How Runners Can Avoid Getting Sick

No one wants to be sidelined from a big race because of a cold, flu, or other infection. While getting your annual flu shot is a first good step to preventing illness, there are others things you can do that can help boost your immune system.

Beyond taking care of yourself with a proper diet and plenty of rest, you need to ensure your training doesn't put you in harm's way. And this is what some people fail to understand: that training to peak performance doesn't mean pushing your body beyond its reasonable limits. Doing so can do more harm than good.

To ensure you remain in tip-top health before a race or marathon, here are six simple tips you should consider:

Drink Plenty of Water

Drinking Water from Water Bottle
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Staying hydrated is important to prevent illness, and water is the best, least expensive option. Make sure that you drink plenty during the day and to always hydrate before, during, and after your runs.

Proper hydration is great ​for preventing everything from constipation to bladder infections and can help better control blood sugar and blood pressure, as well.

Health authorities typically recommend drinking eight 8-ounce glasses per day, equal to roughly two liters or half a gallon of water. However, you don't want to overhydrate as the can lead to a condition known as hyponatremia in which the salt in your body abnormally diluted.

Eat Antioxidant-Rich Foods

Eat Quercetin Rich Foods
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Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables if you want to avoid illness. These types of foods are a rich in antioxidants which help strengthen your immune system and may even help prevent colds.

Herbs and spices such as ginger, cinnamon, oregano, and garlic contain high amounts of phytochemicals and antioxidants that can also help protect against cell stress. In fact, some spices contain far more antioxidants than fruits or vegetables

By contrast, you should limit your saturated fat intake as they can decrease your immunity and make you more susceptible to infection.

Remember to always eat at least three meals per day and focus on a well-balanced diet with plenty of lean protein, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.

Wash Your Hands

Washing hands.
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Be sure to wash your hands frequently at home, work, and gym. Hand-washing is, by far, the most important thing you can do to prevent the spread of disease.

According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hand washing translates to better health in a number of ways:

  • It reduces the risk of diarrhea-causing infections by 31 percent.
  • It reduces the risk of respiratory illnesses, including colds, by 16 to 21 percent.

This is especially true at the gym where germs and viruses breed really. When working at the gym, make sure you wash your hands before and after a workout, wipe down machines before and after use, and bring your own towel.

If you're out and about, bring along an antiseptic handwash in your car or purse just in case you find yourself in the company of sick person and want to wash up.

Get Plenty of Sleep

Paleo improves sleep
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Sleep deprivation can make you more susceptible to colds and other illnesses. Why? Well, according to 2010 study from Harvard Medical School, sleep deprivation triggers an immune response similar to what would happen with an injury or infection. When this occurs, you can end up feeling stressed and completely worn out during daylight hours, leaving you prone to infection.

Getting proper sleep—at least seven to eight hours per night—will help boost your immune system. To do so:

  • Avoid stimulants like caffeine
  • Darken the room in preparation for sleep
  • Avoid electronic devices before bedtime
  • Go to bed at the same time every night

Don't Overtrain

Exhausted woman post workout
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As a runner, you will naturally want to increase the intensity and distance of your training; it's how you are built. But it is important to remember that overtraining can almost be as harmful to your health as not training enough.

Avoid pushing hard for long distances day after day. Instead, pace yourself and change things up regularly. For example, you can bump up your mileage and hold it at that level for a week or two before adding in some speed workouts.

Moreover, make sure you take at least one rest day per week to give your body a rest. Ramping up all full speed all the time can wear you out, making you more susceptible to both colds and running injuries.

Taper Off in Advance of a Big Race

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If you're running a big race, such as a marathon, it's important to cut back on the mileage in the final two to three weeks before the race day. This tapering period will allow your body to recover from all the hard training you've been undergoing.

Remember that strenuous training causes inflammation of the joints and muscles even as you grow stronger and more fit. Tapering off gives your immune system a little break, allowing it to better focus on fighting colds and other minor infections.

Also, find ways to counter the natural stress you may be feeling prior to a race. Stress is one of the main culprits that contribute to illness, causing sleepless night and create an overall sense of unwellness.

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Article Sources
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Show Me the Science - Why Wash Your Hands?" Atlanta, Georgia; updated November 18, 2015.
  • Mullington, J.; Simpson, N.; Meyer-Ewert, H. et al. "Sleep Loss and Inflammation." ​Best Pract Res Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2010; 24(5):775-784. DOI: 10.1016/j.beem.2010.08.014.