If you’re reading this post chances are you are sick or have been sick in the past month. The number of people complaining of various ailments this winter has been staggering. Throughout it all, however, I have noticed an uncomfortable trend. While going over food journals, I see 2-4 days in a row with horrible nutrition and sleep protocols, coupled with an asterisk and “I was sick.”
I began to realize, people have no idea how to be sick.
Here’s what I mean: when you are feeling under the weather, it is time to button up all sleep and nutrition habits, NOT let them all crash down. Poor nutrition, sleep, and hydration suppress your immune system.
The reason we preach proper nutrition, sleep, and hydration to our athletes is because that is how our body recovers from stressors. Working out is a stressor, recovering from that allows for positive adaptations to our body if done correctly. Being sick, is also a stressor, so why are we “recovering” from it with 2 hours of sleep and some saltines?
I have my fair share of immune issues, so I am going to share with you how I attempt to combat sickness when I feel it coming on, and how my immune system thanks me for it.
This one is a no brainer. Your body goes through reparative and restorative processes while you are asleep. This is a perfect time for your body to start allowing those antibodies to do their job and fight off whatever is coming on.
I make sure to guard sleep no matter what when I am sick. 8 hours minimum every night, and I will do whatever it takes to get that. On top of amount of sleep, however, is quality of sleep. If you lay in bed for 8 hours but you are tossing and turning and waking up frequently throughout the night, you aren’t obtaining most of sleep’s benefits.
Sleep quality is its own post, but you can’t go wrong with these guidelines:
- No screens (phones, TVs, computers) 30-60 min before bed
- Eat a small serving of healthy fat (almond butter, flaxseed oil) before bed
- Static stretch and/or read fiction before sleeping
When you get sick, your body often flushes toxins. While sick, you are typically losing fluids through various means. This is completely normal. However, it means you require more fluids to stay at baseline. Being dehydrated will only exacerbate immune issues.
Furthermore, water aids in production of lymph, which helps carry white blood cells and fight off illness. Being dehydrated will compromise lymph production and sustain illness. That’s the opposite of what we want to do while sick.
Shoot for a MINIMUM of 100 oz of water/day when you are sick. Especially if you are already accustomed to a high volume of water.
Nutrition is a huge category, and there aren’t a lot of “quick fixes.” The fact of the matter is, you should be eating a wide array of nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables regularly as it is. Over the long-term this will build immune health gradually.
However, when in a pinch and you need an edge, there are a few things you can add to your diet immediately to control the damage and kick your immune system into gear.
- Vitamin C
- Probably the most well-known immune supplement, Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that will help your body repair itself
- Recommended Dosage: 1g in the morning, 1g at night
- NOTE: Some people don’t absorb Vit. C pills efficiently. You will be better off getting your Vit. C from foods high in the nutrient. Some examples are:
- Yellow peppers
- Kombucha (Raw/Unpasteurized)
- Kombucha is one of the most effective ways to consume probiotics. The fermented tea is loaded with good bacteria that promote gut health and immune function
- Furthermore, the tea (often black, sometimes green) is also loaded with antioxidants. Which brings us to…
- Recommended consumption: 1 bottle/day
- Recommended brand: GT’s Gingerade flavor (the ginger will also help decrease inflammation which is often correlated with sickness)
- Yerba Mate
- This “tea” is actually a ground up holly plant from South America, and it is unbelievable
- I learned of Yerba Mate while searching for ways to taper my coffee addiction, and was amazed by how I felt after drinking it.
- Later research has led me to find that Yerba Mate has the highest concentration of polyphenols of any drink, and has a host of vitamins and nutrients
- Plus, you drink it hot. Hot drinks relieve cold/flu symptoms by soothing inflamed membranes in your throat
There they are, the big 3. When you start to feel your immune system letting you down, don’t punish it by neglecting exactly what it needs. Focus on enhancing or optimizing your hydration, sleep, and nutrition/supplementation for a faster recovery.