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It's frustrating to train for a big race or make it past the first round of the playoffs, then suddenly become ill. Athletes are at high risk for colds and other fatigue-related illnesses due to the stresses of competition, constant interaction with their peers and busy schedules. Unfortunately, catching a bug can sabotage your performance, or keep you out of competition entirely.
You can take preventative measures to reduce the risk of contracting an illness. Proper nutrition, recovery and hydration are all critical for maintaining your immune system so it can fight off the germs that you will inevitably come in contact with.
Follow these food guidelines to keep yourself healthy and performing at your best.
- Carbohydrates. Replenishing your energy stores is essential for keeping your immune system functioning at its peak. Make sure to take in carbs before, during and especially after competition to offset the suppressive effect of exercise on immune function.
- Lean protein. Foods containing zinc also help support immune function. The body requires zinc to develop and activate T-lymphocytes, which help prevent illness. Examples include lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts.
- Iron deficiency anemia can also lead to decreased immune function and fatigue. Consume adequate amounts of iron from sources such as lean meats, poultry, nuts, beans, lentils, and dark or leafy greens. Also make sure to get your daily dose of vitamin C so the body can more easily absorb iron.
- Eat foods rich in antioxidants every day to combat oxidative stress. Antioxidants are found in brightly colored fruits and vegetables.
- Eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids (healthy fats) for their anti-inflammatory properties. Peanut butter, extra virgin olive oil, avocado and salmon are great options.
- Choose foods that contain probiotics, such as yogurt, sauerkraut or Kombucha to enhance gastrointestinal and immune health.
- Make sure to take rest days and engage in some relaxing activities!
Sources: Sports Nutrition and Cardiovascular Wellness (SCAN); Office of Dietary Supplements