Nutrition Tips + Recipe: Optimize Your Immune System for Winter Sport Performance

Those of us undertaking prolonged bouts of exercise coupled with intensive training regimens are running the fine line betweesn peak physical health and impaired immune function. Despite the plethora of nutritional supplements that claim to boost immune function, evidence currently supports a daily eating pattern that meets energy needs with nutrient rich foods and beverages. It is this style of eating that helps your body effectively deal with the suppression in immune function that occurs following exercise.

Here are some sport nutrition strategies that you might consider to optimize your health and performance “in the tracks” this season.

1. Time the intake of carbohydrate-containing foods around training sessions to avoid carbohydrate depletion during exercise and facilitate recovery following exercise.

a) Pre workout: Eat a 3 star snack *** snack : *fruits/vegetables + *animal/plant protein,+ *starchy food (e.g. fruit smoothie; beet hummus with veggies; lentil vegetable soup).
b) During workout: Eat a carbohydrate-based snack shortly after training to start the recovery process. Sport bars, granola bars, fruit yoghurt and low-fat milk smoothies are nutrient-packed carbohydrate-containing choices.
c) Post workout: Add protein rich foods to your post-workout carbohydrate rich snacks/meals (e.g. yogurt with fruit/granola; fruit flavoured kefir on cereal; poached eggs on toast; vegetable frittata; butternut squash chilli) to optimize refueling.

2. Eat a wide range of nutrient dense foods pre, during and post workout

a) Eat small servings of protein rich food (meat, poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, milk/soy milk, yogurt, legumes, nuts/seeds) at each snack and meal (larger athletes and male athletes will need more) to make sure that you get all your essential amino acids, B vitamins, iron and zinc.
b) Pack more dark green, orange/red and purple/blue vegetables and fruits on your plate at snacks or meals to maximize your intakes of vitamin C, folic acid and antioxidants.
c) Include whole grains and cereals daily for iron, magnesium and selenium – 3 nutrients known to maintain a strong immune system.
d) Choose fatty fish (e.g. salmon, lake trout, sardines, herring, mackerel) after your two toughest training sessions a week for an immune enhancing source of omega 3 fats.

3. Focus on functional foods

a) Maintain the good bacteria in your gut by regularly consuming probiotic rich foods such as yogurt and Kefir with active cultures and fermented foods (e.g. pickled vegetables and sauerkraut).
b) Feed the good bacteria living in your digestive system with prebiotic fibres found in carbohydrate rich whole grain wheat based breads and cereals, oatmeal, and legumes and fructans found in bananas, honey and maple syrup.
c) Choose 2-3 cups of Vitamin D fortified yogurts and fluid milk/soymilk daily to get Vitamin D and top up your intake with a supplement of 400 IU/day if you are over 50 years of age.

Here’s a great recipe that will help you keep your protein and carbohydrate levels up as you run through the winter.

Butternut Squash Chili for Winter Runners

Ingredients:

  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 lb extra lean ground beef
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbsp. ground cumin
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 796 mL (28 oz) can of tomatoes, diced
  • 1 small butternut squash, peeled and cubed (3-4 cups)
  • 2 cups (500 mL) cooked and drained kidney beans
  • 1-2 tbsp. pureed cilantro (in squeeze tube in vegetable section of the grocery store)
  • 1-12 tsp pureed chilli (in squeeze tube in vegetable section of the grocery store)

Directions:

  1. In a skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat for 30 seconds.
  2. Add beef and onions and cook, stirring, until beef is no longer pink, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add garlic, and all spices; cook while stirring for about 1 minute.
  4. Add tomatoes with juice and bring to a boil.
  5. Microwave squash in bowl with 1 Tbsp. water until tender. Add to meat mixture along with kidney beans. Add cilantro and chilli.
  6. Cover and cook for 30 minutes.