What to Eat to Stay Healthy On and Off the Field

Certain foods can help combat coughs, colds, flu and even stomach problems. Learn what they are from STACK Expert Jim Carpentier so you can stay on the field this season.

When your name is called in key situations this coming season, you must be mentally and physically ready to execute the play successfully. Coaches and teammates will be counting on you.

You don't want to be sidelined by a seasonal cold or flu.


Athlete Illness

When your name is called in key situations this coming season, you must be mentally and physically ready to execute the play successfully. Coaches and teammates will be counting on you.

You don't want to be sidelined by a seasonal cold or flu.

To help keep your immune system in top shape, I've put together a "nutritional playbook." Keep the following foods handy during the new school year to help prevent illnesses—and if you do get sick, to recover from symptoms more quickly.

Foods for Respiratory Ailments: Coughs, Asthma, and Sinus and Lung Congestion

Garlic and Onions. Consuming raw garlic and onions helps kill cold and flu germs and boosts the immune system. The allicin and sulfur components are antimicrobial, fungicidal and antiviral.

Garlic is even more potent than onions for alleviating an annoying ticklish cough or sinus and chest congestion.

Dark Chocolate. Theobromine, a compound in cocoa, has been shown to lessen coughing from colds, allergies and asthma. To ease coughs, eat a few pieces of dark chocolate, or make hot cocoa with cocoa powder or dark chocolate bits.

Ginger. Ginger is effective in reducing the severity of upper respiratory tract infections, coughing and bronchitis. Chop some ginger root and add to vegetables, or brew ginger powder (in spice form) as a tea for a soothing cough remedy.

Cayenne Pepper, Horseradish, and Spicy Hot Mustard. Cayenne pepper, horseradish and hot mustard are natural decongestants. Just a half-teaspoon of Chinese hot mustard is enough to temporarily unclog stuffed sinuses.

Yogurt. Probiotics—beneficial bacteria in yogurt—help support the body's natural defense against upper respiratory tract infections. Check yogurt ingredients to make sure they include active yogurt cultures (for example, L. bulgaricus, S. thermophilus, bifinobacterium, L. acidophilus). Sugar-free plain Greek yogurt is best.

Besides enhancing general health, yogurt also has bone-building calcium and muscle-building protein to boost recovery between workouts. Strong bones are essential to minimize injury on and off the field.

Apples. The adage "an apple a day keeps the doctor away" has scientific backing. British researchers found that consuming more than five apples weekly improves lung function and reduces the risk of respiratory ailments, including asthma and colds.[1] Besides bolstering your immune system, the fruit's antioxidants can help you breathe easier on the field (like when endurance is especially needed to go the extra yard late in the game).

Bananas. This super fruit is useful in suppressing dry coughs. Bananas are also a wonderful energizing snack when they're combined with a protein such as yogurt or nuts to fuel workouts. They're a high-carb source that's ideal for post-workout recovery. (For a great post-workout muscle-building snack, eat one with chocolate milk.)

Food for Sore Throats and Stomach Issues

Honey and Lemon. This duo mixed with black or green tea is a popular sore throat/ticklish cough remedy. The vitamin C in lemons  strengthens the immune system to ward off colds, and honey's antioxidants are a natural defense during cold and flu season.

Yogurt, Apples, Bananas, Ginger. These foods, mentioned earlier, are multi-taskers. They're also excellent for digestive health and lessening stomach problems such as nausea and diarrhea.

Papayas. This tropical fruit contains the enzymes papain and chymopapain, which reduce indigestion and upset stomach.

Avocados. Sliced avocado, plain or in salads, contains not only heart-friendly fat but also beneficial oil to naturally prevent indigestion and other stomach woes.

More ways to keep colds and flus at bay

Drink plenty of water. Plain water not only hydrates your body during workouts, practices and games, it also keeps your throat moist to prevent germs from sticking and causing sore throats and dry coughs.

Gargle with apple cider vinegar or saltwater. A tablespoon of apple cider videgar mixed in warm water several times daily can help get rid of a sore throat and dry cough. Gargling with warm salt water may also do the trick.

Drink a cup or two of green or black tea every day. It not only contains anti-inflammatory antioxidants for promoting sports and exercise recovery, but it also helps lessen sore throats and congestion—particularly when mixed with honey and lemon.

Don't forget nuts, seeds, olive oil, and fish. They boost your immune system, brain health (so you're mentally sharp in the classroom and on the field) and cardiovascular performance during exercise and sports.

Read more:


[1] Butland, B., Fehily, A., Elwood, P. (2000). "Diet, lung function, and lung function decline in a cohort of 2512 middle aged men." Thorax, 102-108.

Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock