Nutrients to boost the immune system

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Feeding your body with right foods may help activate proper function of the immune system. If you’re looking for easy ways to reduce the risk or even prevent illnesses such as the common cold and other flu-like illnesses, your first step should be a visit to the local grocery store.

Some foods are better than others when it comes to priming the immune system. Here is a quick look at a few key nutrients that are critical for proper immune function and which foods you can find them.

Vitamin A
A fat soluble vitamin, vitamin A promotes good vision, gene replication, healthy immune function and proper skin health.

There are two ways in which vitamin A is available to humans:

  • preformed vitamin A;
  • carotenoids.

Preformed vitamin A is found predominantly in animal sources like liver and butter, while carotenoids are found in plant sources.

Vitamin A is essential for healthy mucous membranes, respiratory, urinary, and intestinal tracts, which all help the body to protect against infections. It regulates the immune system and plays a key role in producing white blood cells which fight off infections within the body.

Top foods for vitamin A

  • Lamb’s liver (735% RDA per 3oz)
  • Sweet potato (214% RDA per cup)
  • Carrot (148%)
  • Tuna (143% DV per 6oz)
  • Pumpkin (127% DV per cup)

Vitamin C
An essential nutrient, meaning that the body is unable to synthesize it on its own, humans must on rely on their diet for an adequate source of vitamin C.

Vitamin C performs a variety of functions  throughout the body. Primarily by donating electrons in biochemical reactions. It is required by the body for the development and maintenance of scar tissue, blood vessels, collagen synthesis and proper iron absorption. It’s also an antioxidant. Antioxidants help fight free radicals, a type of molecule known to damage and disrupt the immune system.

Studies have shown that high doses of vitamin C can boost immune function, and in turn reducing the severity and duration of cold and flu like symptoms.

Top foods for vitamin C:

  • Guava (419% DV per cup)
  • Red and green peppers (211%)
  • Kiwi fruit (185%)
  • Strawberries (108%)
  • Oranges (106%)

Vitamin E
Vitamin E is a fat soluble vitamin, meaning it is required to be consumed with fatty acids to be absorbed by the body. Similar to vitamin C, vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant and is also important in proper heart function, protection against heart disease and a reduction in chronic inflammation.

Top foods for vitamin E:

  • Almonds & sunflower seeds (49% DV per oz)
  • Avocado (28% DV per avocado)
  • Spinach (25% DV per cup)
  • Pumpkin (18%)
  • Kiwi fruit (18%)

Zinc
Zinc is an extremely versatile mineral required as a cofactor by more than 300 enzymes. Virtually all cells contain zinc, with the highest concentrations being found in muscle and bone.

Zinc supports many functions including the production of certain immune cells, building proteins, wound healing, reproduction and creating DNA. Zinc is also essential for creation and activation of T-lymphocytes, which are the core of adaptive immunity, the system that tailors the body’s immune response to specific pathogens.

Several studies have shown that supplementing with zinc can protect against respiratory tract infections, such as the common cold. Similar to vitamin C, Zinc may also reduce the severity and duration of cold and flu like symptoms.

Top foods for zinc:

  • Oysters (327% DV per half dozen)
  • Beef chuck steak (140% DV per 5oz)
  • Chicken leg (49% DV per leg)
  • Tofu (36% DV per cup)
  • Pork chop (32% DV per 6oz)

 

Olive Leaf Extract

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Olive leaf extract has had a long history in traditional medicine, being used to prevent, treat or manage inflammation and infections (such as the common cold or influenza), diarrhoea, cardiovascular system function and osteoarthritis.

Produced from the leaves of the olive plant, research shows that the major active ingredient Oleuropein, has antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and immune-stimulating properties.

The benefits
Olive leaf extract has been used traditionally in western herbal medicine for:

  • Coughs, colds and influenza. Relieves symptoms of coughs, colds and influenza, sore throats and upper respiratory tract infections;
  • Immune support and general wellbeing. Supports the immune system and when taken daily, it also helps maintain general wellbeing;
  • Natural antioxidants. Olive leaf extract has powerful antioxidant properties to fight free radical damage;
  • Insulin sensitivity. Olive leaf extract may improve insulin sensitivity and overall blood glucose response, reducing the risk of developing diabetes and improving overall weight management;
  • Cardiovascular system function. Olive leaf extract can also be used to help regulate blood pressure, maintain normal heart and overall cardiovascular system function.

