Immune System

Have you recently found yourself with a stuffy head, a runny nose, a scratch in your throat or all-around lethargy?

Although some people are genetically blessed with a great immune system, most people have to work hard at daily lifestyle habits to keep the body in good health.

Although an illness can completely disrupt training, your ability to function well in this world is dependent on a great working immune system. Your immune system is responsible for a lot, like fighting foreign invaders (ex. pathogenic bacteria and viruses) and for destroying cells when they become cancerous.

A strong immune system requires a healthy diet. Poor nutrition habits, along with stress (life and training) has been shown to result in increased infections, slow healing from injury and increased susceptibility of illness. Although immune system functioning decreases with age, healthy lifestyle habits, like sleep, stress management, daily exercise and nutrition can help to keep the immune system in good health.

Considering that a deficiency of a single nutrient can result in an altered immune response, one of the most important factors in supporting a healthy immune system is good nutrition. In other words, healthy eating can keep your immune system functioning well.

According to research, here are a few nutrients to help protect your immune system.  

Protein – A deficiency of protein in the diet can result in the inability to make antibodies which are needed to target viruses and bacteria. Eat a variety of protein foods including plant and animal proteins like meat, fish, eggs, soy, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds.

Probiotics – Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that help keep your gut healthy. Probiotics are found in your body but also in foods and supplements. When you take antibiotics, you lose good bacteria in your body so probiotics can help replace them and balance your good and bad bacteria in your body. The live microorganisms in yogurt and kefir can help improve your digestive system and ease GI issues like constipation, IBS, lactose intolerance and diarrhea. Be sure your yogurt says “contains active cultures” to assure it has probiotics in it.

Herbs and spices – A cost effective way to boosting your immune system is by keeping your kitchen cupboard stocked with a variety of herbs and spices. For decades, herbs and spices have been used for their medicinal properties. Adding a robust flavor to your meals, these tiny nutritional powerhouses are rich in antioxidants, anti-inflammatory properties and other nutritious substances that help your body fight against toxins and germs. Check out this quick guide to herbs and spices.

Essential fatty acids – Diets low in omega-3 fatty acids are associated with chronic inflammatory conditions and autoimmune diseases. Increase your consumption of omega-3 rich foods like wild caught cold water fish like salmon, flaxseeds (ground or oil), walnuts, whole grains, eggs and leafy green veggies.

Vitamins and minerals – Fruits and veggies provide antioxidants and phytonutrients that help maintain healthy tissue around the sites of infection and to assist in healing, all while optimizing immune system health. All vitamins and minerals are needed to promote proper immune system functioning. Vitamin C, Iron, B-vitamins, Vitamin A, Vitamin E, Vitamin K, Zinc, Copper, Selenium and Manganese can help support your immune system. Food contains a variety of nutrients which is the main reason why restrictive, poorly planned and calorie deficient diets (intentionally or through excessive training and not meeting energy needs) result in many health related issues. Additionally, supplemental forms (or megadoses) of nutrients have not been shown to augment health (or promote enhanced athletic performance). Investing in edible, nutrient-rich food provides your body with a wide range of nutrients. In other words, food is your medicine!

Water – Imagine how great it feels to take a shower after feeling sweaty or dirty. Now think about how great your inside feels when you stay properly hydrated. Water helps all of your body function well, flushing toxins, keeping your digestive system strong, lubricating the joints and oxygenating your blood. Aim to drink between 90-120 ounces of water per day which does not include additional water consumed during workouts and from rehydration beverages.

Simple suggestions for boosting your immune system: 

•Include whole grains in your daily diet. Experiment with different flours, grains and starches.

•Choose a wide variety of fruit and vegetables throughout the day and be sure your meals are colorful (and not heavy on one color, like green or white). Aim to eat at least one plant strong meal a day and choose fruit for snacking or as dessert.

•Stay well hydrated throughout the day. Aim to drink between 90-120 ounces of water every day (this doesn’t include additional water consumed during workouts).

•Aim to meet carbohydrate needs during high volume/intensity days. Insufficient carb intake (daily or during training) can increase stress hormones, thus suppressing your immune system.