. Mind-body needs it
-Push-ups/squats/get-ups/kettlebell at home
-Anything outdoors in uncrowded spaces
-Do NOT go hard, lowers immunity
-Do NOT cut carbs, lowers immunity
— Brad Stulberg (@BStulberg) March 15, 2020
Don’t cut calories
Runners should try their best to refuel as much as they’re burning. Now is certainly not a time to go on a strict diet.
Research has shown that people who severely cut calories tend to get sick more frequently. According to immunology professor Elizabeth Gardner at Michigan State University, you need to feed a cold, and need to feed a flu. Her research showed that a body that’s adequately fed recovers faster and has fewer lasting effects from an illness compared to one that’s been calorically restricted.
Minimize simple carbs, keep the complex
According to a study done by the Journal of Sports Sciences on elite endurance athletes, carbohydrate consumption can play an important role in minimizing exercise-induced immune issues. This happens because carbohydrates reduce the stress hormone response to exercise and provide an important fuel source for immune cells. A study that authors reference also found that Australian Olympic squad members across 11 different sports revealed a significant association between under-fueling and increased illness.
When it comes to carbohydrates, every type has a place in a runner’s diet, but it’s important to consider the glycemic index, which refers to a range of values that indicate a food’s effect on blood sugar levels. Values typically range between 50 and 100, where foods with the highest values have the quickest and most pronounced impact on sugar levels as they are quickly digested and processed. Examples of foods with a low GI index are beans, small seeds and whole grains and most vegetables. Medium GI index foods could be whole or enriched wheat, raisins, prunes and bananas, and high GI index foods are white bread, rice, potatoes, pretzels or candy.