How to boost your immune system | Tips by bike pro Uwe Hardter

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In times like the current COVID-19 crisis, it’s important to keep your immune system strong and healthy. Former bike pro and pharmacist Uwe Hardter shares his tips! 

How to boost your immune system

Tips and tricks by bike pro Uwe Hardter 

Uwe Hardter is one of the old hands on the Texpa Simplon  team. During his time as a road cyclist on Team Gerolsteiner, he competed in the Paris-Roubaix race several times and also took part in the Giro d’Italia. Alongside his career as a pro cyclist, he studied pharmacology and later on took over his father’s pharmacy in the Swabian Jura. 

Just like any other time when lots of people get ill, pharmacists are the ones experiencing the corona crisis first-hand – and the same goes for Uwe Hardter. That’s why he’s really intent on keeping his immune system as strong as possible. For the Simplon Magazine, he shares some of his tips and tricks for boosting the immune system and which vitamins might help with that. 

Exercise and nutrition 

“Regular exercise in fresh air and plenty of sleep are the most important factors! As athletes, we usually do that automatically” , says Uwe Hardter. Stress and a lack of sleep really wreak havoc on the immune system. 

Additionally, the former pro cyclist recommends a balanced diet as an important basis for health. Fruit and vegetables supply the body with vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that strengthen the immune system and protect the body against viruses and bacteria. 

Regular exercise in fresh air and plenty of sleep are the most important factors! As athletes, we usually do that automatically.
-Uwe Hardter-

Vitamins, vitamins, vitamins 

Vitamins are crucial because they control several processes within the body. Athletes should pay particular attention to getting enough B vitamins as well as vitamin C, D and E. 

But which vitamin does what? 

  • Vitamin B1 and B6 are essential for the production of energy from carbohydrates. 
  • Vitamin B12 and folic acid are important for blood formation and thus for oxygen transport to the cells. 
  • Vitamin C and E help the body rid itself of undesirable metabolites and support the immune system. 
  • Vitamin D3 can be produced by the body if you expose your skin to enough sunlight. During the winter months, many people develop a vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D is essential for many biological processes, and it helps to supplement it in winter. The fat-soluble vitamins D and E are better absorbed if taken with food. 
  • Amino acids and zinc are a great combo for effective protection against viruses. Walnuts contain a lot of it. Protein found in meat, fish or dairy products also supports the formation of immune cells. 

A pharmacist’s tip on supplementing vitamin B12: There are different types of cobalamins (= vitamin B12). Most tablets or capsules contain cyanocobalamin. The body needs to convert cyanocobalamin into methylcobalamin which is the bio-active form of cobalamin. If you take methylcobalamin, the body is better able to use it. Hydroxycobalamin is the storage form of B12, so it has a depot effect. 

Tip for athletes: Long and intense training sessions can weaken the immune system. That’s why you should really make sure to replenish your carbohydrate stores right after. This reduces the time needed for recovery and restores the immune system’s ability to fight pathogens. 

As long as I feel good, I don’t take any supplements because I want to prevent the body from getting used to them. But when I get the feeling that I might have caught something, I try to immediately help the body in fighting it by suppling nutrients and vitamins.
-Uwe Hardter-

What if you already caught something?

If you experience nasal congestion, you should try steam inhalation. Put about ten grams of camomile flowers into a bowl and then pour a litre of boiling water over them! Place a towel over your head and hold your face over the bowl inhaling the camomile steam for ten minutes!

Uwe Hardter also tries to stop the progression of a cold by taking vitamin C, vitamin D and Zinc. Certain plant extracts like cistus, ginger and grapefruit seed extract might help as well. They’re particularly effective against common cold viruses.

Supplements – yay or nay? 

“As long as I feel good, I don’t take any supplements because I want to prevent the body from getting used to them. But when I get the feeling that I might have caught something, I try to immediately help the body in fighting it by suppling nutrients and vitamins.  If I start the supplements early enough, it usually stops the virus from taking hold. Instead of a full-blown cold or worse, I might just get a bit of a sore throat or a stuffy nose that goes away after two or three days”, Uwe Hardter says. 

The former cyclist wants to avoid taking too many supplements in general. Usually, a balanced diet is enough to get ample vitamins and minerals. So, it’s not necessary to supplement them on a regular basis. 

“However, if you’re very active, the body needs more energy. If you sweat, you lose a lot of minerals. And after a training session, the requirements for certain micronutrients are much higher than if you hadn’t trained because the body needs them for recovery. So that’s why I’d say, use supplements deliberately based on the extent of your training. The first line of defense against a deficiency is to improve recovery and strengthen the immune system.”  

However, people shouldn’t use too many supplements at the same time. Sometimes the effects and ingredients overlap or interfere with each other, and you might get too much of a certain nutrient.  

Summed up: 7 tips to protect and strengthen your immune system 

  1. enough sleep (at least 7 h per night) 
  2. regular exercise in fresh air 
  3. frequently washing your hands with soap 
  4. a healthy and balanced diet with lots of fruit and vegetables, enough protein and an overall appropriate calorie balance 
  5. avoiding very intense training sessions before you go to work or meet a lot of people 
  6. replenishing your carbohydrate and nutrient reserves as quickly as possible after a training session
  7. If you start to feel under the weather, take vitamin C and zinc right away – and maybe ginger, cistus, and grapefruit seed extract! Take a day off from training just to be on the safe side!

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