As winter approaches and your workouts move indoors to the gym (where germs can breed), it’s important to practice preventive care to keep yourself as healthy as possible. “Athletes need to consider their bodies the same way a race car driver considers his car,” says Carolyn Dean, MD, ND and medical advisory board member of the Nutritional Magnesium Association. “They can’t break it down faster than they service and repair it, or they will risk injury and/or illness that puts them out of the game, at least temporarily.”
To keep germs at bay and your body healthy, try incorporating these tips from medical experts into your lifestyle:
Rationale: Prevents the spread of germs
In a position paper from the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) published in the 2010 issue of the Journal of Athletic Training, researchers found skin infections in athletes are exceptionally common due to close-quarter, germ-filled environments combined with a lack of hygiene. To combat potential infections, make sure you wipe down the inside and outside of your gym bag often with sanitized hand wipes (floors and lockers collect sweat and germs). Also, bring a pair of flip-flops to wear in the shower.
Rationale: Maintains normal muscle function and supports your immune system
To prevent illness during cold and flu season, Dean recommends a daily regimen of hot tea made with magnesium citrate powder and a half of a lemon. “Magnesium is the kingpin of electrolytes that most athletes are sorely deficient in due to loss through sweat and mental and physical stress,” she says. “Known as the anti-stress mineral, magnesium helps muscles recover and neurons function properly.”
Rationale: Keeps your immune system strong
Zinc can affect the immune system in an adverse way if you have insufficient intake. According to Leslie Bonci, RDN, a board-certified sports dietitian and a sports nutrition adviser to Klean Athlete Nutritional Supplements, “the highest dietary sources of zinc are oysters, red meat, poultry, fish, but also wheat germ and fortified cereals.” For vegans and people who don’t consume wheat-based products, Bonci says zinc supplementation might be warranted.
Rationale: Helps tissues to grow and repair
The common misconception about taking vitamin C to get rid of a cold stems from some truth, says Rob Raponi ND, and sports nutritionist. He recommends supplementing with 1–2 grams of vitamin C per day before you start feeling sick. This will “actually help decrease the amount of times an athlete will get sick. If athletes still happen to get sick, vitamin C has been shown to decrease the intensity and duration of the common cold as well.” Raponi emphasizes that this applies to trained individuals. The same results did not replicate as well in untrained people.
Rationale: Absorbs calcium and promotes bone growth
For athletes training in regions where winter becomes cold and dark, Raponi stresses that individuals do not have the capacity to generate enough of the “sunshine vitamin” in the winter. He strongly recommends first getting baseline vitamin D levels tested by a doctor before any supplementation. “Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, which means it can be stored by the body and can accumulate to toxic levels if taken in high doses for too long,” he says.
Rationale: Protects hearing and lessens ear infections
Remember to clean your earbuds, an activity that’s frequently overlooked. Use a dry brush to get rid of ear wax on the speakers, and clean the plastic portion with a small cotton ball dipped in rubbing alcohol. Also remember to never use a Q-tip to clear earwax — or you’ll risk pushing wax into your ear canal or damaging your ear drum.
Rationale: It’s preventative
Under the Affordable Care Act, most health insurance plans offer a wellness screening at no charge to you. If the doctor finds you need other services based on the results of your screening, those services could have additional charges. As a best practice, check with your health plan to ensure you will not incur costs for a preventive care screening.