Sports Nutrition: Eating for immunity

Grand Traverse Nutrition's Miranda Monroe teaches the Race to Bayshore crew the importance of eating to boost your immune system.

Weâ??ve heard about the colds and upper respiratory infections that Marc, Lauren and Anne have had to manage throughout the Bayshore training program. Illness can limit training at crucial times when you are trying to increase mileage and intensity. Following an eating plan that is well-balanced and meets energy, carb, protein and micronutrient needs will help the Three Amigos boost their immune system so that they can stay healthy while increasing training volumes in the last month before the Bayshore.

Keeping up fluid and energy levels is vital to supporting the immune system and reducing the risk of infections. Carb is a critical fuel source for immune cells, protein is needed for the production of key immune factors, and fats influence inflammation. When exercise lowers blood sugar, and carb levels (glycogen) are not restored, stress hormones such as cortisol are increased, which can lower immune function. Current recommendations suggest that 30-60 grams of carb (in sports drinks, gels, beans) should help counteract immune suppression during prolonged exercise.

Likewise, an adequate intake of minerals iron and zinc and vitamins A, C, E, B6 and B12 are important for immune function, however, studies have not shown consistent clinical effects on immune markers and reduced illness from consuming â??megadosesâ?? of any of the above.

In some cases, excessive intake may actually produce the reverse effect and have toxic outcomes.

As 70% of the immune system is in the gut, there is a lot of interest around probiotics or â??good bacteriaâ?? to enhance gut health and immunity. There are no specific guidelines for probiotic use for athletes, however, yogurts and fermented foods have a place in a varied, healthy diet.

Goals of nutrition to promote immune function are:

- Eat enough calories, protein, carb and fat to maintain energy balance and support exercise energy use

- Take in carbs before, during and after long training sessions to reduce the stress effect of exercise on immune function

- Choose protein foods, especially those that contain iron and zinc

- Include foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids to combat inflammation

- Choose food sources of vitamin D to promote immune defense

- Choose foods that contain probiotics to enhance gut and immune health

The Three Amigos should select a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and protein rich foods to boost their immune system and fight off illness while keeping up with their respective Bayshore training programs.

- Fruits rich in antioxidants: oranges, cantaloupe, berries, apples

- Vegetables rich in antioxidants: sweet potatoes, broccoli, carrots, spinach, bell peppers, asparagus, onions, beets

- Lean protein sources rich in iron and zinc: chicken, turkey, fish, beef, milk, yogurt, cheese, legumes, soy foods, dark green leafy veggies

- Omega-3 fat sources: salmon, tuna, sardines, nuts (walnuts), seeds (flax and canola), plant oils

- Vitamin D sources: fatty fish (salmon, tuna, sardines), fortified foods (milk, OJ, tofu, soy drinks, some cereals)

- Probiotic (Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium) sources: milk, yogurt, kefir, fermented vegetables

A balanced diet for optimal performance and your health is essential. Consider working with a registered dietitian who specializes in sports nutrition to determine your fueling requirements to support your training volume and immune function. Contact Miranda Monroe via for a consultation to put the science of sports nutrition on your plate with a personalized plan and practical meal planning strategies to help you achieve your performance goals.

close video ad
Unmutetoggle ad audio on off