Even though we are in an age of overconsumption, many athletes are falling short of the recommended daily nutrient intake. This not only puts you at high risk of getting a cold or the flu, it also leads to poor workout recovery. And if your body can’t recover properly after a workout, your performance will really suffer.
Many of the key nutrients (such as vitamin C and zinc) that aid in keeping you healthy this cold and flu season are found in — and best absorbed through — food. So, unfortunately, no magic pill is going to do the trick! Eating foods high in nutrients can reduce your chances of getting sick, and will also speed your recovery time and minimize your symptoms, if you do.
Vitamin C is found in numerous fruits and vegetables. In order to fight colds, you should aim for 200 milligrams a day. This means having (by 14 years of age) seven servings of fruits and vegetables a day at the very least — more for males and definitely a lot more if you are really active! Some foods that are extra high in vitamin C are: red peppers, strawberries, kiwi and cantaloupe. Citrus fruits are also a good choice, but they don’t have quite as much vitamin C.
Zinc is a mineral that is important to many aspects of cell metabolism. It is found in many cold remedies, so you can imagine how beneficial it is to your body when you eat foods with zinc on a regular basis! In fact, since our bodies don’t have a way to store zinc, we have to eat a source of it every day. It is found in fish and seafood (especially oysters), beef, pumpkin seeds and beans.
Here are some easy ways to get vitamin C and zinc in your diet daily!
- Sliced red pepper and hummus — This is a great snack or lunch idea that can be made the night before.
- Sliced strawberries and prewashed spinach — Toss them with your favourite dressing and some almonds and you’ve just made one of the fastest salads ever! Bonus: The vitamin C in the strawberries helps absorb the iron in the spinach.
- Dark chocolate — When you are looking for a healthy dessert, have a piece of dark chocolate (70% cocoa or more). Not only is it a great source of zinc, but it offers lots of antioxidants, fibre and iron! Note: Milk chocolate is so processed that it has lost almost all of these nutrients.
- Kiwi — Cut them in two and put the halves in a to-go container. This is a really easy snack when you are pressed for time or need some new ideas for school lunches. Just remember the spoon!
- Toasted wheat germ — Add it to your shakes and smoothies. Wheat germ is not only a good source of zinc but also a good source of fibre, and it won’t change the taste much.
- Broccoli — Any way you slice it, broccoli is an athlete superfood that is a lot more than a great source of vitamin C. Eat it raw with hummus or tzatziki, steam it in the microwave and sprinkle some cheese on top, or make a broccoli and milk soup.
- Pumpkin seeds — Often left over from Halloween, pumpkin seeds go great on salads and are a good source of zinc. Add some mandarin oranges to the salad and you’ll pump it up with some vitamin C as well.
If you are prone to getting a lot of colds and yet you already eat a lot of fruits, vegetables and zinc, consider taking a supplement of probiotics, echinacea or North American ginseng every day. These are the only supplements on the market for which scientific research has shown a benefit in reducing colds or cold symptoms.
It’s often hard to change your diet — we are creatures of habit. But the most important way to fight colds and the flu is to eat healthy food throughout the year, not just in flu season. Almost all fruits and vegetables can be considered nutritional superstars. Just choose the ones you like most and aim to have a source of them at every meal. This will ensure that you remain a champion at hockey and continue playing at your absolute best.