How to supplement with olive leaf extract
You can purchase olive leaf extract in capsule and liquid form. There is no actual recommended dosage, however the standard dose ranges from 500mg to 1500mg daily.

Doses can be divided into several smaller doses if required.

Are there risks or side effects
If you are currently taking blood pressure or blood thinning medication, or have diabetes it is recommended that you consult with a medical professional prior to trying olive leaf extract.

In extreme cases, it is possible to develop a respiratory allergic response.

My two cents
Olive leaf extract is just about the only supplement that I have personally found to noticeably reduce the severity and duration of colds and flu-like illnesses. On occasion, I’ve noticed a difference within 24 hours of supplementation. As a result, I’ll keep a bottle in the fridge and supplement daily throughout the cold and flu season.

Anecdotal and n=1 yes, but this stuff works for me.

Finally, this isn’t a cure-all supplement, but it may help with the reduction of the severity of colds, improved blood glucose response, leading to improved weight management, overall health and performance, along with some boosted immunity.

Fasted cardio workouts

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For the most part, there are two types of active people. Those who enjoy an early morning workout, and those who don’t.

If you’re a person who trains first thing then you’ve probably spoken to somebody about fasted cardio or strength workouts. Basically, the conduct of physical activity and elevating your heart rate without eating anything in the last 8-16 hours. Hence the term fasted training.

Whilst most people who train very early may be already be doing this, many people will eat something before a workout, mainly because humans are creatures of habit and have been conditioned to believe that breakfast (or breaking the fast) is to be consumed first thing in the morning.

Intermittent fasting does take a little getting used to, whilst the adaptations are taking place to condition the body not to expect food at regular intervals.

Defining a fasted state
A true fasted state will generally begin in the vicinity of 8-10 hours without the consumption of any calories. However, the body can actually be in a fasted state as early as 5 or 6 hours after a meal.

The idea is that exercising in a fasted state forces the body to tap into its own energy reserves (stored body fat and muscle glycogen), as opposed to energy that has just been consumed, usually in the form of carbohydrates.

Fasted training
Now before you go and run off to the next sunrise there are a few things to consider prior to trialing fasted workouts.

Whilst fasted training is safe and actually a natural process, it will take time for the body to adjust to the idea that it will be conducting physical activity without any fuel. So start off by keeping the intensity relatively low so that the body doesn’t jump straight into an anaerobic state where is it chasing glucose for a quick energy source.

By the keeping a lower intensity, you will be allowing the body the appropriate time to access stored body fat and convert it into the energy it requires. Over time the body will become more efficient at these conversions, allowing you to workout at higher intensities, more quickly and for longer durations.

A point to note. The conduct of fasted workouts not only converts stored body fat and uses it as energy but can also break down stored proteins in the form of lean muscle. For most people exercising, this is not an ideal scenario.

This can be mitigated by drinking some branched chain amino acids (BCAA), before or during the workout. For most people, a serve of approx. 10g pre-workout should be enough to preserve lean muscle mass. Whilst technically not fully fasted, the total calories consumed in 10g serve of BCAA is approx. 50g, which would have a negligible effect on breaking a fasted state.

Bottom line
Fasted training is not for everybody. It does take time for the body to adjust, depending on how dependant you are on consuming sugars. This discomfort usually will pass in time, but if fasting in general isn’t for you, there is no need to keep it up.

Remember, the human body has evolved over millions of years in an environment where it has been forced to exert itself physically and mentally in times of both food scarcity and surplus. This is a totally natural process.

Once the body re-learns to operate and exert itself without any food, it will get better at performing when it does have fuel in the tank.

Why it’s important to have rest days?

screenshotWe’re always told to stay active and get regular exercise. But whether you’re training for a competition or feeling extra motivated, more isn’t always better.

Those who know me personally would have heard me say “less is more” when it comes to optimal health and performance. Yes, it’s important to be active, but how many hours do you really need?

