It’s officially flu season, and if you’re anything like us, you’d much rather spend your sick days vacationing somewhere totally exotic, not blowing your nose and feeling like complete crap all laid up in bed. We consulted sports nutritionist Heidi Skolnik to get the scoop on what to eat and drink to help avoid coming down with the flu this year. Contrary to popular belief, you can’t actually ‘boost’ your immune system but you can suppress it to different levels by putting the wrong things into your body.
Calories come first.
First things first, remember to consume enough calories. “This is important not only for athletes, but for girls who are trying to fit into a new dress,” says Heidi. When you restrict your calories or burn off more than you’re taking in, your immune system gets weaker.” Worry about calories first, then nutrients.
Animal protein is a must.
According to Heidi, it’s true. “You need to include animal protein in your diet. It doesn’t have to be a crazy, specially prepared concoction, just make sure you’re eating a balanced meal. Throw peppers, oranges, edamame and chicken into a salad. Have pasta with broccoli and chicken, or eat salmon with a baked potato and broccoli.”
Drink red wine and scotch.
Although too much alcohol can really weaken your immune system, a little can actually be good for you, notes Heidi. Pour yourself a glass of red wine after a long day at work or enjoy some scotch. The key here is moderation.
But steer clear of frozen daiquiris and margaritas.
“Mixed daiquiris and margaritas are filled with added sugar and calories, so by the time you’re done consuming them, you’ve already taken in more calories than your entire meal. This then begins to push out all those nutrient rich foods you ate earlier,” explains Heidi. No bueno.
Get your daily dose of Vitamin C.
200 milligrams a day is what’s shown to keep your immune system buzzing. Heidi suggests having an 8 oz. glass of Florida Orange Juice in the morning, then make a smoothie with it later or create a citrus salsa to go with chicken for dinner. “Nutrient timing, how we divide our calories and nutrients throughout the day, is so very important,” she says. Since water-soluble vitamins like Vitamin C don’t stick around long, you need it in smaller amounts throughout the day, not all at once.
Avoid empty calorie foods.
While a bad snack or meal isn’t going to completely screw up your immune system, a diet full of empty calories (think junk food) will. Instead, eat as many nutrient positive foods as you possibly can, advises Heidi. It’s more about having a good overall diet. There isn’t one specific food that will wipe out your immune system.”
Eat mini meals.
How often you eat depends on the size of your meals and your exercise regimen. If you’re eating every few hours, it has to be smaller meals, divulges Heidi. If you’re into three meals a day, snack in between. “I recommend eating every few hours and making snacks mini meals,” she says. Whatever you eat for a meal (typically two or three food groups), take that and turn it into a snack.
image via Getty