This year's flu season: longer, faster, nastier than before. Spring brings hope, but were not out of the woods yet.
Take matters into your own mouth power up your immune system to defeat those bionic viruses. Here are six strategies you can incorporate into your training diet now to help you fend off the flu and stay on your feet until the blooms pop.
1. Get Enough Calories
Maintaining enough calories daily is critical, says Lisa Dorfman, M.S, R.D.,
dietician, athlete and author of The Vegetarian Sports Nutrition Guide (Wiley &
Sons, 1999). (Athletic) people feel like theyre not expending as much energy (in colder months), but they are," Dorfman says. "They expend more calories than other
people because of their increased lean muscle mass. You need to get enough
calories to prevent (your body from) using protein as an energy source.
Figure out your daily calorie requirement and stick with it. The average active
adult needs at least 15 calories per pound of body weight and perhaps as many
as 20 calories per pound, depending on training volume.
One way to up your intake, Dorfman suggests, is to eat dried fruits: Dried fruits
can be a superior choice to fresh (fruit), because theyre an easy way to get a lot
of calories in one source. They're portable, and are a great source of iron, which
helps build your blood.
2. Don't Skimp on Protein
The immune systems chief warriors, T-cells and antibodies, are made of protein
and need a constant supply to run interference. Whether you get it from animal
or plant sources or both, give protein your full attention. Look to lean meats and
cheeses, fish, milk, yogurt, beans, tofu and soy.
Not sure how much you need? Follow Dorfmans formula for protein-need
calculation for different kinds of athletes:
1. Find your body weight.
2. Convert your weight in pounds to kilograms by taking pounds and dividing by
3. Multiply the following numbers by your kilogram number to figure out your
daily protein needs.
•Strength athletes: kilograms x 1.2 - 1.7
•Endurance athletes: kilograms x 1.2 - 1.4
•Early training: kilograms x 2
•Average active adult: RDA (Recommended dietary allowance) - kilograms x 0.8
grams. For example: According to the formula, a 145-pound (66-kilogram) marathon
runner might need between 79 and 92 grams of protein per day.
3. Be a Colorful Eater
Everyone knows fruits and veggies are pretty and pack tons of vitamins and
minerals. But theres something else in those hues that may help you fight
disease: fabulous phytos.
Phytochemicals are naturally occurring plant chemicals that give many fruits and
vegetables their color and protect them from disease. Researchers are finding
that they may protect us, too.
Phytos are being linked to the prevention of many forms of cancer, decreased
risk of heart attacks and macular degeneration (a major cause of elderly
blindness). There are several classes of phytochemicals, but you dont need to
memorize them to get them.
Having a palette of colors on your plate makes it more likely that youll get a full
range of phytochemicals, Dorfman says. Go for deep color in your fruits and
Scour your market and pick the deepest-hued produce you can get your hands
Also known as bioflavonoids, flavonoids are a kind of phytochemical that appear
to actually attack and damage virus DNA. A recent study done by the University
of Hawaiis Cancer Research Center linked consumption of two classes of
flavonoids found in onions, apples and white grapefruit with reduced risk for lung
cancer. Other good flavonoid sources include citrus fruits, red wine, black and green tea, broccoli, tomatoes and soy.
5. ABCs of Vitamins
Get plenty of these vitamins to help strengthen your immune system:
A is critical for maintaining your bodys front-line disease fighters the mucous
membranes in your nose, stomach and eyes. Lean sources come from the darkgreen,
red and orange hues of spinach, cantaloupe, carrots, sweet potatoes and
squash. The B vitamins (B6, riboflavin and thiamine) act as co-enzymes that combine
with enzymes to make them active and assist with metabolizing protein, carbs
and fats, Dorfman says. Use energy more efficiently by getting your B's from
fish, seeds, nuts, green leafy veggies and lentils. Vitamin C is mandatory for producing infection-fighting white blood cells. You know oranges and orange juice, but also get C from sources like strawberries, kiwi fruit, red peppers, spinach and sweet potatoes.
6. Help the Good Habits Work
Get enough fluid. Think of water as the vehicle to deliver your good nutrition message to your body. Drinking enough helps the body dissolve amino acids, sugars, minerals and other substances so that you can utilize them. Water also serves as a cushion and a lubricant for joints and a transporter of waste. Minimum is 1 liter per day; drink more if youre in training.
Limit alcohol. Your body uses B vitamins to break down alcohol, so when you
indulge, your muscles are robbed of these metabolizers.
Be consistent. Your body loves consistency, Dorfman says. Try to maintain the
same eating strategies all year long.
Incorporating all these healthy patterns into your daily diet will keep your
immunity furnace burning and turning away viruses year round.