Our race goals are on hold. That doesn't mean all health goals need to be.
- By Spencer Proctor, PhD
Many of us were were getting close to peak fitness for an upcoming event or race, kicking off the 2020 season. With almost everything cancelled for the time being, you're probably asking yourselves -- what should I do now with my training regime, how long will this last (a while), and what can I do to keep myself in the best holding pattern? If you have not considered already, a revised goal can be one way of re-directing your energy in a focused manner and still be able to maintain motivation. Based on my reading and interpretation as a professor of Human Nutrition, I have provided some background on the case for incorporating a new goal to maximize your immune system and maintain lung health.
Mechanism of SARS-CoV-2 and lung health
Some of you would be aware that angiotensin enzyme 2 (AGE2; expressed predominantly in the heart and lung alveoli) regulates (protect) edema in the lungs via the AGE/AGE2 – AGE-receptor pathway. Unfortunately, it just so happens that AGE2 also acts as the molecular entry point for SARS-CoV-2 in the epithelia of lung alveoli (oxygen exchange cells). The external ‘spike’ of SARS-CoV-2 binds to AGE2 on the cell surface and internalizes the complex, reducing the availability of AGE2 to act to protect against edema.
With decreasing AGE2 on the cell surface, the alveoli lose surfactant; have increased edema; then enter a state of severe acute respiratory distress syndrome (SARS). Without any treatment, susceptible lungs can rapidly spiral into an unrecoverable permeable state of viral pneumonia and collapse.
The impact of this mechanism renders anyone with susceptible lung function and/or impaired immune system being more likely to develop complications when infected with SARS-CoV-2. Of course, we understand that the elderly are susceptible, but so too can be smokers, those with existing chronic diseases,
chronic pro-inflammatory conditions and maybe even chronic vapers (which may explain why sub-sets of younger people have also responded poorly to SARS-CoV-2). Physiologically, fitness and exercise stimulate the lymphatic system and help to maximize your immune response. These concepts form the premise for the
new goal to maximize your immune system and maintain lung health.
Fitness holding pattern
Those athletes with access to knowledgeable guidance and credible information may have already moved to (some form of) a holding pattern, being as ready as possible to ramp up within 6-8 weeks of notice. Whatever your level or capacity, unloading volume and capping Z4/Z5 intensities would be the first progression. The concept being to maintain mental and physical fitness while minimizing fatigue in an effort to maximize immune function and lung health. Cyclic rotations of your favourite Z1-Z3 sessions should fill most of your regime with some irregular, shorter Z4 intervals. Incorporating dry-land swim strength sessions and general core, ‘body-weight’ exercises will also come in-handy for staying indoors and self-isolation conditions. Get outside whenever feasible and enjoy some sunshine (and adhere to social distancing practices).
Nutrition wise, it might also be prudent to consider pegging back any metabolic stressors at this time. For example, strict ketogenic dieting may need to be relaxed; intermittent fasting or fasted-training sessions might also need to be tweaked. Having a good stock of your fuel source might be useful. For me, that means regularly fuelling with First Endurance line of premium products which, based on my personal experience, has always provided fast and effective endurance fuelling. Whatever your favourite go-to nutrition, fuelling regularly during this time will help to take the edge of fatigue and stress on the immune system.
What primary nutrition should I consider?
As much as possible, try to stick to perishable foods and primary produce whenever it is available. Have well balanced forms of plant and/or animal-based proteins. Get your daily intake of fruits and vegetables, ensure adequate intake of dairy and/or dairy-alternatives. In this increased time of being indoors, cook, create, share and be inspired with your food to stay motivated in the kitchen (especially if you have kids and teens!). Experts are also suggesting a course of immune boosting supplementation (cycling every 3-4 weeks), to aid being metabolically ready for viral (and bacterial) challenges. Several suggestions can be found in the literature such as Echinacea, Vitamin D3, high dose n-3 fatty acids and various forms of multivitamins. These can be found in a multitude of different forms and I encourage you to support Canadian-based companies that have credible scientifically-formulated products that are effective. First Endurance Canada also offers some excellent solutions.
Finally, if you do find yourself with cold/flu like symptoms and/or are concerned about tackling SARS-CoV-2 situation, do your utmost to maintain healthy nutrition. Based on some scientific resources, acute actions could include using paracetamol (versus ibuprofen) or even high dose Vitamin C has been suggested to help in some individuals. Anti-malarial medication (chloroquine) is now being promoted by some as part of potential treatment. Of course, always seek appropriate medical advice.
Best practises- COVID-19
Get used to social distancing. Self-isolate as much as possible. Be engaged about finding ways to change behaviours and be ambassadors to help others. Create sterile barriers when- and where- ever possible (washing hands, use of gloves and sanitizer on a regular basis), wipe common surfaces (door knobs, entry points). Best practises can be found as part of provincial and federal recommendations.
We are in unprecedented times and in a situation that causes uncertainty, anxiety and confusion. As athletes in the community we can do our part by maintaining our fitness and having good habits for ourselves. This in turn will enable us to help our neighbours, volunteer in the community settings or simply be there for our
Keep up the good work, stay home and stay fit!
Dr. Spencer Proctor is a Professor of Human Nutrition at the University of Alberta, Alberta, Canada. He is an
aspiring tri and multi-sport athlete and is an Ambassador for First Endurance Canada.