What are the most important nutrients for keeping your immune system healthy? 

Nutritionist Stephen Smith explains how the right nutrition can help keep our immune system healthy so they can fight infections efficiently and effectively

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Infections can be a nuisance for athletes; you’ve just banked a good solid block of training and then the, all too familiar, sniffles or sore throat appears. Sometimes they don’t develop into anything more, but can lead to symptoms that causes you to take a few days off from training.  We rely on an effective immune system to fight off these infections, and nutrition play a vital role in helping it work effectively.

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Firstly, it’s important that your immune system is supplied with enough energy to fight off viruses and bacteria. That means eating enough calories! Ideally you should aim to be in energy balance, which you can check by making sure your weight remains stable over days or weeks. These calories should come from a wide range of foods, and remember to ‘eat your rainbow’, and get as many different colours from different fruits and vegetables into your diet as possible.

Vitamin C plays an important role in the immune system by improving tolerance to infections, and you should look to include foods such as oranges (and their juice), bell peppers, kiwifruit and strawberries.

Next, make sure you are eating enough protein, as a triathlete needs to eat about 1.5 times their bodyweight in protein (per day). Adequate protein helps muscles recover from training, but also supports the production of antibodies and immune cells.

What about supplements? Vitamin D is known to play a part in a healthy immune system. During the winter months where we see next-to-no sun, I’d recommend supplementing with 2000 IU per day. You could also take a daily multi-vitamin to make sure you’re getting the RDA of vitamins. If you do feel a cold coming, supplementing with zinc lozenges (75 mg//day), has been shown to reduce the length of a cold.

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