Elite athletes are highly competitive and highly tuned individuals. So finding yourself at home on a full-time basis, away from your normal competitive environment, your normal training facilities and support structures, and your fellow athletes is both unfamiliar and challenging.
The sudden changes to your competition schedules and the social isolation you may be feeling being away from family and friends makes it even more challenging.
Managing your way through these changes is a daily process. Like any major change, it takes courage, effort and a new way of thinking. The Orreco team has put together some practical tips to help you adjust to your new routine and to support your immune system during the current COVID-19 pandemic.
While these proactive steps may not prevent you from becoming infected if you get exposed to the virus, they may help to reduce the risk of infection and decrease the spread of the virus. The key points to remember are:
1. Minimise Exposure: Follow the self-isolation and social distancing guidelines
2. Handwashing: Practice good personal hygiene to protect you and those around you
3. Moderate Exercise: Continue to exercise but avoid unaccustomed heavy training
4. Balanced Diet: Focus on your nutrition to improve your immune response
5. Minimise Stress: Practice mindfulness techniques and stay connected
6. Quality Sleep: Focus on getting good quality uninterrupted sleep (at least 7 hours)
Now, let’s get into the detail.
Your health and wellbeing are more important than performance. Currently, the best way to help protect you and your family and friends is to minimise your exposure to the virus by following the guidelines on staying at home and by maintaining social distancing of at least two metres when you are outdoors.
Practice good personal hygiene by catching any coughs and sneezes in a tissue and immediately disposing of it. If you are going to sneeze, use your arm to block and shield others from the sneeze. Try not to touch your face, particularly your eyes, nose and mouth, to avoid self-inoculation and politely decline shaking hands with people.
Wash your hands regularly with soap for at least 20 seconds after interactions and before eating. You can also use hand sanitiser gel, but this needs to contain at least 60 % alcohol to be effective so check the label. Wipe down surfaces (kitchen area, door handles, exercise equipment etc.) with an anti-microbial product and dispose of the wipes afterwards. Wipe down your phones and devices also, particularly any touchscreens and keyboards that have multiple users.
If you display any of the symptoms listed by the World Health Organization e.g. fever, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, headache, aches and pains, communicate this to your team doctor immediately. If you are asthmatic, it is advised that you continue to use your inhaler as normal.
When you are outdoors, maintain social distancing, try to avoid touching surfaces and be particularly mindful of door handles and the need to wash your hands after any contact.
* Maintain social distancing (at least 2 metres)
* Handwash regularly with soap
* Wipe surfaces and devices
* Avoid touching your face
* Watch out for symptoms
* Don’t shake hands
Keep active. Exercise primes and activates the immune system so do continue to train and workout at home, but don’t overload at this time as this can have the opposite effect on your immune system.
There are lots of indoor sessions you can do in a small space using kettlebells, bands, weight vests, turbo trainers, bodyweight circuits and so on. The main difference to your usual routine is that you are now focusing on maintaining fitness rather than being competition ready, so avoid high volume and heavy training.
Stay on top of your hydration also as maintaining adequate fluid levels is important for your physical and mental wellbeing. A good tip for monitoring your hydration is to check the colour of your urine. If it is dark and odorous, this is a good indication that you need more fluids. To help you drink enough water, try to flavour your drinks with fresh fruit pieces such as sliced strawberries, lime, lemon or watermelon. If you use a water bottle, make sure to wash it out thoroughly.
If you are showing symptoms, the latest guidelines are to stop exercising and to contact your team doctor who will be able to guide you through your rest and recovery protocols.
* Keep exercising but avoid unaccustomed heavy training
* Maintenance phase rather than heavy training
* If you are showing symptoms, stop exercising and contact your doctor
* Stay hydrated
* Put reusable water bottles through the dishwasher daily
The two key considerations when it comes to your nutrition are adapting your intake to match your new training plans and supporting your immune system to fight infection. You do not want to experiment with calorific restriction at this time as it puts your immune system at risk. Instead, periodise your energy intake according to your training volume.
If you are concerned about managing your weight, consult your high-performance team who can advise on an appropriate strategy on your calorific intake to manage bodyweight and composition without compromising immune function.
Here are some basic nutrition principles you can follow:
First up, make sure you are consuming adequate amounts of protein and carbohydrate to support your recovery and adaptation. Distribute these evenly across your meals and snacks throughout the day along with plenty of fruit and vegetables to maintain the intake of vitamins and other micronutrients to support your immune health. The polyphenols in fruit and vegetables have proven anti-viral properties and can reduce the risk of contracting upper respiratory tract infections, so aim for 7+ servings of fruit and vegetables per day.
