Preventing Colds for Triathletes: Every little helps – by Phil Murphy

With cold or “man-flu” season upon us, most athletes dread catching one or multiple bouts of this as not only do you feel dreadful but it causes unwanted breaks in training. With the average person having 3 colds per year lasting a week or more this can result in a significant loss of training hours, or at best you have to decrease the intensity of your training to allow for the extra recovery your body will need to fight off the virus

I am currently writing this with a large box of tissues next to me and a Hot Lemon and Honey drink feeling very sorry for myself. Having come off the back of a long race season I had dropped my guard a little against the cold. No longer did I have Anti-bacterial gel on my desk at work, and I have been socialising a lot more in very close contact with a lot more people and straight away I get hit with a cold. You can’t live life avoiding contact with people (well not all year round!) and I feel living in a “Anti-bac” world all of the time can also cause issues as your tolerance for bacteria definitely decreases. The solution, take some simple steps to boost your immune system to naturally prevent getting a cold or Flu in the first place.

There are many old wives tales about cold treatment and prevention but these four simple tips should help reduce the frequency of colds this winter:

  • Sounds obvious, but stay in the warm and don’t let yourself get cold whilst out training. The cold virus thrives in temperatures just above freezing, typical British winter as the virus ‘s outer coating actually hardens making it survive longer before breaking down and then enters your body where the outer part of the cell breaks down with your core temperature and infects you with ease. The Optimal body temperature for the virus to replicate is just below our normal 37 degrees Celsius (35 is optimal) so by also ensuring your body is nice and warm you will ward off the worst effects of any infection
  • Echinacea – A herbal treatment widely available and cheap to add to your winter supplements. This extract from a flower makes your body produce more white blood cells providing a strong barrier against infection. The reason I mention to only take it in winter is that it is advised to not take it for longer than a few months as some studies have shown it to have a damaging effect on the Liver if taken constantly as it is making the liver work harder to produce the white cells that you are after


  • Avoid hard Training if you know you are about to be in a very public place. Hard intervals in the morning before a day working with customers is something I have learnt to avoid. For example: You don’t normally have 2 hard sessions in one day in winter so do the easier one before work and save the hard one for the evening when you will just be at home afterwards. Likewise, if you know you are going out for a Sunday afternoon lunch with the Family to a busy venue; make sure you have not pushed yourself too hard on the Sunday morning club ride. Training Hard lowers the immune system in the hours immediately afterwards leaving you more susceptible to catching a cold, so plan the social life around hard sessions
  • Vitamin C – we all know this and Oranges are the favourite choice of many. But there are better alternatives that also don’t mean you are taking on a lot of sugar in the form of Fructose. Yellow Peppers are the number one source of Vitamin C, followed by Kale and Broccoli. Fruit that is lower in sugars and more alkaline are Pink Grapefruit and Lemons, so choose these over oranges if possible


Living in the UK will always leave us with this issue in the winter months so failing all of this, pack it all in and move to Hawaii. Hot temperatures, High Humidity = very low chance of a cold. And I have heard they have a good triathlon over there too!!

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