How to Handle Allergies as an Athlete
Two types of allergies can be especially tricky to manage for an athlete: pollen and food.
Exercising outdoors as the weather is changing can cause increased fatigue, difficulty breathing, and itchy, watery eyes. Traveling for competitions and other events can expose athletes to unsafe foods unknowingly.
I myself have an allergy to sunflower seeds, which unfortunately has gotten worse over time and has been triggered most often by eating foods served at an event where it was not immediately clear that the allergen was present (protein bars, Chex mix, bagels, etc.).
If you are a parent, managing these symptoms in an active child can be even more challenging to manage and anticipate.
In light of this, I wanted to share some quick tips on what you can do to decrease the chance of an allergic reaction occurring, and also how to be prepared in case one does:
- Take an anti-histamine at least 15 minutes before going outside. This will allow the medication to take effect by the time you are exposed.
- Exercise in the morning or evening if you can, as pollen will be at its lowest levels in the air during this time.
- Decrease the intensity of your activity to prevent excessive stress on your respiratory system.
- Pack your own food as much as possible. This is kind of a no-brainer, but keep in mind it is the best way to make sure what you eat is safe.
- Tell the person serving the food you have an allergy before you eat anything. This is especially important for allergies that are uncommon (such as my allergy to sunflower seeds). Many foods may contain allergens without it being readily apparent, especially baked goods and snack foods.
- ALWAYS READ LABELS. Even if it seems unlikely a food will contain an allergen, it never hurts to look (and it certainly can hurt not to).
In general: always keep any medication needed to treat an allergic reaction on hand (Benadryl, Epi-pens, etc.). For some individuals, 5-10 minutes can make a big difference, and you never want to be in a situation where you are unprepared.
If you suspect you have an allergy, but have not had it confirmed, contact an allergist to be tested. Some allergies are not overt but may cause underlying damage to the body over time when the allergen is consumed regularly, which can sometimes be the case with a gluten sensitivity and other mild allergies as well.
If you have any questions about how to manage your specific food allergies nutritionally, please feel free to contact me!