What supplements should be taking to stay fit & healthy?

Hi everyone,

I frequently get asked which vitamins and supplements one should take to maintain health and to avoid getting sick and injured.  Hope this article and list of vitamins and supplements helps and answers all your questions:-

How can I remain flu-free when everyone around me is sick?

Getting flu at the peak of your training or just before a major event – such as the Comrades Marathon or the Cape Epic is somewhat annoying… Most of us believe that we catch a cold or the flu from the sick people around us – when someone in close proximity breathes, coughs or sneezes. This is not entirely true. If it were, then everyone would succumb to the germs circulating in the same closed room. We all know that only some people will get sick from a coughing, spluttering, ‘snotting’ person in the room, whilst others won’t…The truth is, you actually get sick whenever the numbers of your good bacteria in your gut are not quite where they should be! It is like going to war with not enough warriors.

Eighty percent of your immune system is located in your gut and so one of the best ways that you can boost your “line of defense” is to supplement with good bacteria – aka probiotics. The word “probiotics” comes from the Greek word meaning “for life”. Antibiotics conversely means “against life”. Antibiotics are indiscriminate killers. They destroy ALL bacteria, both good and bad.  Probiotics, on the other hand, are ‘friendly‘ bacteria similar to those that occur naturally in your gut. So when you supplement with a probiotic, you’re sending more soldiers to your front line of defense. At any point in time, there are about sixty trillion bacteria (500 different species) living inside you – they actually outnumber the cells in your body by about ten to one! Some of these bacteria are referred to as “good,” and whilst others are “bad” in that they are disease-causing. The intestinal lining (mucosal barrier) is where most of the bacteria live. It is an area that covers over 300 square metres, or about the size of a tennis court. The good bacteria compete with the bad guys for attachment sites for food within your colon. The key to good health is not to completely eradicate bad bacteria, but to maintain a healthy balance between the two: 85 percent of your bacteria should be the ‘good’ guys, whilst 15 percent, the ‘bad’. Many people, through diet and lifestyle choices, however, have a gut that is over-run by the bad guys – and this is the primary reason why we get sick, tired or run-down.

In a recent study, it was confirmed that probiotics can significantly boost the immune function of long-distance runners. This study was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. In this study, probiotic supplements were administered to elite distance runners and it was revealed that probiotics were able to significantly reduce the number and length of infections suffered by these athletes. We all know that strenuous training can have a deleterious affect upon the immune system, making us vulnerable to colds and flu. But the athletes in this study were able to cut the number of ‘sick days’ by half, by taking probiotic supplements.

Where can I find probiotics in foods?

In many traditional cultures, probiotic-rich food and drinks have been consumed for centuries.

Foods such as:

1.      Natto: This is a traditional protein-rich Japanese breakfast by fermenting soyabeans with with bacteria. Natto is usually an acquired taste since it has a distinct smell, strong flavour and slippery texture.

2.      Kefir is fermented milk that has been consumed centuries, especially in countries such as Bulgaria. It is a drink made by introducing kefir grains into milk – cow’s, goat’s or sheep’s milk. This is left to ferment into an effervescent beverage. It usually contains at least three billion viable organisms per serving.

3.      Lassi is a traditional Indian before-dinner yoghurt drink. It is made by blending yogurt with water (or milk) and then adding spices. After dinner, in traditional Indian culture, a serving of bacteria-rich curd is also usually served.

4.      Sauerkraut is finely shredded cabbage that has been fermented by various bacteria. It has a distinctive sour flavour, both of which result from the lactic acid that forms when the bacteria ferment the sugars in the cabbage. The Romans consumed sauerkraut as a delicious food and for health-related issues. In Asian cultures, pickled fermentations of cabbage, turnips, eggplant, cucumbers, onions, squash, and carrots still exist today.

If you do eat a diet that is rich in fermented foods such like these above then you will likely enjoy great digestive and immune health. The closest our Western diets come to probiotic foods is yoghurt. But all of our dairy products have been pasteurised and this process kills all the bacteria – so many of our fortified probiotic yoghurts are actually low in viable good bacteria. In addition, many of these yoghurts contain added sugar which feeds the bad guys and thus negates the benefit of probiotics within the gut.

If you choose to supplement with a good quality probiotic, this is what you can expect:

·         Digestion of food and absorption of nutrients, helping to reduce problems such as gas, bloating, constipation and diarrhea.

·         Protection against over-growth of bad bacteria that cause disease.

·         Protection against Candida.

·         Digesting and absorbing certain carbohydrates. Without good gut bacteria, your body cannot absorb certain undigested starches, fibre and carbohydrates. The “good” bacteria in your digestive tract convert these carbohydrates into primary sources of energy and nutrients.

