Regular exercise is a powerful way of boosting the immune system, yet it can also be a double-edged sword. When pushing their bodies to the limit, athletes undergo extreme physiologic stress that actually limits the immune system in the hours immediately following exercise, making the body more susceptible to infection. This process, known as exercise-induced immunosuppression, causes athletes to get sick. And, there is nothing more frustrating than seeing those hard-earned fitness gains nullified by frequent colds and flu, sluggishness and fatigue. The good news is that there is a way to keep the immune system well oiled and fortified against infectious bugs: immune boosting foods. Through the regular addition of some important vitamins, minerals and nutrients to the diet, along with optimal fluid intake, smart eating can be one of the most effective ways for athletes to keep performance-harming illnesses at bay.
Glutamine is a naturally occurring amino acid that our bodies produce for various purposes, including tissue repair and immune system support. While the body engineers a sufficient amount under normal circumstances, in the case of punishing exercise it may be time for a glutamine top-up through immune boosting foods.
Plant-based nutrition, particularly leafy vegetables, are the best play here, particularly beets, cabbage, parsley and spinach. Glutamine stores in these foods are compromised by heat, so it is best to eat them raw. Fresh pre and post-workout juices and smoothies can be the best way to get your glutamine intake right.
Vitamin C has a powerful antioxidant functionality that helps fuel healthy immune systems. A shortage of this crucial vitamin has been linked with general immune system deficiency, leading to regularly occurring colds and susceptibility to ominous infections. Aging has also been linked to vitamin C deficiencies.
Given that our bodies do not produce vitamin C, it is vital to pile stocks high through immune boosting foods. Good sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits, kiwi fruit, berries, tart cherries, dark leafy greens, bell peppers and tomatoes. Integrate these into your diet and the body will be armed with the protection it needs after it has been pushed to the limit.
Zinc is a key mineral that increases white cell production and helps these cells fend off infections more effectively. It also helps the immune system release more antibodies, making it a crucial part of the athlete’s illness-preventing arsenal. An inadequate supply of zinc leads to commonly occurring flu and colds, along with chronic fatigue and generally poor health.
Given our bodies have no method of storing zinc, they rely on an adequate daily supply through immune boosting foods. Good sources of zinc include nuts, whole grains, beans, peas, lentils and yeast. Overdoing zinc intake can actually do more harm than good, so as always a balanced diet full of varied foods is the best way to get it right.
A balanced diet is never complete without appropriate hydration, which helps keep the body strong immediately following strenuous activity. Feeling thirsty is actually a delayed symptom of dehydration, and deficits in our body’s water stores can significantly reduce the efficacy of the immune system, not to mention harm performance.
There are a variety of pathways to ensuring smart hydration and subsequent strengthening of the immune system. Water is obviously an essential component, along with herbal teas that distribute disease-fighting antioxidants across the body. A combination of beet and tart cherry juice can also compensate for lost energy stores and boost recovery.
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