Fight The Flu Like An Elite Athlete



Former Alabama runner Katelyn Greenleaf, now a registered dietitian, competes at the 2015 NCAA DI Outdoor Nationals in the 3K steeplechase


It seems like everyone is getting bit by the flu bug lately and athletes are no exception. Former Florida high school distance standout and University of Alabama alumna Katelyn Greenleaf, now a registered dietitian, delves into the best way to fight the flu.

Did anyone else get the flu this season?

The flu can be a real downer, especially if it hits an athlete in the middle of their competitive season. Even though people try to avoid the sickness by washing their hands and disinfecting surfaces, sometimes it is impossible to come out of flu season unaffected. There are a lot of beliefs and theories of how a person can recover quickly from the flu and get back to their school, work, and training schedule, but did you know that nutrition plays a huge role in this process?

I have recently paid my dues with the flu and have made my recovery. Since I am a dietitian, I would love to share some of my nutrition knowledge with the athletes out there who cannot afford to be sick and take multiple days off. By following these tips, you will be happy, healthy, and back on the track before you know it!

Tip #1: Drink plenty of water and electrolytes. Whether you are drinking Gatorade, Powerade Zero, or Zipfizz, it is important to stay hydrated!  Hydration will help your body carry the proper nutrients to the cells in need.

Tip #2: Eat something. I know (from personal experience) the last thing you want to do when sick is to get out of your bed, but it is essential that your body has fuel. Keep it simple and focus on whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. These foods will provide you with vitamins and minerals that will help your body’s immune system.

Tip #3: Sleep and rest. Sleep has been proven to promote faster recovery and healing. Even though you might want to jump back into practice ASAP, you should listen to your body and give yourself time for a full recovery. Even if you can make it back to practice shortly after your run-in with the flu, communicate with your coach and ask if you can ease back into training with some lighter efforts during your next few runs. 

(Pictured is a bowl of Cheerios with a glass of skim milk. This is an excellent source of whole grains and zinc and a perfect low-maintenance snack for when you are feeling under the weather.)

Tip #4: Probiotics have been associated with positive effects on health. In multiple different studies, probiotics were seen to reduce infection compared to those who did not take probiotics. You can find probiotics in supplements or common foods at the grocery store such as yogurts (I especially recommend Greek yogurt for the extra protein benefits).

Tips #5: Zinc can help the immune system work properly. It has been shown in research to significantly decrease the severity of the flu and common colds. Significant sources of zinc include poultry, milk, whole grain products, beans, seeds, and nuts. Zinc supplements have also proven effective.

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