How to use nutrition to support a healthy immune system

The cold and flu season is quickly approaching. Even a mild illness can cause a major setback to your fitness gains.

Herrick_Kelsey-2Making sure that you’re eating the right foods and including rest days in your routine can make a huge difference to your immune health. Maintaining the best immunity can often mean the difference between success and failure during the season.

Let’s talk about foods that can help you stay healthy and maximize your workouts.

How to balance nutrition, exercise and immunity

It is important to make sure that you are consuming enough calories, carbohydrates, dietary fats and protein to keep your energy levels up and to support your exercise energy expenditure.

Long training sessions can have a suppressive effect on immune function. Make sure to include a source of carbohydrates before, during and after a training session.

Foods to help support your immune system

There are many foods that are important to include in your diet to support a healthy immune system:

  • Including sources of protein like lean meat, poultry, eggs, beans, seafood and soy products can help keep your immune system healthy. Protein is part of your body’s defense mechanism.
  • Vitamin A. To help regulate the immune system, include sources of vitamin A. Vitamin A also helps to protect the body from infections by keeping skin and tissues in the mouth, stomach, intestines and respiratory system healthy. Foods that are a good source of vitamin A include: sweet potatoes, carrots, kale, spinach, red bell peppers, apricots and eggs.
  • Vitamin C. Another vitamin that can help protect the body from infection is vitamin C. Vitamin C stimulates the formation of antibodies which can improve immune function. Good sources of vitamin C include: papaya, strawberries, tomato juice, foods fortified with vitamin C, and citrus fruits like oranges or grapefruit.
  • Vitamin E is an important antioxidant that can help neutralize free radicals and improve your immune function. Include sources of vitamin E in your diet such as sunflower seeds, almonds, vegetable oils, hazelnuts, peanut butter and fortified cereals.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids. Add omega-3 fatty acids to reduce chronic inflammation. Foods that are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, tuna, flaxseed, chia seeds and walnuts.
  • Zinc and vitamin D. Other important nutrients to include in your diet to promote your immune health include zinc (lean meats, poultry, seafood, milk, whole grains, beans, seeds and nuts), vitamin D (fatty fish, egg yolks and foods fortified with vitamin D).

More ways to boost your immune system

To keep your immune system running strong, make sure to eat a well-balanced diet that provides you with a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins.

Make sure to practice proper hand washing and food safety practices.

Recovery from workouts is important. Prioritize this by including rest days into your routine.

Don’t forget that a sports nutrition dietitian is always available to work with you to determine your energy needs to support both your training and immune function. To meet with a dietitian near you, contact us.

Kelsey Herrick, RD, CSSD, LRD