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Recovering Right to Put up a Fight Against Infections this Winter Training Season

By Sara Hillring | Nov. 13, 2019, 4:59 p.m. (ET)

bowl of chili

Daylight is shorter, there’s a chill in the air, and with that the winter training months have hit. It is time once again to throw on an extra layer and pull those hats and gloves out of summer retirement. However, layering up and staying warm while outdoors is not the only way to ensure your training stays on track this season. A healthy immune system is key to ward off the impact of upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs) and other illnesses and keep training on course to gear up for a successful spring. So, what can be done to make the most out of winter training?

Hang on to Healthy Hydration

With cold temperatures and less noticeable sweat rates compared to summer conditions, it can be easy to fall out of good hydration habits in the winter. However, keeping the body well hydrated is essential regardless of the season, as an athlete’s fluid needs do not decline with cold weather. There may not be the additional fluid demands when sweating at high rates in hot/humid conditions, but an individual still needs to properly replenish their normal sweat losses. 

It is not that an athlete sweats less in cool weather, but rather that sweat rate occurs at a more moderate level. Though if over-layered in an effort to stay warm, the skin’s temperature can be increased and lead to more sweating. When we do not drink enough and become dehydrated, less saliva is produced, reducing this first line of defense against infections like URTIs. Recovering well with hydration is a crucial component of the equation to achieving a strong immune system.

To replenish the body well, post-workout, weigh yourself before and after exercise to see how many pounds have been lost. The pounds lost equal fluid loss. To re-hydrate properly aim to drink 24 fluid ounces per 1 pound lost. 

Need Extra Hydration Help?

  • During Training
    o Warm up water and put it in an insulated hydration bottle to keep its temperature regulated while out training.
    o Shed extra layers after a thorough warm-up to prevent overheating and maintain a better fluid balance. 
    o Hydrate on the ascent or while climbing up the route. The body will be warming up as elevation is gained and this can make drinking cold water easier to do.
    o On familiar routes, establish landmarks to serve as a reminder of when to hydrate mid-workout as the cold temperature may decrease the body’s cues to indicate when one should drink. 
  • Post-Training
    o Grab a cup and warm up – rehydrate with alternative, hot beverages like hot green tea, low sodium broths, or homemade lemon and ginger apple cider to replenish fluid and warmth to the body. 
    o Set a watch alarm indicating when to hydrate throughout the day to promote a consistent intake of water.
    o Use an app or a watch with a compatible function to track fluid intake. 
    o Keep a reusable water bottle on hand, while on the go, to make meeting hydration needs more accessible. 

    **Get in touch with a Certified Sports Dietitian to measure your sweat rate and determine your individualized hydration needs. 


Immune Boosting Nutrition

Susceptibility to URTIs is higher in athletes than the general population due to added inflammation, the stress training has on the body, and the switch from nose to mouth breathing with exercise. Collectively, these factors can cause the lining of the respiratory tract to dry out and be less effective in clearing away infections. Additionally, as intensity of exercise increases, the likelihood of infection can rise. With the right nutrition in place, the immune system can stay running strong all winter long. 

Consistently following a balanced and variety-filled diet is key. Focus on meals comprised of whole food sources like a rainbow of fruits and veggies, lean proteins (fish, poultry, legumes, low/non-fat dairy products), whole grains, unsaturated fats, and proper hydration. Fuel your body and plan meals around food sources rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that will kick your immune system into high gear. Key nutrients that can prevent and treat URTIs include zinc, omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin D, vitamin C, and vitamin E.

Examples of some foods that pack a punch against respiratory and other infections include: 
o Vegetables – bell peppers, broccoli, spinach
o Fruits – papaya, kiwi, citrus fruits, elderberry 
o Garlic
o Ginger
o Spices – turmeric, oregano
o Green tea
o Plain, Greek or Icelandic Yogurt 
o Almonds
o Sunflower Seeds
o Poultry
o Seafood – salmon, mackerel, crab, clams, mussels 

The recipe below includes key immune boosting nutrients to help you refuel and recover right after a winter training session. Throw these ingredients into a crock pot before heading out the door and come back from a long, chilly workout to a hearty meal bursting with nutrients and flavor. 


*Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, Vegan Friendly*

Prep Time: 15 minutes 
Cook Time: 4 hours on low 
Total Time: 4 hours + 15 minutes
Yield: ~6 servings 

1 medium yellow or white onion, chopped
5 cloves of garlic, crushed 
1 cup of red bell pepper, chopped
1 cup of yellow bell pepper, chopped
1 cup of carrots, chopped
1 cup of celery, chopped
2 large sweet potatoes, cubed 
1 (15 oz) can of unsalted black beans, rinsed and drained
1 (15 oz) can of unsalted red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
2 cans of unsalted, diced tomatoes with their juices 
2.5 cups of unsalted or low sodium vegetable or bone broth 
½ TBSP curry powder
½ TBSP turmeric
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp cumin 
1 tsp oregano 
¼ tsp of each- ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, cayenne 
1 TBSP of olive oil (if using the Instant Pot method)

Optional Toppings:
Plain, non-fat Greek or Icelandic yogurt
Chopped green onion
Slices of avocado
Shredded cheese or nutritional yeast

Slow Cooker Instructions
1. Chop and cube all vegetables, crush the garlic, and rinse as well as drain the canned beans. 
2. In a 6 quart slow cooker add all ingredients, stir thoroughly to combine, and cook on low for 4 hours or until the sweet potatoes are soft. 
3. Allow the slow cooker to sit on warm until ready to serve, add desired toppings, and enjoy with a side of fruit and a toasted piece of whole or sprouted grain bread.

Don’t have a slow cooker? Not to fear, try it in your Instant Pot instead!

Instant Pot Instructions
1. Chop and cube all vegetables, crush the garlic, and rinse as well as drain the canned beans. 
2. Add 1TBSP of olive to a 6 quart Instant Pot and use the sauté function to allow the oil to heat. 
3. Once the oil has been warmed, add the onion and cook for 2 minutes until they begin to soften.
4. Add the remaining vegetables, garlic, and spices to cook for an additional 2 minutes. 
5. Then add half of the vegetable or bone broth and stir to scrape up any stuck on bits of food (this will prevent burning).
6. Stir in the remaining broth and diced tomatoes until ingredients are well-combined.
7. Cover and seal the Instant Pot, cooking on high pressure for 10 minutes. Immediately release the pressure gauge after cooking and carefully open the Instant Pot. 
8. Turn the Instant Pot to OFF, stir in the black and red kidney beans. Place the lid back on the pot and let it stand for 10 minutes to thicken up.
9. Uncover, add desired toppings, and serve with a side of fruit and a piece of crusty whole or sprouted grain bread. Enjoy!  

Recipe adapted from Well Plated.

Sara Hillring is a 2nd year graduate student in the Coordinated Master’s Program for Sports Dietetics and Nutrition at the University of Utah. She received her bachelor’s degree in Neuroscience with minors in psychology, biology, and English from Drake University. She has experience working with a variety of athletes from the college to professional endurance sport level. Her goal is to aid elite or Olympic level athletes in reaching optimal performance through functional nutrition, an integrative health approach, and establishing healthy, balanced lifestyle behaviors. Questions? Do not hesitate to reach Sara at