May 23

Eat Your Immune System Into Shape

by in Health, Nutrition

We all know how it feels to be exercising hard, following a strict diet, losing weight and then, out of nowhere, we get sick.

Why is it that so many active and healthy people are so susceptible to colds and flu?

Many of us get sick during periods of heavy training and we’ve all heard of elite athletes being struck down by colds and other viruses. Alberto Salazar reportedly caught 12 colds in 12 months while training for the 1984 Olympic Marathon. Competing with an obviously overstressed immune system, he finished 15th. While we’ve all been advised to consume large doses of vitamin C, zinc and glutamine to keep the immune system resilient, the truth is we often overlook one of the most simple and straightforward, yet highly effective means of bolstering our immune system. A growing body of evidence suggests that paying attention to what and when you eat can have dramatic effects on your ability to thwart the common cold and fight infections.

Boosted immunity comes from a variety of different areas, including how you manage stress, how often you exercise and what you eat. Your immune strength is totally dependent on an optimal intake of vitamins and minerals and the other immune boosting nutrients you get from your food.

How does exercise affect the Immune system?

Studying the effects of exercise on the body’s immune system dates back to the turn of the century, but it wasn’t until the early 1990s that researchers really began focusing on athletes’ immune systems. They found that despite the theoretical protective effects of exercise, the immune systems of athletes are surprisingly similar to those of non-athletes. The notable exception is that fit people possess natural killer cells that are more active, providing athletes with a greater ability to detect and destroy threats. Exercise is great in moderation as it increases your energy, decreases your body fat levels and makes you feel happy and healthy. However, over-exercising can have the reverse effect as it depletes energy levels and weakens the immune system.

This results in exhaustion and fatigue, especially if coupled with a bad diet and inadequate rest, which the body needs to recover and regenerate. In my personal experience, the reason many active people are more susceptible to sickness is simply that daily exercise without sufficient active rest, sleep and a lack of ample key nutrients increases the stress placed on the body. And any form of stress weakens your immune system, it’s as simple as that. It is well known that over exercising while following a low-calorie diet or a nutritional plan that lacks fresh fruit and vegetables severely affects our immune system too. This excess exercise can also trigger the release of a stress hormone called cortisol, which has been scientifically proven to weaken the immune system. It can keep you going in times of need, but when your body is under constant stress cortisol levels become too high and inhibit fat metabolism (the use of stored fat for energy). So, instead of becoming a buff gym-bunny from all that exercise your body will actually store body fat.

Many gym enthusiasts also tend to follow a strict low calorie diet that is either low in fat or low in carbs (or both). In the quest for the perfect body many of us are actually doing more harm than good by eliminating foods with key immune-boosting properties like fresh fruit. Having psychological and neurological fatigue will also significantly decrease immunity. At some point everyone will suffer from a lack of performance and a lull in their training due to mental fatigue. Neurological fatigue happens when your nervous system does not respond normally to the demands of training. The most common strategy to deal with neurological stress is to change your training programme. Sometimes it’s necessary to take a complete break from intense training and focus on light training or even take a complete break for a few weeks.

Build immunity with food

All nutritional experts agree that proper diet can be the best weapon for warding off infections and illness. Likewise, a poor diet will increase our susceptibility to illness. “There’s no question the immune system is fundamentally influenced by overall health -and a balanced diet is key;’ says David Katz, M.D., M.P.H., director of the Yale Prevention Research Center in New Haven, Connecticut. “Not only are essential nutrients critical for the production and maintenance of key germ-fighting cells in the immune system, but a balanced diet also has a strong effect on vascular function and the immune system is dependent on blood flow.”This is because the bloodstream is the vehicle that Carries infection-fighting cells throughout the body to where they’re needed. George L Blackburn, the associate director of Harvard Medical Schools, stresses that “insufficiency in one or more essential nutrients may prevent the immune system from functioning at its peak’: As such, it is vitally important to eat a balanced, healthful diet consisting of fresh fruits and vegetables. This will strengthen your immune system and ward off colds and flu viruses.

Over-exercising can deplete energy levels and weaken the immune system.

Vitamins in lettuce are plentiful. Fresh leaves are an excellent source of several vitamin A and betacarotenes. Just 100g of fresh, raw lettuce provides 247% of daily vitamin A, and 4443 mg of beta-carotene.

 

  1. Load up on fruit and veg – Go for colour and get creative. Make sure each meal contains both fruit and vegetables.
  2. Have a clove or two of garlic a day- this is a natural antiviral and anti bacterial.
  3. Eat sufficient protein -aim for lean (preferably) organic meat, fish, game, quinoa (a South American grain), eggs and pulses combined with grains, dairy or tofu.
  4. Herbs and spices contain immune supporting nutrients – experiment with turmeric, ginger, watercress and lemon juice.
  5. Avoid sugar it can suppress the immune system.
  6. Superfoods such as Spirulina provide the essential nutrients and enzymes that greatly aid in strengthening and building the immune system.

 

Supercharge your immune system with this diet plan

First thing Hot water and lemon (a great source of vitamin C).

BREAKFAST
2 cup cooked rolled organic plain oats (not instant) or 1/4 cup quinoa with cinnamon and berries (blueberries) or grated apple (no milk or sugar) or one whole paw-paw with lemon juice and a tablespoon of seed mix (sunflower/pumpkin and linseed). Boiled egg and some rye toast with fresh cherry tomatoes. green tea.

LUNCH
Veggie and protein green salad. Raw and/or precooked vegetables (as many as you want), including eggplant, peppers, onions, green beans, asparagus and zucchini. 120g grilled chicken or fish and 1/2 an avocado. You can also add some quinoa or sweet potato.

AFTERNOON SNACK
Fresh fruit and some plain low fat yoghurt with pumpkin seeds. green tea and water with lemon.

DINNER
Grilled fish or organic free-range chicken with loads of green vegetables and some pumpkin and butternut (great source of betacarotene), stir fried with loads of garlic and turmeric. A raw salad with veggies and 1 tsp olive oil.

EVENING SNACK
30g dark chocolate (packed full of antioxidants).

BEVERAGES
You are allowed one black cup of coffee a day, but no sugar. Herbal teas, especially green tea. Water with lemon juice. Dairy and fizzy drinks will make you bloated and give you an extended tummy. Rather drink herbal teas and water. Be creative by adding some lemon or chill your water and squeeze the juice of a fresh orange or lime into it. It’s delicious!

NUTRITIP
Hot foods for colds
Hot foods such as chilli peppers, hot mustard, radishes, pepper, onions and garlic contain substances called “mucolytics” (similar to over-the-counter expectorant cough syrups) that liquefies the thick mucus that accumulates in the sinuses and breathing passages.

SPIRULINA FOR ATHLETES
Athletes often use Spirulina supplements to boost their performance. Spirulina helps protect athletes from the symptoms of overtraining by supporting the immune system. Studies have shown that Spirulina boosts the metabolism and helps the body burn fat rather than carbohydrates when exercising.This reduces the body’s dependence on carbs for energy, which helps to keep energy levels higher throughout the duration of a workout and can contribute to increased athletic endurance. Spirulina supplementation also duces the amount of oxidative stress sustained during athletic training and helps increase antioxidant activity within he body in the period immediately flowing a workout or training session. is prevents the accumulation of toxic free radicals in your muscles during exercise, which is one of the primary causes of muscle fatigue during exercise and training.

 

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