5 Immune Boosting Foods to Eat After Illness

These 5 foods are rich in nutrients that will rebuild your immune system and help runners return to marathon training after illness.

5 Immune Boosting Foods to Eat After Illness

For athletes, supporting the immune system after an illness is just as important as it is to allow recovery time after an injury. Nutrients play a major role in getting runners back on track.

"Marathoners have a competitive mindset and are used to pushing through a little pain," said Lonnie Lowery, senior research scientist, adult nutrition in Scientific and Medical Affairs at Abbott. "This is not the kind of muscle soreness or healthy pain, it's an infectious virus that you need to take very seriously. Rebuild your system with protein, carbs, vitamins, minerals and fluids."

"Comfort food" like the vegetables, chicken, and broth in soups carry key nutrients needed to rebuild the immune system during an illness; helping to form white blood cells and antibodies. But the immune system needs support after an illness too. These foods aren’t always considered a "go-to" source of nutrition when recovering from illness but according to Lowery, they provide other protections that are important to regain strength and immunity.

The following nutrient rich foods are options to consider when you’re ill or recovering from illness and looking to get back to running or training for a marathon.

  1. Fluids Fortified with Vitamin D
    The body is "stressed" most when dehydrated due to illness. "The risk of dehydration isn't just from fever and sweating, but also diarrhea and vomiting," said Lowery.

    "Vitamin D is not naturally found in many foods, but it's important to the immune system; helping your white blood cells move around."

    Lowery said milk and dairy products are fortified with vitamin D, but it's also important for people to get plenty of sun exposure which helps the body naturally produce the vital nutrient.
  2. Mineral Rich Foods
    Beef, yellowfin tuna, chicken, and hard-boiled eggs are rich in selenium, a mineral that works as an antioxidant to help fight infection. Brazil nuts and sunflower seeds are also good sources of selenium.

    "Minerals like selenium and zinc are important in hundreds of chemical reactions in the body," said Lowery. "They're known to help the body when it’s under stress.”
  3. Carbs and fiber
    "It may sound counterintuitive, but extra carbohydrates actually rehydrate you quicker," said Lowery. "When people are trying to quickly rebuild glycogen reserves, fast-acting carbs are good for that."

    For fast-acting carbs, Lowery is a fan of fortified milk over breakfast cereal, which carries a higher glycemic index and usually has a multivitamin mixed in. Lowery points out that slower acting carbs help too. Those include pastas, oatmeal, and rice. "When you're really depleted, they can be really helpful,” Lowery said.

    "The more you understand how the body works the more you're stacking cards in your deck in your favor," said Lowery.

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