We always want to keep our immune system as strong as we can, whatever the situation. As athletes, it is a challenge balancing between food and exercising. And obviously, what we eat and how we train affects our immunity.
Today we are going to ask some questions to expert nutritionists to find out what we can be doing to optimize our overall health.
What foods should we be eating to boost our immunity?
Firstly, the key thing to say is we can’t boost our immunity, we can support our immunity, and we can maintain our immunity, but we can’t boost it. There’s a lot of misinformation out there at the moment, especially in our current climate, lots of posts, and advertisements for particular supplements coming out that are going to boost your immunity, and that’s not possible. It’s just really important to highlight that that’s not the case.
However, we can definitely maintain our immunity, and it’s a combination of lots of different things. It’s not just food; for example, sleep is huge in terms of our immunity. We know there are many studies that have shown that if you get less than 8 hours a day, it has a real negative impact on your immunity. Stress also is a huge factor at the moment because a lot of people are feeling incredibly anxious and uncertain about the situation.
Levels of anxiety today are incredibly high, and it’s trying to find strategies that can help you deal with, which is really important. On top of that is being active but not to the point where you are overstressing the system.
What can we do to help maintain our immunity? Are there certain food groups that we should definitely be making sure that we have? Or certain foods that maybe we’re not taking on and that we should consider to take?
The key thing is trying not to remove anything from your diet at the moment because there are some coaches suggesting people do a bit of fasting, miss out breakfast things like that, which actually is the worst thing you can do for the immune system. My advice is to try and keep as much routine as you can and ensure that you’re getting a really good balance.
We know that one of the key areas of immunity is ensuring that’s enough carbohydrate in the system, particularly if you are active. That’s one of the most important keys – nutrients.
The other thing is obviously making sure that you are getting as many vitamins and minerals as you can now. In current circumstances, it can be quite hard because you’re not going out at the shops that often and you’re not buying as many fresh fruit vegetables.
But remember that there are options like we do have frozen, we do have canned, we do have dried, and they all do contain high levels of vitamins and minerals. So you can still make sure that you’re getting sort of your vitamins and minerals and the particular ingredients.
We know again a low iron level can reduce your immunity, so foods that are particularly high in iron like fortified cereals, red meat, eggs, beans and pulses to a degree, green leafy vegetables, whole grains are essential.
The one thing you’ve got to remember is that with plant-based options, it’s much harder to absorb the iron, so trying to have that with some vitamin C can really help to boost the uptake of iron.
Also, make sure that you’re getting a lot of your vitamin B, zinc and vitamin C. Again, if you’re eating a balanced diet which you have carbs, essential protein fats, fresh or frozen fruit, and vegetables, you should be meeting all your requirements without really having to worry too much.
What has the most nutrients when it comes to frozen dried or tinned products?
Obviously, the freshest is the best. However, sometimes frozen fruits and vegetables better than fresh, because when we buy fresh and we leave it in our fridges, or we leave them on the side. Every day that it’s left on the side is actually losing vitamins and minerals, whereas when we have frozen, it preserves the vitamin content a lot more.
So after fresh, I would say frozen is at the top, then canned and then dried.
We’ve talked about it before, about how vitamin C helps to absorb iron – do we need to be taking more vitamin C every day?
There are lots of different ways to take vitamin C, and it is very easy to obtain. I think people panic about vitamin C because the average medium-size orange gives you your vitamin C requirements for a day, so it’s not actually that hard to get your vitamin requirements.
People think that they need to eat it in mega doses because we’ve been told it boosts our immunity. It doesn’t boost our immunity, but what we do know is that if you increase your intake of vitamin C and zink in the case of cold infection, it can reduce the longevity of the infection. Now whether that is the same for COVID-19, we have no idea. We doubt it is because it seems to be like a very different virus and affects people in very different ways.
At the moment, a lot of people are not getting as much sunshine, as usual, so we would recommend taking vitamin D supplements because we know that vitamin d is really important for your immune function as well.
If you have been taking a vitamin D supplement, you should continue to take it for the time being while we are indoors.
Also, there is some really good evidence that taking a probiotic can help with upper respiratory tract infections. When we were preparing athletes for major international games, Paralympics, Olympics, we would usually encourage them to take a 12-week course of probiotics in the lead-up to the games in an attempt to help prevent any other upper respiratory tract infections. That would be something that I think could be of benefit right now.
Whatever the situation, you should try to maintain the same sort of routine as you can manage, listen to your body and also just keep that really nice healthy balanced diet.