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Anne Marie Mulholland

Anne Marie Mulholland: It’s important that we look after ourselves in the right way

Over the past week, amidst the Covid-19 outbreak in Ireland, we have  witnessed numerous social media accounts promoting how to ‘boost’ your  immune system in the current climate through the use of various  vitamin and mineral supplements.

Please know that such posts provide  information that are highly unlikely to ‘boost’ immune function unless  you currently suffer from severe nutrient deficiencies or have a  highly stressed immune system. However, today I would like to address  how we can alter our everyday diet and lifestyle choices to SUPPORT  those busy immune cells in our bodies and make their job less  stressful.

Firstly, a disclaimer. This is not to say I am advising a  magic cure against the flu/cold/covid-19 (because I am not!), however  let’s do what we can to make sure we are as fighting fit and healthy as can be.

Step 1: Fuel Immune Cells
Like before we head into a training session, our body’s’ immune cells  require a source of energy. Therefore, to ensure that our immune cells
are able to operate optimally, we should work towards an energy  balance. In simple terms, we must match the energy we consume in our
foods to the energy we expend through exercise and daily activities.

This also means ensuring you are not following an excessive calorie  restriction to lose fat or cutting out all forms of carbohydrate from
your diet. Not only would this be ridiculously boring, but it will  also increase the stress that your immune system is under. So, at each
main meal, include at least one handful of starchy carbohydrate such  as bread, potatoes, pasta or oats to provide that all important
energy. And remember, refuelling with a carbohydrate and protein-based  snack (e.g. a pint of semi-skimmed milk and a banana) is also key
after intense exercise!

Step 2: Eat the rainbow
By now we have established that fruit and veggies are sacred! Not only  do they provide vitamins and minerals for overall health, but they
also are a source of polyphenols and antioxidants which help to reduce  oxidative stress in our bodies and contribute to immune regulation. So  basically- they support and contribute to fighting infection! So, fill  up your plate with the rainbow, aiming for at least 5 portions of
fruit and veggies per day. Apples, bananas, oranges, broccoli,  parsnips, spinach, pineapple, tomato, corn, cauliflower- the choice is
up to you! Did you know: fruit and vegetables tend to be rich in fibre, encouraging regular bowel movements and supporting our bowel
health?

Step 3: Don’t underestimate sleep
Some of the best advice as an athlete you will ever get- don’t  underestimate the power of a good night’s sleep! Not only is sleep
essential in our bodies recovery process as an athlete, but it  supports our immune systems. I will admit, I am most definitely not a
sleep expert, but experts do report more sleep will not necessarily  prevent you from getting ill, however without sufficient sleep, your
body makes fewer cytokines, a type of protein that targets  inflammation and infection. Current recommendations suggest aiming for
between seven and nine hours of sleep per night to prevent increase of  infection risk.

Step 4: Hand Hygiene

It has been well circulated by now, however I want to reiterate the  importance of hand hygiene in the prevention of disease and infection
spread. This is the only factor we can control when it comes to  Covid-19 and so let’s get it right! Wash your hands with warm water
for at least 20 seconds with antibacterial hand wash. If this involves  you singing ‘Happy Birthday’ for timing, then do it! And what if you
don’t have immediate access to water and soap? Bring a 60% alcohol hand sanitiser with you and use in between washes. Use after touching
a door handle. Use after handling money. Use after using a public  bathroom. USE IT. This is in our HANDS now!

Step 5: Get your probiotics
Have you heard of probiotics before? Probiotics are ‘good’ bacteria which assist in restoring natural balance of bacteria in your
intestinal tract when it has been disrupted by illness. Further, in  the intestinal tract, a robust population of beneficial bacteria can
help crowd out the ‘bad’ bacteria, making it harder for them to thrive  and subsequently reducing risk of developing specific illnesses. So,
where can we get our probiotics from? – Yakult Probiotic drinks- Certain brands of yoghurt such as Fage 100% Greek Yoghurt and Activia
– Kimchi – Danone Actimel

Step 6: Getting Your Vitamin D
Vitamin D is essential in regulating the amount of calcium and  phosphorus that are readily available to our bodies. These nutrients
are essential to keep our bones, teeth and muscles healthy. Not only  is this important for the general population, but for athletes who put
constant strain on their muscles and bones, we need to make sure we  are supporting our bodies as much as we can! As our primary source of  Vitamin D is from direct sunlight, uptake is limited to certain months  in the year i.e. summer months. As a result, we must consider how we  can increase our uptake in winter months. Initially, I would encourage  optimising Vitamin D food sources in your diet e.g. oily fish such as  salmon, sardines and mackerel, red meat, liver, egg yolks and  fortified foods such as Kellogg’s Cocopops and Rice Krispies (and no I
am not sponsored!!). For some, it will be essential to commence a  Vitamin D supplement and so if concerned, consult your GP or
Registered Dietitian to consider this. So that is all from me for now. If you would like further advice on  diet, health and immune support, please do not be afraid to contact me  on my tags shown below.  But for now; be careful, be consistent and
look after each other.

Anne-Marie is a Sport Dietitian with a BSc in Dietetics and MSc in  Sport Nutrition. Anne-Marie has experience in both Clinical and Sport environments and currently works within the IRFU as a Performance  Nutritionist. You can catch Anne-Marie on Instagram  @theperformancedietitian and Twitter @AnneMarie_Mul

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