As the countdown to Olympic competition begins and athletes are priming for their respective competitions, their focus is on staying healthy and avoiding germs.
What does an Olympic athlete think about in the days before the big event? If you guessed not touching door handles in public places, you’d be right on the money. And speaking of money, that’s another thing athletes minimize their contact with—all in an effort to stave off germs that might threaten their performance.
When you consider that most Olympic athletes have honed a dream for the better part of their lives—to compete at the pinnacle of athletic competition—it’s small wonder they might be sweating the small stuff right about now. So how do they protect themselves?
They eat right
First of all, they eat well. Most sports associations involved in training Olympic athletes have figured out that excellent nutritional habits translate into better performance. Gone are the days when “grabbing three doughnuts before practice and then quenching [their] thirst with a Big Gulp afterward” was considered a diet plan for success, as former Olympic rower, Derek Porter realized.
Back in the day, national team nutritional planning, wasn’t—planned that is. In today’s enlightened sporting world, however, rigorous athletic training is accompanied by rigorous nutritional training. It’s a given that athletes’ diets contain mega calories, carbohydrates, and protein to build muscle and strength.
But an equally important component of the athlete’s diet is composed of immune-boosting foods. The last thing a competitive athlete wants before the ultimate test of all of his/her hard work and training is to come down with influenza or even the common cold.
Ask New Zealand Olympic rower, Mahe Drysdale, who had only ever settled for gold in world competitions leading up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. There he succumbed to influenza and the bronze medal instead of a gold one (tenacity helped him achieve the third-place finish, but he had to be carried into a waiting ambulance following the race).
Sleep and recovery
Athletes also learn the importance of rest and recovery to their overall performance. Without it, their muscles don’t have a chance to recover from the stress of multiple daily workouts. Most athletic training programs for elite athletes involve a strict curfew and rest periods. Training themselves to sleep properly helps bump up their immunity.
Many athletes are so bug-averse just before a big competition that they go a long way to avoid contact with germs. Not touching door handles or other surfaces in public areas is one way to avoid germs—but it may be going a little far. And many teams actually sequester their athletes in the hopes of avoiding errant bugs.
But simple precautions such as effective hand-washing can go a long way toward staving off illness.
Proper hand washing
- Wet your hands with warm water.
- Add regular soap and rub your hands together, ensuring you have lathered all surfaces, for at least 30 seconds.
- Wash the front and back of hands, as well as between fingers and under nails.
- Rinse hands well under warm running water, using a rubbing motion.
- Wipe and dry hands gently with a clean towel.
- Turn tap off with paper towel.
—Source: Health Canada
Tips for the rest of us
Though we may not be Olympic athletes, we still need to arm ourselves with the best strategies to ward off colds and the flu to keep us in our own games. Here are some immune-boosting tips for us mere mortals.
Nutritional bug busters
- sockeye salmon
- wheat germ
- sweet potato
Supplements for immunity
- vitamin C
- vitamin D
- vitamin E
- omega-3 fatty acids
Herbal immune helpers
- olive leaf
- shiitake mushroom