Nutrition to strengthen your immune system
Did you know that routine exercise creates free radicals in the body that can weaken the immune system over time? Antioxidants actually help fight free radicals while working to help protect the body, decrease inflammation and strengthen the immune system. Athletes can optimize antioxidant intake by focusing on a diet that is rich in whole foods, lean proteins and healthy fats. Some key nutrients to focus on include:
Polyphenols are naturally found in plant-based foods, and can act as antioxidants to help neutralize the body’s stress-induced state following exercise. Include fruits and vegetables in a variety of colors to maximize your intake of polyphenols. And remember, the deeper the shade, the richer the nutrients!
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that form the gut microbiome. They are needed for strong and healthy digestive and immune systems. Get more probiotics in your diet by eating fermented foods, like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, miso, tempeh and pickled beets.
Vitamin D is a hormone the body makes when sunlight hits the skin. Due to increased time indoors from a long winter followed by sheltering-at-home protocols, vitamin D levels have decreased in many individuals. Do your best to offset potential deficiencies by getting outside and taking a walk, and choosing vitamin D-fortified foods when you do make it to the grocery store.
- Aim for 7-plus hours of uninterrupted sleep each night.
- Maintain a healthy weight and eat sufficient calories with a focus on:
- 30-60 grams carbohydrate per hour of exercise.
- a recovery snack that includes carbs and protein within 30 minutes of stopping activity.
- 2-plus servings of fatty fish each week (e.g., salmon, tuna, mackerel, lake trout).
- Cook foods to recommended temperatures and fully reheat to steaming hot.
- Wash hands thoroughly and frequently, especially before and after eating.
- Avoid alcohol, smoking and over-training.
- Practice daily stress-relieving activities (e.g., meditation, journaling, yoga, etc.).
Trish Kellogg, MS, RDN, CSSD, LDN, is a board-certified sports dietitian.