With the energy mismatch created my modern diets excessively high in carbohydrate and overly processed foods its easy to understand why many people think they have to exercise upwards of 15 to 20 hours per week to lose or maintain a healthy weight.

Having days of low activity or rest allows the body to recover and repair, both physically and mentally. It’s a critical part of progress, regardless of your fitness level or sport. Failing to rest appropriately can result in overtraining or burnout which basically is the opposite of what you want to achieve.

Here are some of the benefits of taking rest days:

Recovery
Contrary to popular belief, a rest day isn’t about being lazy on the couch. But it can be, in part. It’s during this time that the beneficial effects of exercise take place. When you’re resting, you’re allowing the body to make physiological adaptions.

Your muscles store carbohydrates in the form of glycogen. During physical activity, your body breaks down glycogen into glucose to fuel your workout.

Rest gives your body time to replenish these energy stores before your next workout or competitive event.

Prevents muscular fatigue
Rest is necessary for avoiding exercise-induced fatigue. As mentioned before, exercise depletes your muscles’ glycogen stores. If these stores aren’t replaced, you’ll experience muscle fatigue and soreness.

Your muscles need glycogen to function, even when you’re not working out. By getting adequate rest, you’ll prevent fatigue by letting your glycogen stores to be replenished.

Reduced risk of injury
Regular rest is essential for staying safe during exercise. When your body is overworked, you’ll be more likely to fall out of form, drop a weight, take a wrong step or make a poor decision.

Overtraining also exposes your muscles to repetitive stress and strain over time. This increases the risk of overuse injuries, forcing you to take more rest days than planned. This ultimately leads to lost training time and in turn a potential failure in progression.

Improved physical performance
When you don’t get enough rest, it can be hard to do your normal routine, let alone challenge yourself.

Even if you push yourself, overtraining decreases your performance. You may experience reduced strength and endurance, slower reaction times, and poor agility.

If this is not addressed over time, this reduced output may become the new performance standard as the athlete may think they have hit a training plateau and begin to seek an additional challenge to continue progression, when actually a slight reduction in training load may be all that is required.

Rest has the opposite effect. It can increase energy levels and prevent overall fatigue, which prepares the body for more consistent and successful workouts, which can produce optimal mental and physical performance outcomes.

Improved sleep quality
While regular exercise can improve your sleep, taking rest days is also helpful.

Physical activity increases energy-boosting hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. Constant exercise, however, overproduces these hormones. You’ll have a hard time getting quality sleep, which only adds to fatigue and exhaustion and resulting in reduced mental and physical performance.

Rest can help you get better sleep by letting your hormones return to within a normal, balanced state.

The take away
Whether you’re just starting out or a seasoned athlete, regular rest and recovery is crucial to maintain optimal health and performance.

The best way to make the most out of your rest days is to conduct low impact activities, such as bodyweight movement pattern training, biking, walking or yoga. These activities will help you stay active while letting your body recover and recharge.

A simple look at optimal human health

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Homo sapiens, or modern day humans are basically hairless sweaty apes with large brains and small stomachs. This is how we evolved:

  • Wake up with the first light of the day;
  • Eat one (maybe two) meals of local seasonal foods including a large amount of seafood and marrow from bones of other animals;
  • Be naked in the sun all day;
  • Swim in the ocean;
  • Be moderately active collecting food and fresh drinking water;
  • Watch the sunset;
  • Go to sleep on the earth in darkness.

Humans lived every day like this on the East African rift for 300,000 years in perfect synchrony with the daily and seasonal rhythms of the sun, the earth, the moon and stars.

Lets expand a little all of the points mentioned above:

Wake up with the first light of the day
Humans have detectors for light in the skin (melanopsin) that detect the first rays of morning light before sunrise and wake you up by releasing cortisol.

Watching the sunrise and the all the varying frequencies of the morning sunlight are absorbed by the eyes and skin to build hormones, neurotransmitters and set the circadian rhythms of every cell in the body.

Eat one (maybe two) meal of local seasonal foods including a large amount of seafood and marrow from the bones of other animals
One meal consumed during the day allows for beneficial intermittent fasting for the rest of the day and ketosis at night during sleep.

Humans evolved larger brains and immune systems than our primate ancestors by accessing the fatty acids and other key nutrients such as DHA & iodine from the marine food chain, along with the marrow from the bones of other animals.

Fruits and vegetables traditionally varied geographically throughout the seasons, so make the most of a the variety of these foods available to you.

Be naked in the sun all day
Humans are basically hairless primates that can run around on two feet. This adaptation allows for several evolutionary advantages, such as the increase of the amount of sunlight that the skin is able to absorb.

Visible sunlight is absorbed into the skin to convert or produce hormones, such as Vitamin D, which is critically important to optimal human function.

Other benefits include an improved circadian rhythm, increased blood flow, brain function, dental health, mitochondrial function and sex hormone production.

Swim in the ocean
Humans have traditionally lived near the oceans and river ways and have evolved over time to eat seafood. Swimming in the ocean provides another source of electrolytes, salts, and other micro nutrients that may be difficult to obtain through the modern diet.

Be moderately active collecting food and fresh drinking water
Humans have always been moderately active animal. Nomadic by nature, they had to walk or run everywhere, and had to carry their belongings with them as they moved from location to location.

Humans also have a great need for a daily supply of fresh clean drinking water. The human body is roughly 60% water, with the brain and heart being composed of approx. 73% water. Additionally, plasma (the liquid portion of your blood) is approx. 90% water. Plasma helps carry blood cells, nutrients and hormones throughout the body.

It’s possible for the body to survive several weeks without food, but the body can only survive a few days without water.

Watch the sunset
The eyes and skin pay attention to the waning frequencies of light at sunset to prepare the hormones of the body for sleep. The absence of light at night is a signal to release the hormone melatonin to facilitate regenerative sleep at night.

Go to sleep in darkness
The absence of light is a very important signal for cellular circadian rhythms and metabolism. Proper circadian rhythm promotes quality sleep, helps keep the cells healthy and contributes to optimal performance.

Concluding
A very simple look into a template for optimal human health. Remember, there is no one size fits all. However, by applying these practices to the modern environment of generally poor nutrition, constant over stimulation, inadequate time in the sun and disrupted circadian rhythms, we may be able to prevent and even reverse many of the chronic diseases that affect so many people today.

Humans need to relearn what is a species appropriate diet and lifestyle. The diet and lifestyle that previous generations have lived which shaped our evolution throughout history. The closer you can emulate this natural lifestyle, the less likely you will develop one of chronic diseases of life.

Characteristics of traditional diets

Delicious  portion of  fresh salmon fillet  with aromatic herbs,

From the Weston A. Price foundation.

Characteristics of traditional diets

  1. The diets of healthy, non-industrialized peoples contain no refined or denatured foods or ingredients, such as refined sugar or high fructose corn syrup; white flour; canned foods; pasteurized, homogenized, skim or lowfat milk; refined or hydrogenated vegetable oils; protein powders; synthetic vitamins; or toxic additives and artificial colorings;
  2. All traditional cultures consume some sort of animal food, such as fish and shellfish; land and water fowl; land and sea mammals; eggs; milk and milk products; reptiles; and insects. The whole animal is consumed; muscle meat, organs, bones and fat, with the organ meats and fats preferred;
  3. The diets of healthy, non-industrialized peoples contain at least four times the minerals and water-soluble vitamins, and TEN times the fat-soluble vitamins found in animal fats (vitamin A, vitamin D and Activator X, now thought to be vitamin K2) as the average American diet;
  4. All traditional cultures cooked some of their food but all consumed a portion of their animal foods raw;
  5. Primitive and traditional diets have a high content of food enzymes and beneficial bacteria from lactofermented vegetables, fruits, beverages, dairy products, meats and condiments;
  6. Seeds, grains and nuts are soaked, sprouted, fermented or naturally leavened to neutralize naturally occurring anti-nutrients such as enzyme inhibitors, tannins and phytic acid;
  7. Total fat content of traditional diets varies from 30 percent to 80 percent of calories but only about 4 percent of calories come from polyunsaturated oils naturally occurring in grains, legumes, nuts, fish, animal fats and vegetables. The balance of fat calories is in the form of saturated and monounsaturated fatty acids;
  8. Traditional diets contain nearly equal amounts of omega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty acids;
  9. All traditional diets contain some salt;
  10. All traditional cultures make use of animal bones, usually in the form of gelatin-rich bone broths;
  11. Traditional cultures make provisions for the health of future generations by providing special nutrient-rich animal foods for parents-to-be, pregnant women and growing children; by proper spacing of children; and by teaching the principles of right diet to the young.

