Hitting while it’s hot: boosting immunity at the right time
By Dawn Weatherwax RD, LD, ATC, CSCS
The goal during training is to stay healthy, injury-free, and recover strong. This allows you to make the most of your competition potential! However, sometimes athletes can go all out to meet their hydration, nutrition, and sleep goals, but still find themselves sniffling or feeling bad.
Is there anything that can be done to help athletes when this happens? Believe it or not, there are!
First, let’s recap what an athlete should do daily to boost their health and immunity:
1. Eat enough and achieve 100% vitamins A, E, & C, D (food/supplementation). Daily nutrition has the most impact on all aspects of training, especially immunity. However, 75% of athletes are chronically undernourished or consume too much added sugar or saturated fat. Undernourishment (otherwise known as “low energy availability”) is an important factor. The body needs to be nourished properly to optimally recover, repair, grow and perform consecutive workouts. Carbohydrates, proteins and healthy fats are involved in a variety of immune processes.
2. Optimal fluid intake. Lack of hydration intake not only impairs performance, but also impacts the integrity of the gut lining. A weak intestine leads to an increased possibility of getting sick.
3. Daily pre/probiotic foods/supplements. Probiotics impact the health of our gut microbiome. A healthy gut impacts how we fight disease.
4. Sleep well. Continued lack of sleep weakens the immune system and opens up the possibility of getting sick or injured.
NEXT STEPS (Within 24 hours of cold or flu symptoms)
The following reduces the duration and intensity:
1. Vitamin C affects inflammation, kills bacteria and fights infections. The goal is to add 500 to 1,000 mg of vitamin C daily via supplementation for the duration of symptoms.
2. Zinc is an essential mineral for wound healing and the functioning of the immune system. It has been shown to shorten colds by approximately 33%. The goal is 75 mg/day of elemental zinc. Better to take 2-4 doses throughout the day to avoid nausea. Zinc lozenges, tablets or capsules are the most common forms of supplementation. (Do not continue taking after 7-10 days if symptoms persist. High levels of zinc interfere with copper absorption.)
Sometimes athletes can do everything right, but still get sick. The goal is to minimize the duration and intensity of illness to have a negligible impact on training and performance outcomes. I highly recommend athletes have an “immune kit” as it usually strikes at inopportune times.
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This article and the following sample menu are for educational purposes only and should not be used in place of medical advice.
3,000 CALORIE WORKOUT MENU
Pre-swim training (4:30 a.m. to 5:15 a.m.)
2 slices Brownberry® Thin Sliced Organic 22 Whole Grain & Seed Bread
2 C natural nut or seed butter
1/2 banana (sliced)
1 grapefruit or large orange
16 ounces of water
4-16 oz of water per hour (amount needed depends on sweat rate)
1 Dave’s Killer English Muffin
3 whole eggs, cooked with 1 chopped bell pepper and 1/2 cup spinach or 3-Veggies Made Great® (freezer section and gluten-free) mushrooms and cheese frittata
1 slices of Canadian or vegan bacon/1 oz of cheese
2 kiwi fruit
16 ounces of water
2 oz Mary’s Gone Crackers™ (SG)
2 ounces of lean turkey
1 ounce lean ham
1 ounce of Provolone
1 oz cheddar cheese
1/4 cup sliced cucumbers
1-1/2 cup grapes
2 cups snow peas
1/3 cup hummus or Chosen® Classic Guacamole
16 oz Water or Origin™ Sparkling Berries America Spring Water
Afternoon snack (2-3:30 p.m.)
1 Garden of Life high performance bar
1/8 cup raw almonds
1/8 cup Pepita seeds
1/8 cup golden raisins
1 tsp cocoa nibs
1 tsp dried cranberries
16 oz water or blackberry raspberry hibiscus Bigelow Botanicals™ cold water infusion tea bag
Training (3:30-5:30 p.m.)
10-20 oz of water per hour with one NUUN tablet (optional) per 20 oz
After recovery within 30-45 minutes: 10-20 oz chocolate milk/soy milk or Clif Builder Bar (if you can eat dinner within that time then no need for that snack)
Evening meal (6 p.m.-7 p.m.)
3-6 ounces of salmon
1-2 cups of asparagus
1 T olive oil or non-GMO rapeseed oil
1 cup garlic red potatoes
1 teaspoon Land o Lakes® Butter with Olive Oil and Sea Salt
16 ounces of water
Evening snack (8-10 p.m.)
1 Okios® Triple Zero 20 g protein or Kite Hills® New Recipe Greek Yogurt 17 g protein
1 cup raspberries
2 T Post® grape nuts
1/4 cup salted nugget seeds
Dawn Weatherwax (RD, LD, ATC, CSCS) is a registered dietitian specializing in sports nutrition and founder of Sports Nutrition 2Go and Dawn Weatherwax Sports Nutrition Academy. She has worked with swimmers for over 25 years and started an online nutrition program for swimmers at Dawnweatherwax.com. Additionally, she is an athletic trainer with a certification in strength and conditioning from the National Strength and Conditioning Association.