Throughout winter, the body’s immune system is placed under increased stress and becomes more vulnerable to infection. To add to this, it is well known that strenuous physical activity can temporarily suppress or alter the function of the immune system, as can the stress of competition, travel, and everyday life. Having access to some food suggestions and strategies for the winter months, which are targeted at improving overall health, boosting training performance and enhancing recovery, can reduce the number of training days missed due to sickness, and ultimately, optimise performance during competition. Some suggestions are included below.
Stewed oranges with yoghurt
There is a known link between good gut health and strong immune function, and as such it is important for athletes to have good gut health to maintain consistent training. Yoghurt contains healthy bacteria in the form of probiotics, meaning it can contribute significantly to good gut health. By coupling this with some oranges or other citrus fruits, which are rich in vitamin C, you will get an added immune boost.
Soup can be a great way to support your immune system, while also supporting athlete-specific nutritional needs. Aim to:
- Include a variety of colourful vegetables. More colour = more nutrients, like vitamins and minerals, which provides great support to the immune system.
- A source of protein, for example chicken, lamb or lentils. Protein helps with the growth and repair of both immune cells and muscle, and also helps with appetite satisfaction. Meat products are also a good source of zinc, which is an important supporting nutrient for the immune system.
- A good source of carbohydrates, for example brown rice, pearl barley or pasta. These carbohydrates are a great source of fuel for the body and mind and provide a good source of fibre to support gut health.
This simple ingredient contains plenty of micronutrients, including vitamin C and lycopene, a naturally occurring chemical with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. These components are great for supporting your immune system, thus making passata a wonderful ingredient to include in soups, cottage pie, spaghetti bolognese, homemade pizzas and risottos.
Lentils and legumes
Lentils and/or legumes are nutrition powerhouses! They are packed with carbohydrates, protein, fibre, iron and many other vitamins and minerals. They are also a wonderful source of prebiotics, which act to fuel the healthy bacteria in the body, thus playing an important role in the maintenance of a healthy gut. They can be added to a stew, soup or dhal for a nutritious plant-based meal or can be added to your favourite meat dishes (e.g. spaghetti bolognese, nachos) to boost the nutritional content.
Adequate energy intake
While this isn’t necessarily a food or meal suggestion, it is important to recognise that adequately fuelling and refuelling the body around training and eating according to your daily energy requirements is critical in maintaining and optimising immune function and minimising disruptions to training due to illness. In a constant state of energy deficit, the body’s ability to support the immune system is compromised, which can lead to increased risk of illness and longer duration of illness.
For tailored more detailed advice relating to your immune function, speak with your NSWIS Dietitian.