Include Omega 3-rich foods in your diet to bolster your immune system. Good examples are oily fish (salmon, tuna steak, anchovy, sardines), seaweed in sushi, walnuts, linseed and flaxseed. If you are taking a supplement, look for a combined EPA and DHA supplement. Adding probiotic yoghurts and drinks (e.g. Yakult, DanActive) to your daily diet can also help support your immune system.
When it comes to vitamins, vitamin C and vitamin D are your priority now to support immune function. Good sources of vitamin C include blackcurrants, kiwi, citrus fruits and orange juice. There are small amounts of vitamin D in foods, but it is mainly obtained through the actions of sunlight on your skin so, provided you are symptom-free, try to get outside for 20 minutes before 11 am and after 3 pm, while maintaining social distance.
* Adapt nutrition intake to new training load
* Consume adequate protein and carbohydrate
* Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables
* Include omega 3-rich foods in your diet
* Optimise vitamin C and vitamin D status
* Consider probiotics
* Don’t experiment with calorific restriction
* Talk to your team about bodyweight management
Exercise stimulates your immune system and helps protect you from infection, provided you are resting and recovering in between sessions. Chronic overload without adequate rest compromises immunity so, as we mentioned earlier, now is the time to focus on maintaining your fitness through moderate habitual exercise rather than engaging in heavy bouts of training. This is also an excellent opportunity to focus on getting good quality sleep (at least 7 hours uninterrupted sleep each night), which will also improve your immune response.
* Rest and recover between sessions
* Get at least 7 hours good quality sleep
Although your travel stress and usual sleep disturbances have been reduced due to the shifts in your competition schedule, the changes to your routine as competitive athletes and being isolated from your family, friends, teammates, coaches and support staff can bring on different types of stress and anxiety. It is vitally important that you try to manage these as much as possible as excessive stress can compromise immunity and make any infection worse.
The challenge here is to minimise psychological stress to prevent it triggering any biological stress that can, in turn, be detrimental to your immune system, because as soon as stress levels go up, your immune system goes down and your susceptibility to infection increases.
Practising mindfulness techniques (e.g. Headspace app, Calm app), yoga and meditation can be very effective ways to help mitigate against stress. Taking time to rest and ensuring you get all the sleep you need will also help to reduce stress and enhance immune health at this time. As long as it is safe to do so and within the current guidelines, getting outside, getting some fresh air and getting the natural sun on your face, will also help to reset your body.
* Practice mindfulness techniques
* Make sleep a priority
* Try to get outside, once you are adhering to the guidelines
Communication is one of the simplest and most effective tools we have right now. Fortunately, there are a wide variety of social platforms available (WhatsApp, FaceTime, Google Hangouts etc.) that can help remove the current barriers of social isolation, and that can be used in a positive way to help you stay connected. Use your team groups and training groups to set up daily challenges, stay motivated, workout together and maintain that competitive edge. If you are feeling isolated from family and friends, video chats rather than text messages are a good way to check in on one another, and to share information and experiences, and can help to extend both support and humour!
If you find some social media platforms to be a source of stress, avoid engaging with this type of content. Instead, focus on maintaining a regular channel of communication with your family, friends, teammates and staff who can help you to keep up a positive mindset and assume positive intent across your daily activities.
To help improve your sleep at night, try to switch off your phone, tablet, laptop etc. at least 1-2 hours before bedtime. It takes real discipline to practice good technology hygiene, but it is important you try to do so, or at least to limit your use of electronic devices as much as possible before bed, as the blue light emitted by these devices can suppress the release of melatonin (the sleep hormone) and disrupt your sleep pattern.
* Keep in touch with your family, friends and teammates
* Try video chats instead of text
* Switch off electronic devices 1-2 hours before bedtime
We all know that the COVID-19 outbreak is a rapidly evolving situation. But there are proactive steps you can take to help reduce the risk of infection. The key points to remember again are: minimise your exposure, wash your hands regularly, exercise at a moderate level, follow a well-balanced diet, minimise stress and get good quality sleep.
Minimising your exposure to the virus and helping to slow down its spread are the most important guidelines to follow. Right now, we are stronger together by staying apart.
If you or any of your team would like to read more on exercise, nutrition and immune function, here are some articles from our team of scientists and expert advisors.
Somerville et al. Effects of flavonoids on upper respiratory tract infections and immune function: a systematic review and meta-analysis.
Hemilä. Vitamin C and infections.
The information and guidance for us all to follow is being constantly updated so make sure you check your government’s announcements for the latest advice.
Stay safe everyone.