No one wants a winter cold; streaming eyes, snotty nose and tiredness isn’t fun in the party season and even more annoying if it interrupts your cycling! If you are taking your training seriously this winter season, then taking steps to prevent picking up a cold is only sensible. Even a mild cold can mean a week of no riding so what can you do?
Firstly, let's bust a myth. Getting cold won’t give you a cold, only the cold virus will! Next time someone says as you head out on your bike ‘oooh you’ll catch a cold going out on a day like this’ just make sure to tell them that. However, there is an element of truth in it. If you already have the cold virus lurking, then research has shown that getting cold makes it more likely that symptoms will worsen or the virus will catch hold. If you have the tell-tale scratchy throat, tingling nose or itchy eyes take a day off and stay warm, you might just be able to avoid it developing.
Keeping away from the cold virus and not letting it enter your body is the only sure fire way to not get cold symptoms. The cold virus can live on hard surfaces for up to 24 hours so opening a door after someone who has the virus could transfer it to your fingers. Hygiene is critical in winter, wash your hands constantly and avoid touching your mouth or eyes.
Hard exercise can leave your immune system suppressed and under strain, if you can it is best to avoid busy communal places in the hour after a tough training session, when your body is most vulnerable. Make sure you stay hydrated as mucous is our natural defense against a virus entering our body. It will find it easier to get to work on your nose and throat if it is dry.
Loading up on oranges and vitamin C in winter is a popular way of preventing a cold but for the general population large doses of Vitamin C doesn’t work. But there is good news if you are a cyclist. In athletic populations, such as cyclists and marathon runners, research has shown that taking Vitamin C after bouts of exercise can prevent a cold. High doses at the onset of symptoms can reduce the length and severity of symptoms. Start taking it as soon as you notice symptoms. A high dose is 1,000mg up to three times a day, but be careful as large amounts can cause diarrhea and gut irritability so start slowly and see what your body can tolerate.
Zinc is another supplement that has been shown to lessen the symptoms. Zinc lozenges taken at the first sign of a cold will reduce the length of time it hangs around for. However long term use of zinc is not recommended as it can leave a very unpleasant taste in your mouth and has side effects such as nausea. It should be possible to get the recommended daily amount of zinc (7-10mg) from a healthy diet by including foods such as spinach, pumpkin seeds, shellfish and nuts. If you are supplementing during a cold do not exceed 25mg a day and only do this whilst you have symptoms.
If you have cold-like symptoms follow this golden rule. For symptoms above the neck it is safe to continue with light training and exercise may even help to reduce symptoms and help you clear congestion. For symptoms below the neck and in particular anything that has made its way to your chest stay off your bike completely until symptoms have gone.