Yes, the foods that you eat affect performance. Did you also know that foods can also boost immunity and prevent illness? Intense physical activities and competition can stress the immune system too. And this makes athletes and dancers more susceptible to viral infections (like the common cold and flu).
So how can you make sure that your students are eating in ways that keep them healthy – especially during cold and flu seasons? Chris Rosenbloom, PhD, RDN, CSSD, a nutrition professor emerita at Georgia State University recently provided four valuable dietary flu fighters to Splash Magazine. While the article was written as news for swimmers, we think it is safe to say that any child expending the energy it takes to train or participate in swim, gymnastics, cheer, dance and martial arts would benefit from following this advice.
Here are Rosenbloom’s food suggestions that can help young athletes make sure their diet is helping them stay healthy.
Include 2-3 servings of Vitamin C-rich foods every day.
Vitamin C helps in the production and the activity of many white blood cells important in immunity. However, loading up on supplements had not been consistently shown to prevent or treat colds, so stick to foods and beverages with Vitamin C. Most of you know that citrus fruit and juices are top sources of Vitamin C, but did you know that guava juice, red and green bell peppers, kiwi, broccoli and strawberries are also good sources of Vitamin C?
Recover after practice with protein and carbohydrate.
Both of these macronutrients are important in maintaining the immune system. Immune cells, just like muscle cells, need carbohydrate and protein for fuel. After a hard workout, carbohydrate can be depleted and protein is needed to stimulate synthesis of new proteins. So after every workout, athletes should recover with a snack like yogurt and fruit, a peanut or almond butter and jam sandwich, turkey or chicken wrap or yogurt- or milk-based smoothie.
Choose antioxidant-rich snacks.
Vitamin E is a potent fat-soluble antioxidant, but high in doses (as in taking supplements) it may impair white blood cell production. So advise your young athletes to stick to nuts and seeds, like sunflower seeds and almonds to get adequate but not excessive Vitamin E.
Take a gut-check.
See if your athletes’ diets contain probiotic foods that provide them with good bacteria for healthy “guts”. While we don’t have much research on probiotics and athletes, we know that more than half of our immune function is in the gut. Besides yogurt, students can try kefir, miso soup, tempeh and sauerkraut to boost good bacteria in the gut.
Footnote: In addition to the issues with supplements listed above, supplements fall under the category of “take at your own risk” because they are not regulated by the FDA and may contain banned substances. If an athlete tests positive for a banned substance consumed in a supplement, the athlete will be subject to sanctions.
In addition to her position as nutrition professor emeritus, Rosenbloom provides nutritional counseling to athletes of all ages and welcomes questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The original article ran in the January/February 2014 issue of Splash Magazine.
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