Protein shakes before or after your workout

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Protein is necessary for muscle repair and growth. It is an essential macronutrient that is required for optimal function.

For this reason, many people consume protein supplements in the form of shakes along with their workouts.

However, the optimal time to have a protein shake is an often debated topic.

Some believe it’s best to drink a protein shake before a workout, whereas others argue that after a workout is ideal.

Myself personally, am a fan of the train fasted, compete fed philosophy.

How much protein do you require?
The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 g/kg of body weight.

The RDA is the estimated amount of a nutrient a person needs to avoid a deficiency. It doesn’t specify the amount needed to optimize body composition or health and performance.

Most research suggests that people who routinely strength train may need double the RDA, or 1.6 g/kg, to support muscle recovery and growth.

A protein shake is a good option between meals, either as a snack or around your workout. They typically contain 25–30 grams of protein per scoop.

The magical 30 minute window
Many people within the health and fitness industry believe that drinking a protein shake within 30 minutes of completing physical activity will maximize their results in the gym.

Previously, it was been thought that consuming protein within this window gave the athlete the best opportunity to build new muscle mass. More recent research however, suggests that this window is much longer than 30 minutes and may not be limited to the post-workout window.

Today, it has become widely accepted that total protein consumed throughout the day is probably as important to building lean muscle than the actual timing.

Whilst I am a fan of training in a fasted state, I do use branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) on occasion and my morning coffee is usually combined with some collagen. Whilst technically it breaks the fast, the collagen provides a small amino acid boost pre-workout, fuelling the muscles and generally resulting in improved physical performance.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are people who just don’t respond well to training without eating or drinking something beforehand. If you fall into this category then a protein shake post-workout will still contribute to muscle repair and growth.

That being said, here are some of the benefits of taking some protein during the pre-workout window.

Increased protein synthesis
Pre-workout protein, specifically BCAAs, will help fuel the muscles during physical activity. BCAAs do not need to be processed by the liver, so after being consumed, they head directly to the blood stream to be used by the muscles.

Taking protein prior to your workout primes the pump, starting protein synthesis during, rather than after your training session.

A pre-workout serve of BCAAs increases amino acid delivery to the muscles during physical activity. Taken alone or as part of a complete protein, such as whey protein powders, BCAAs inhibit muscle breakdown. The result is an even higher level of net protein synthesis.

Carryover effect post-workout
There is also a carryover effect of nutrients taken pre-workout. Protein synthesis can stay elevated for as long as 3 hours after consumption.

What does this mean? Consuming protein pre-workout will elevate amino acids within the blood both during and after your workout is over. This elevation of blood amino acids will not only trigger protein synthesis but help prevent excessive post-workout muscle breakdown.

Fat burning
Taking BCAAs along with some coffee pre-workout can be extremely beneficial during periods of low carbohydrate consumption. Adding BCCAs pre-workout, when glycogen stores are low (they will be if you eating a low carbohydrate diet), will increase fatty acid oxidation (aka fat burning) during periods of intense physical activity.

In summary
The nutrients consumed around your workout are critical to building and maintaining your physique.

While protein shakes around workouts and between meals are helpful, make sure you’re getting enough protein throughout the day. Consuming protein from quality food sources should be your primary goal.

Additional supplementation using protein shakes can help you meet your goals.

While the post-workout shake has long been the go-to for many bodybuilders and athletes, consuming some protein in the pre-workout window may be even more beneficial, by supporting intra-workout muscle growth.

If you are generally healthy and getting a good amount of quality protein throughout the day, then a serve of BCAAs pre-workout will provide an adequate boost during your workout.