The Flu and Basketball
Cold and flu season is quickly approaching, and for many basketball players this is a huge concern! Some people and players are used to being affected by this seasonal attack on immunity and almost expect it to happen to them. However, by preparing now and focusing on strategically building up your immune system, you can sail through the fall and winter months without having to miss a basketball workout, practice or game because of these pesky illnesses.
According to the National Center for Disease Control (CDC), peak flu months start in October and last all the way through February, with February being the month of highest infection. February is certainly not a good time for basketball players to get sick considering that it’s nearing the end of the season and all of the most important games occur during this time!
Between 5%-20% of the American population will contract the cold or flu each year, and the only way to ensure that you don’t fall into that statistic is to prepare, strategize and plan on not getting sick.
Threats against the Immune System This Basketball Season
Bacteria and viruses are the main pathogen threats against the immune system that every basketball player has to be conscious of throughout the season. Both cause similar symptoms and will leave you hanging out on the sidelines, but that’s where the similarities end.
Bacteria are alive and are single-celled organisms that can wreak havoc on your health. Have you ever suffered from one of those nasty sinus infections? These are usually caused by bacteria and are easily spread from person to person. Taking regular sanitary measures like washing your hands after touching the ball all practice long or picking up weights after people is definitely a smart idea!
Unlike bacteria, viruses are not alive; they are tiny fragments of DNA that latch onto healthy cells and cause duplication which is how and why they spread so rapidly throughout the body if not treated properly.
Viruses are a bit more serious in nature than bacteria, so it’s a good rule to follow clean sanitation practices in the basketball locker room, weight room and in general if you want to avoid either of these threats against the immune system.
What is the difference between the cold and flu?
The common cold is much milder in nature than the flu. Typically caused by the rhinovirus, the cold can last up to two weeks and is accompanied by coughing, sneezing, sore throat, mild fever, body aches and fatigue.
On the other hand, the flu is much more serious than the common cold since it can turn into more serious health problems quickly and is caused by the Influenza A and B viruses. Lasting up to two or three weeks, the flu is generally accompanied by symptoms like coughing, fever, severe fatigue, body aches, sore throat, runny nose and if not treated properly can escalate into more serious conditions like pneumonia.
What role does the immune system play in the body?
The immune system is our body’s natural defense against these common ailments and is capable of dealing with the constant barrage of harmful bacteria and viruses when working optimally.
A healthy immune system is capable of providing several benefits to the body including:
- Preventing bacteria and viruses from duplicating
- Seeking out and eliminating bacteria and viruses that do make it pass the front line of immune defense
- Creating a natural barrier against any harmful microorganism
- Destructing damaged cells in a process known as ‘apoptosis’
What are the different blood cells that make up the immune system?
The immune system is a complex network of specialized cells, proteins, tissues, and organs that all work together to protect you from anything that could be potentially damaging to the body. Most of us have heard of white blood cells (leukocytes), and while they do make up the majority of the cells in the immune system, there are also two other types of blood cells that actually perform the ‘seek out and destroy’ missions in the body.
- Phagocytes – surfing throughout the body eating up foreign organisms similar to the guy in Pac-Man, these are especially important blood cells for the immune system in that they are like the guard dogs so to speak.
- Lymphocytes – created in bone marrow, these blood cells are commonly referred to as “smart cells” in that they can actually identify the more sneaky bacteria and viruses that can be hiding in the body. They can also remember pathogens that have made you sick in the past and target those specifically to avoid a reoccurrence. Finally, these same cells can convert into what are known as T-cells and destroy the microbes that the lymphocytes have identified as harmful. There’s no escaping these intelligent immune cells when they are in full force!
Lifestyle Enemies of a Healthy Immune System
As you prepare for the upcoming cold and flu season, it’s important to know what exactly causes a weakened immune system. Daily lifestyle and diet habits can make or break your body’s ability to fight off infection efficiently. As you go about the basketball season, be sure that you try to keep these six things to a minimum.
- Lack of or over exercise – we all know that exercising is important for healthy weight management and cardiovascular health, but its effect on the immune system might come as a surprise to some. In fact, according to a study conducted at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, it was found that women who exercised in an aerobics class for five days a week caught half the number of cold and infections than those who only stretched. On the other hand, too much strenuous activity can pose a problem. Fortunately, basketball players are conditioned to be able to withstand longer periods of rigorous activity, however it’s important to remember to get your rest and relaxation and maintain balance in order to keep your immune system from becoming weakened due to physical exhaustion.
- Lack of Sleep – sleep is the primetime for the body being able to repair and regenerate from the day’s activities, so if you have accrued sleep debt from several sleepless nights, be sure that you make this a priority because the body is not going to be able to fight off bacteria and viruses if you are lacking in this department.
Excessive Stress – stress comes in many forms, but by not dealing with it nor making an effort to keep your stress levels to a minimum during basketball season—you are opening yourself up for illness. A strong immune system starts with a peaceful, relaxed and well rested body, mind and spirit. Don’t leave any room in your life for unnecessary stress if you want to bypass the cold and flu this season.
- Excessive Sugar Intake – artificial sugars are one of our immune system’s greatest enemies! Excessive sugar intake causes over acidity in the body which leads to a compromised immune system unable to protect you efficiently.
- Too high or too low body fat percentage – a healthy body fat percentage is linked to a healthy immune system since healthy fats and fat metabolism play a huge role in hormonal balance in the body. If you are under or overweight, than your immune system will be more susceptible to infections.
- Lack of nutritional supplementation – it’s no secret that nutritional supplements give our bodies a much needed boost and during the cold and flu season if you decide to skip out on adding some extra nutrients into your daily regimen you might be skipping out on a few basketball practices or games as well!
What foods should I eat for a strong immune system?
A healthy immune system certainly starts in the kitchen! What you decide to fuel your body with all year long will either build up or tear down your immunity.
A diet rich in antioxidant-rich fruits and veggies, whole grains and healthy fats are all able to give your body what it needs to build a solid foundation of efficient immunity as a basketball player.
Basketball players need even extra nutrition since the physical toll taken each day on the body can leave the immune system depleted, so be sure to make good food choices every single day!
- Dark green leafy vegetables – full of minerals and other essential nutrients, dark green leafy vegetables are the most nutritious food that you can eat if you want to build a strong immune system.
- Citrus fruits – be sure to pack your day with citrus fruits like oranges, grapefruits, mandarins, tamarinds – your immune system loves all the extra Vitamin C!
- Carrots – an ideal source of carotenoids like beta carotene which support the mucous membranes that line the respiratory tract, making it more difficult for pathogens to enter the bloodstream and cause infections.
- Tomatoes – loaded with lycopene and more Vitamin C, cooked tomatoes diminish free radical damage to immune cells making them healthier and stronger.
- Kefir – a natural probiotic drink, kefir builds up immunity by providing healthy bacteria to the intestinal tract that has been shown to reduce the number of naturally occurring bad bacteria that reside in the gut. Bad intestinal bacteria is known for causing problems with digestion and immunity, so kefir is a great way to boost your health!
- Fish – abundant in omega fatty acids, fish are a great way to reduce inflammation in the body which allows the immune system to work better and harder to ocus on invading pathogens.
Should I get a flu shot?
The staff here at BasketballTrainer.com has varying opinions on this subject but all agree this is a personal decision that you should rely strongly upon your doctor for.
What supplements and herbs should I be taking to build up my immunity?
- Multi-vitamin – a daily multivitamin is the best place to start if you want to protect yourself from catching anything this cold and flu season. Filling in those nutritional gaps with a daily multi-vitamin and multi-mineral product will help you do just that! Read our article on choosing the right multivitamin to help you decide on which one to go with to support your immune boosting goals.
- Medicinal mushrooms – full of calcium, selenium, iron, B-complex vitamins, Vitamins C and D – certain species of medicinal mushrooms like cordyceps, reishi, shiitake, and maitake are powerful immune agents as they contain active immune heightening compounds. They are typically taken in capsule form and you can find them at your local health foods store.
- Oregano – a strong antioxidant and antibacterial herb, oregano should be in every basketball player’s first aid cabinet to take soon as any sign of bacterial infection starts. Oregano can be taken in capsule form as a liquid tincture to mix into water. You can also use Oregano essential oil to inhale the steam for sinus infections.
- Elderberry – possesses strong immune boosting, anti-viral, and antioxidant properties. Elderberry has been known to stop the influenza virus dead in its tracks by increasing cytokine production. Elderberry can be taken in capsule form or is often found in homeopathic cough syrup formulations.
- Echinacea – this powerful herb is known for its ability to turn on the immune response and stimulating the production of healing anti-bodies known as immunoglobulin. A study conducted at the University of Connecticut found that Echinacea decreased the odds of contracting the common cold or flu by almost 60%! Echinacea can be taken in capsule form or drank as a tea.
- Garlic – garlic has been touted for several years as being excellent in supporting a health heart, however, recent studies suggest that supplementing with aged garlic extract may trigger a positive immune response and help decrease the duration of the common cold or flu by increasing the number of immune cells in the body. Garlic can be crushed and ingested on a spoon followed by a full glass of water or taken in capsule form.
- Probiotics – provide the body with good bacteria that build up immunity in the intestinal tract by decreasing the number of bad bacteria that wreak havoc on health. Probiotics are a must have for anyone wanting to build up their tolerance against common bacterial infections and digestive issues.
With the cold and flu season quickly approaching, it’s time to take control of your health to protect yourself from sidelining illness. By eliminating certain lifestyle habits and replacing them with healthier habits, food choices and nutritional supplement support, you are setting yourself up for success. Taking action now to build up your overall health will help you to forego the inconvenience of the cold or flu this basketball season and onto more playing time and wins in the record book!