Last year I had the privilege of spending 10 days on campus at the Australian Institute of Sport watching and learning from some of Australia’s experts in sports science and coaching. One of the guest speakers in attendance was Jamie Turner, who has an impressive resume of athlete results to his name – including Gwen Jorgenson and her platter of Olympic medals. Jamie had so much advice and information to share, but what I found most interesting (and probably the most simplistic) thing he had to say was not on programming, session planning, or anything like that. It was actually on the daily hygiene habits of his athletes – OUTSIDE of training. With wrath of the winter weather about to hit Australia, I thought it would be very timely to share some of my key takeaways from what he had to say…
You see, if some of your habits include failing to wash your linen each week, or not keeping your bathroom clean and tidy, letting the rubbish bin fill to the point of overflowing before emptying it, or leaving the dirty dishes pile up in the sink – then this is a great insight into your personal hygiene. You might be thinking “hang on a minute, I have great personal hygiene – just because I leave the dishes in the sink, doesn’t make me unhygienic!”. And you would be right, but while any of these as a one off are pretty harmless, there is a fair chance that a person who lives with these habits day to day is at a much higher risk of getting sick by picking up bugs that accumulate in their environment simply because of these seemingly harmless things.
If you were cringing with a little guilt on each of those points, then I’m going to have a guess that you might also be susceptible to more than your share of colds, flus and perhaps even other more sinister illnesses over the years. Am I right? If so, you can stop putting it down to being ‘unlucky’ and start making some small changes in your day-to-day life that might just change your ‘luck’ and start keeping your healthy for longer with less down time caused by sickness.
But before you stop reading for fear of being told to ‘clean your room’, let’s consider the value of this in context of your athletic performance for a moment. For an athlete, being able to train consistently for months on end is the most basic and critical building block to developing your athletic performance. Being able to train well for a month or two at a time, and then being wiped out for a 5 – 10 days with a cold two, three, four, even five times a year is going to set you back at least a month’s worth of training each time. It’s like a game of snakes and ladders…that you’re losing. You work your tail off climbing all these ‘training ladders’ only to get a cold or sickness (land on a snake), and you’re going backwards on a slippery slope each time. Physically and emotionally this is no way to go about life, let alone your #trilife. Particularly during heavy training loads, you are burning so much of your energy stores in training and leaving much less energy than normal for the body’s immune system to fight off any bugs that might be floating around in your environment.
So I’m hoping you’re still reading now that you understand the potential impact of these daily habits on your training and racing, rather than just feeling like you’re getting ‘told off’ by your mum.
There are so many places in your day-to-day life which may need some attention to reduce your exposure to potentially harmful bugs (like how long do you sit around in your cycling bibs for after your weekend ride…?) that can set you back in your training. In addition to addressing these habits, boosting your immune system with antioxidants (through diet and supplements) particularly during high training loads, travel, or times of high stress can also help to keep you training regularly.
Remember that achieving your athletic performance first and foremost requires consistent training. Getting some of the basics right in your daily living can go a long way in supporting your overall health and therefor your ability to remain healthy and training as frequently as you want, rather than waiting for bouts of sickness to pass before getting back out there.
Stay healthy so you can stay fit and strong!