·         Producing vitamins and absorbing minerals. Probiotics help in the production of both vitamin K and B vitamins and help with the absorption of minerals.

·         They also aid in metabolism and the breakdown of toxins in the colon.

·         Probiotics stimulate production of white blood cells known as regulatory T cells. These help fight inflammation that is associated with disorders such as eczema, allergies and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), a condition in which the bowel becomes inflamed, often resulting in abdominal cramps and diarrhea. Probiotics teach your immune system to distinguish between pathogens and non-harmful antigens, and to respond appropriately.

What kills off your good bacteria?

1.      Sugar provides the primary food for your bad bacteria to grow, so if you eat a lot of sugar, you’re feeding the bad bacteria and starving the good. This includes all sugary foods, desserts, biscuits, rusks, sweets, chocolates, pastries, white bread, pasta, cereals, soft drinks and alcohol.

2.      Training, living or working in pollution.

3.      Stress.

4.      Over-training.

5.      Taking a course of antibiotics.

6.      Colon cleansing, detoxification (aka colon irrigation or colon hydrotherapy). This unhealthy practice indiscriminately destroys the good bacteria along with the bad, stripping healthy material from the lining of the colon and potentially doing more harm than good. Over time, eating more healthful, whole foods and taking steps to support the digestive tract will add up to all the good flora and good health.

7.      When your lifestyle results in an acid rather than an alkaline system: Human blood pH should be slightly alkaline (7.35 – 7.45). Below or above this range translates into healthy problems: If blood pH moves below 6.8 or above 7.8, cells stop functioning and the body dies. The body therefore continually strives to balance pH. Stimulants like tobacco, coffee, sugar and alcohol are extremely acidifying.

All the things you can do to not get sick:

1.      Get enough sleep. If you’re training hard, you need 7 to 8 hours for adequate recovery.

2.      Cut out the sugar and refined foods.  The bad bacteria in the gut thrive on sugary foods, white bread, pasta, cereals, chocolate, pastries, soft drinks and alcohol.

3.      Drink enough of water: (Bodyweight x 30mls)

4.      Eat loads of raw, different coloured vegetables and ripe fruits

5.      Exercise. Your immune system strengthens over time – if you train regularly. But don’t train or compete if you are ill – If in doubt, consult your GP.

6.      Wash your hands – but not with anti-bacterial soap. Warm water and ordinary soap. These soaps are completely unnecessary and could easily cause more harm than good. The antibacterial compounds found in many of these soaps could be contributing to the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

7.      Eat a diet that is rich in fibre. Because fibre promotes healthy flora, it’s not so surprising that the best way to support the large intestine is with a healthful, fibre-rich diet of whole foods.

8.      Supplement with Probiotics. I use Solgar’s Advanced Multi-Billion Dophilus

9.      Supplement with Glutamine. This is one of the main fuels for you immune and helps to replace the lining of your gut. For athletes, Glutamine will also help you recover fast!

10      Good multi-vitamin and Glucosamine for the joints and ligaments.  I use Othrochoice.

10.  Manage your stress: Bootcamp will help!!  A Lot.

11.  Get a bit of winter sun: Getting an optimal level of vitamin D will help you fight infections of all kinds. Recent studies have shown the optimal Vitamin D levels reduce the occurrence of respiratory infections. Twenty minutes is all you need.

12.  Take a good source of animal based omega-3 oils – such as Solgar Omega 700  which is crucial for maintaining overall health by helping to reduce emotional stress.

If you take your training seriously and wish to avoid getting run-down or sick, then taking a good quality probiotic and following the above lifestyle principles are the best ways to maintain optimal health.

Helpful Tip: Probiotics are stimulated by soluble dietary fiber, so they’re more likely to proliferate in the intestine when you also eat complex carbohydrates, such as legumes, vegetables and whole grains. These foods contain prebiotics, which provide the nutrition that probiotics need to multiply.

General Comments:

  • Drink 750mls water per hour during training
  • Make sure that you are taking in protein and a small portion of carbohydrate every 2 to 3 hours. (Except for at night, when you eat primarily protein and green leafy veggies)
  • Be sure to have a decent amount of starchy carb at lunch time – sweet potato, brown rice etc
  • Include as many different coloured vegetables and / or salad in at least 2 of your meals.
  • Be sure to include some olive oil or flaxseed oil, at both lunch and supper.
  • Get 8 hours sleep per night.
  • Avoid or Restrict alcohol – very fattening – especially wine and beer!
  • Have one cheat meal per week – preferably during the first half of the day – such as Sunday lunch
  • Stay patient and be consistent with your eating plan and training programme (weights and cardio).

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