When training intensity increases, practices become longer, and competition becomes more frequent, an athlete’s risk of getting injured or sick increases. Getting injured or sick is the last thing an athlete wants to have happen during season. Research shows that there is a close relationship between exercise and immune function. When heavy exercise is performed, stress hormones are increased and inflammation occurs, causing increased risk of injury. It also leads to a temporary decrease of the body’s immune function to fight off colds, the flu, or infection. For this reason, getting a good balance of nutrition at all times and particularly after exercise is so important for athletes. Certain foods can help to boost immune function and prevent injury.
Foods to boost immune function and prevent injury:
- Eat carbohydrates before, during and after exercise. Carbs replenish glycogen stores, stabilize blood sugar, provides immediate energy, and aids with the protein synthesis recovery process (meaning, carbs should be consumed WITH protein!) Complex carbohydrates include 100% whole wheat bread and pasta, brown rice, oats, fruits and vegetables. Eating during exercise can be difficult for most athletes, so in this case, commercial sports drinks typically contain 6-8% carbs and also serve as a good source of electrolytes.
- Adequate Protein Intake helps repair muscle tissue, reduces muscle breakdown after exercise, and supports immune function. Some high protein sources include: lean chicken, turkey, fish, beef, dairy, eggs, and beans
- Healthy fats to reduce inflammation. Omega-3 works as an anti-inflammatory and should be consumed or supplemented daily. Some sources containing omega-3 fatty acids include: salmon, walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseed oil, fish oils
- Consuming high levels of antioxidants help prevent muscular damage from free-radical activity generated by exercise. Choose fruits rich in antioxidants: citrus fruits, kiwi, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, red apples, red grapes. Choose vegetables rich in antioxidants: spinach, broccoli, turnip greens, kale, carrots, bell peppers, asparagus, onions, and sweet potatoes
Eating a well-balanced diet and staying hydrated should be your first line of defense after a hard practice or competition.
Avoid the following foods that increase inflammation and hinder proper recovery and injury prevention:
- Excess caffeine
- Refined carbohydrates (white flour products)
- Processed/packaged meals and snacks
- Fried foods; greasy foods