As well as your day-to-day nutrition playing a crucial role in the strength of your immune system, your nutrition during and immediately after heavy exercise also plays a critical role in preventing infection, which we discuss in the next section of this resource.
At TORQ we’ve always been advocates of a healthy balanced diet. In a previous resource when we discussed this subject we said:
“…the constituents of a universally healthy balanced diet must never be ignored. For intestinal health and the delivery of vital micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals, you should always look to consume plenty of fibrous fresh fruit and vegetables. These foods ease the passage of all of your nutrients through the intestine, helping to keep it clean, healthy and functional. We won’t focus on any specific vitamins or minerals here, because you need them all and the beauty of ensuring that you consume fresh fruit and vegetables is that you will indeed get them all.
At TORQ, we love organic food, which is why a number of our products are Soil Association Certified Organic and we advise, where possible, to choose organic options. From a pure performance perspective, the difference between ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ foods is likely to be negligible, but from a long term health perspective there are probably going to be benefits to going down the organic route with more concentrated vitamin/mineral levels and less pollution from undesirable herbicides and pesticides. It’s a personal choice of course and there’s a valid argument to say that ‘going organic’ makes no appreciable difference to health either – this is our opinion and perhaps time will tell. It would certainly be a valid approach to consume organic produce where practical – perhaps a halfway house?”
We stand by these sentiments and just as it applied to Performance Nutrition then, it applies to immunity now. The problem with popping supplements right left and centre is that it becomes easy to ignore the bigger picture of holistic health if you’re just focussing on one variable – and if you focus on every possible health variable, the paranoia may lead you to popping an awful lot of pills! We would also suggest that a movement towards consuming less meat and incorporating more high quality plant-based proteins into your diet would be a healthy thing to do.
We mention some specific supplements (Vitamin C, L-Glutamine and Echinacea) in the Fighting an Infection section of these resources, because there’s strong scientific evidence backing the notion of supporting your immune system with supplementation once you have become infected with a virus or bacteria, but this is entirely different to the concept of building an immune defence to bat away infection before it has a chance to take hold.
There are a couple of supplements you could consider in building strong immune defences and they are Vitamin D and Zinc. We suggest Vitamin D on the basis that colds and flu tend to do the rounds in the winter months when our skin gets to see very little sunlight (sunlight is an essential source of Vitamin D), so it makes sense from a holistic health perspective to consider supplementing with Vitamin D over the winter months. The easiest way to supplement Vitamin D is with a one-a-day Cod Liver Oil tablet and as soon as the sun comes out, you can stop taking them, assuming of course you can expose your skin to a sensible amount of sunshine. Vitamin D is inked to immune system health and if you’re interested you can read more about it HERE.
A review paper by Shankar and Prasad (1998) looked at how Zinc functions within the immune system and it seems that zinc deficiency negatively affects a number of the immune system cells available to do battle. According to the authors, ensuring sufficient Zinc intake is vital in supporting these immune cells and increasing resistance to infections. With Zinc we’re talking about just 15mg per day, so it’s a tiny dose. If you’re going to pop a pill daily throughout the year, this is perhaps the one to take if you’re not confident your healthy balanced diet will deliver. Achieving 15mg of Zinc per day will be more difficult through a vegetarian or vegan diet.