How To Boost Your Immune System (All Year Long!)

A lingering cold or flu can put a kink in your training schedule. And unfortunately, popping vitamin C capsules won’t help you kick a cold once you have it.

While you can’t always control getting sick, you can promote a healthier immune system throughout the year. Give your body the support it needs to prevent or fight nasty winter viruses with these five tips.

1. Avoid Under-Eating or Over-Exercising

Get enough fuel for your workouts and make sure you’re not pushing your body too far.

If you’re not meeting your calorie needs, your body will increase its production of certain stress hormones. This puts you at risk for over-training, injury and a weakened immune system.

Don’t underestimate the importance of rest days – they’re a vital part of any good training program. Make your hard days hard, your easy days easy and make sure your weight is consistent.

If you feel weak or start to lose more than a pound per week, you may not be eating enough to support your training.

Not sure how many calories you need? Call the Sanford Sports Science Institute at (605) 312-7870 to test your resting energy expenditure.

2. Get Enough Zzzs

While you sleep, you give your muscles a chance to rest and rebuild.

If your sleeping pattern is erratic or you’re getting less than seven hours of sleep a night, you’re not giving your body the rest it needs to recover. Lack of sleep also increases cortisol, a stress hormone, and can delay recovery after exercise.

Skipping on sleep can also increase ghrelin and decrease leptin, two hormones that may make you feel hungrier than normal.

Sleep also directly affects your immune system. When you’re sleep-deprived, your immune system doesn’t work as hard to fight off illness. Studies have shown that people who get less than six hours of sleep in a night are more susceptible to colds.

The combination of delayed recovery, increased hunger and diminished immunity can be bad news for athletes. Make sleep a priority. Your sleep schedule should be considered just as important as your workouts and nutrition.

3. Eat Five or More Servings of Fruits and Vegetables a Day

Have at least a serving of fruits or vegetables at every meal and snack.

Add these power foods to your diet:

  • Apples
  • Bell peppers
  • Berries
  • Carrots
  • Citrus fruits
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Winter squash

Remember, the more color you have on your plate, the more immune-boosting vitamins and minerals you’re getting in your diet.

4. Jump-Start Recovery After Exercise

Eat a post-workout snack that helps your body refuel and gives you a boost of energy.

After a high-intensity workout or one that lasts over 90 minutes, your snack should have a 2:1 or 3:1 ratio of carbs to protein. This increases glycogen (energy) and helps promote muscle healing and growth.

There are a lot of foods that can help you refuel and recover, including:

  • Banana with peanut butter
  • Chocolate milk
  • Greek yogurt with berries and granola
  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwich
  • Rice with chicken and vegetables
  • Smoothie

Make sure to eat throughout the day to make sure your body has everything it needs to build muscle and store carbohydrates away to prepare you for your next workout.

5. Give Your Gut Some Attention

A huge portion of your immune system is your stomach and gastrointestinal tract. If you want to boost your immune system, give your gut some love.

Probiotics are foods that maintain or restore good gut bacteria. They include:

  • Kimchi
  • Sauerkraut
  • Supplements
  • Yogurt or kefir with live and active cultures

Prebiotics stimulate the growth of good gut bacteria and include:

  • Asparagus
  • Beans
  • Garlic
  • Leeks
  • Onions
  • Potatoes
  • Whole grains

Boost your immune system all year long to prevent colds or the flu from slowing you down.