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  • Nicole Rubenstein, MS, RD, CSSD, CDE

How to keep your immune system working at full throttle, year round.

Updated: Dec 21, 2021

We typically associate the cold, winter months with a higher opportunity for getting sick. As an athlete, you need to be on your game for preventing illness year-round, especially when training load goes up. If you notice that you are having a hard time recovering between training sessions, are getting sick often, and are feeling excessive fatigue, your immune system may be suppressed. A mis-match between your nutrient intake and training load is one major factor that can suppress your immune system. Inadequate sleep and frequent travel can also raise your risk.

Here are some quick tips to help you stay healthy as your training ramps up:

1) Include foods high in vitamin C - lemon, lime, orange, broccoli, spinach, chard, bell pepper. DO NOT take a vitamin C supplement on a regular basis, as there is evidence that taking antioxidants chronically may blunt your training response.

2) Use ginger, garlic and turmeric frequenty. Try adding these foods to 1-2 meals per day or make fresh tea with these ingredients.

3) Include foods rich in probiotics, like plain yougurt and kefir, on a daily basis.

While these suggestions will help you boost your antioxidant intake and improve gut health, it’s only part of the solution for dealing with immunosuppression. Everyone will have different calorie, carbohydrate, and protein needs based on their training load for the day, week, training period. If this is mis-matched, you can eat all the immune-boosting foods in the world and it won’t help. Recovery nutrition and proper fueling is just as important, and likely more important, than throwing antioxidants at the problem. Consider working with a sports dietitian to help you calculate your needs based on your training plan. Together, you should be able to create a meal plan that allows you to hit your nutrient goals, fit your training and travel schedule, and allow for lots of eating enjoyment!

Lastly, keep yourself healthy during travel. Public transit, including airplanes, and being around large groups of people can expose you to more germs. Bump up your intake of the immune-boosting foods (listed above) a few weeks before, during, and after travel. Consider a zinc supplement during this time as well.

Comment below with your favorite immune-boosting meal or snack!

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