More immune power with the right food

For the first time in my life, I have the feeling, the world came to a stop. Covid-19, a virus, only some 150 nanometres in size, holds the world hostage. No one can foresee the global consequences for health and wealth of people around the world. Only now, we see a growing compliance to governmental rules and an informed awareness of what to do.

I would like to present here a few recommendations, how you can make sure to have your immune system in its best shape to tackle the crisis.

First, keep moving and get blood circulation, sunlight and oxygen powering your batteries. Structure your day accordingly and make sure you get your daily activity.

Then – I know, you’ve heard it before: wash your hands – Period.

Now, when it comes to nutrition, please make sure to:

  • Cook fresh and avoid too much convenience or canned foods. We want to have nutrient dense foods. Especially avoid deficiencies of the fat soluble vitamins A and E (you find them for example in dairy, eggs, nuts, seeds, olive oil, salmon, mackerel) and water-soluble vitamins folic acid, B6, B12 (whole grain products, eggs, beef, tuna, salmon)  and C (fresh fruit, veggies) impair immune function and decrease the body’s resistance to infection.
  • Get your daily protein amount (1.4-1.6g/kg body weight). Inadequate protein intake weakens your immune system. This is especially relevant for people that undergo calory restrictions to lose weight – a caloric deficit a/o not enough protein makes you more prone to infections.
  • When it comes to certain minerals that can have an impact on our immune system, there is equivocal findings on many. It’s confirmed that zinc, iron, magnesium, manganese, selenium and copper have an impact on our immune system, yet it’s only zinc and iron that we find isolated deficiencies in general. While excess mineral consumption (particularly iron and zinc) can impair immune function and increase susceptibility to infections, I think it’s best to eat your balanced diet with high value ingredients and assure you get the optimum in vitamins and minerals without any supplements. If the use of a supplement gives you a better feeling, ask at your store of trust for a balanced formula that contains a good blend of vitamins and minerals instead of swallowing high doses of every single nutrient.

Special Focus for Athletes:

Since most sports events from amateur to professional level are cancelled until further notice and there are strong calls – from the athletes’ side ! – to cancel or rather postpone the Olympic games (July, Tokyo) as well, this is a completely new situation for all athletes out there. They can well address weaknesses now, that had not had the necessary focus or time to it, but at the same time, they need to stay in shape. Many take a break from their normal training plan. This reduces energy requirements as well. They should follow the general recommendations: keep your body weight stable, try to keep up your activity as “normal” as possible. Think of your diet well: there are interesting studies with athletes that show, that a diet rich in carbohydrates gives you a stronger immune defence than an equicaloric diet rich in fat. So, for all athletes out there: don’t try to aggressively lose weight these days. Make sure, you drink enough, to not only avoid dehydration, but keep your saliva flowing – saliva contains antimicrobial properties, including immunoglobulin-A (IgA), lysozyme and a-amylase to fight intruders in your mouth.

Consume 30-60g of carbs per hour in longer trainings (>2.5h) to keep cortisol and inflammation markers low, while avoiding immune suppression. Don’t schedule your super hard HIIT block while being locked in to ride on rollers, because frequent bouts of intense training will make you more prone to infections as well.

This goes out to people too, that only start exercising now. Recent studies show that 60 minutes of moderate exercise should be met with a slight increase in carbohydrates, in order not to attenuate your immune function.

I hope this gives you a few tips to get through these difficult times the best way possible. We are in this together and we should support each other in every possible way. Make sure you stay safe, healthy and committed to the official rulings to battle the Covid-19.

Source: Exercise, Nutrition, and Immune Function, Gleeson et al. Journal of Sports Sciences · February 2004

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