As many of you know, we partner with the Whole Life Challenge for the infrastructure around our nutrition and lifestyle challenges. While our philosophies are not always 100% in alignment, generally these guys do a great job of nailing the lifestyle components that make such a huge difference in our overall health and well-being. So when I got their newsletter this week and read their take on staying healthy as opposed to panicking over things out of our control, I immediately emailed them and asked for permission to share it which I have done below.
Look friends, I know there is a lot of uncertainty out there. There is also a lot of misinformation. We are doing our very best to stay on top of best practices and maintain a clean and safe environment for this community. We need you to do your part by staying away if you are sick, washing your hands, and wiping down all of your equipment. Beyond that though, I want to remind you that all the work you do to be healthy and fit will serve you during this period too. We are all in this together. Often in times of stress, uncertainty, and difficulty, connecting with community and maintaining positive routines are as important as ever. Not only will you physically and mentally feel better, but you are also giving your immune system a boost by maintaining your exercise regimen.
I’m no expert on infectious disease and I don’t profess to have any more insight than your average concerned citizen. Still, it’s hard to argue with the timeless advice to eat well, get enough sleep, avoid alcohol, exercise regularly, manage your stress in healthy ways, and maintain positive social connections.
I sincerely hope to see you in the gym this week. I’ll let the Whole Life Challenge folks take it from here:
So I want to talk about a slightly different take on being healthy than we normally do. It’s always in there, but I want to bring it up to the surface for a minute (even if we just tuck it away after that) because it’s really important. Being fit and healthy is obviously good for things like being able to have a good time, have lots of energy, be strong, feel good, and do the things you want to do. Basically taking on life and winning.
But one of the best reasons to stay healthy is to protect against getting sick. And if you do get sick, to make sure you have the best chance of not getting really sick and of recovering as fast as possible.
There are a lot of ways that you can do this every day. Paying attention to what you eat, exercising, staying hydrated, sleeping well, even well-being practices, are important factors in staying strong and defending yourself against potential sickness and disease. These things are for your immune system and how to use them in the best way to avoid illness.
There’s an old saying “Let food be thy medicine.“ Basically, something you do multiple times a day—eat—is your first defense and one of the most potent things that you can do to “medicate” yourself for health and, for good measure, prevent getting sick.
Just steering clear of junk—processed foods and sugar—is a good start (remember the Twinkie defense only works in court). And if you’re doing that you’re already doing a lot. But there is more you should do to make sure your immune system is as strong as possible. Number one is getting enough protein.
You are what you eat (well, actually you’re mostly water, but that’s a topic for an email coming soon) and you are a big mass of protein-scaffolded tissues that need supplies for rebuilding and repairing. You also need protein for creating the antibodies you need to fight off getting sick. Not getting enough can lead to feeling weak and tired, slow-healing injuries, and getting or staying sick more often.
Your immune cells rely on protein for their very existence so getting enough of it is critical.
That doesn’t mean you need to go full carnivore just to survive—you can get protein from nuts, seeds, yogurt, grains like quinoa, and legumes. But just know that eating a lot of grains and legumes can end up blocking the absorption of some important nutrients. This also isn’t a call to go out and eat the fattiest BBQ brisket you can find. Watch out for saturated fats as well as processed meat. Bacon wrapped hot dogs are not at the core of a strategy of increased protein.
How much? Getting at least 10 or 15% of your daily calories from protein is enough for a baseline but depending on your own situation—for example, a lot of strength training or your age (as you get older your body processes protein less efficiently and you may need more)—you might need to get up to 25 or 30% of your calories from protein. Getting .36 g per pound of body weight (36g for every 100 pounds of bodyweight) or .8 g per kg of body weight (8g for every 10 kg of bodyweight) is a good target.
Another important step you can take to strengthen your immune system is to avoid things that you are potentially allergic to.
It seems almost crazy to have to say that, but let’s be honest, allergens can often be tasty or fun. My wife is terribly allergic to dogs and just can’t keep her hands off of a new puppy. We’re not always the best at doing what’s best for us. Allergens and food sensitivities can cause unwanted inflammation (which is just another job for your immune system to handle).
Just knowing what foods make you feel bad is a good place to start (allergy and sensitivity testing is another way if you think you have a serious issue). These can be anything from grains and dairy to eggs and even some vegetables. I even have a friend who just told me he just found out he’s allergic to all fruit. All fruit! So it’s not always obvious.
Even some of the most popular health foods, like kale, spinach, and beans, have compounds (like oxalates and isothiocyanates—say that 3 times fast) that can cause problems for some people. But before you just dump your leafy greens from your diet keep in mind those same compounds can be harmless to some or even potentially beneficial. It’s a matter of starting to pay close attention to what makes you feel less than good when you eat it.
Another great buffer against getting sick is cleaning up any nutrient deficiencies.
This can be done by eating a varied diet or with a high-quality supplement. There are some nutrients that do a lot of heavy lifting for your immune system that you should get on a daily basis—like vitamins D, A, & E, glutathione, and zinc.
Vitamin D plays a big part in immune function (as well as in muscle, bone, sleep, and mood). You can get it from fatty fish (like tuna, salmon, mackerel, and sardines) and pastured eggs, or you can take a D3 supplement. 20 minutes of daily sun is good for some people but most of us in the United States and Europe live too far north to get good sun and don’t get enough to escape the need to supplement. 5000 IU a day.
Vitamin A is also important. It helps mediate your immune response and can be used even in the treatment of infectious diseases. Retinal palmitate is the form you want. 900mcg a day.
Vitamin E is important for immune cells and has antioxidant properties, and is important to supplement if it’s deficient in your diet. You can get it from foods like eggs, spinach, and nuts. 15mg a day.
Glutathione Strengthens your body against toxins and stress, helps control inflammation response, and combats toxins and free radicals. 500mg a day.
Zinc deficiency can cause severe immune suppression—leading to getting repeatedly sick and slow healing. It’s important for T cells, it has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. 15 mg/day.
Lastly, maintaining a healthy weight is very important for proper immune function.
While the exact reasons being overweight affects immunity aren’t well known, we know enough to say that it depresses immune function and can have a noticeable impact on immune related health.
So, in summary:
Good nutrition in the form of quality protein, a variety of nutrients, and a diet low in sugar and processed ingredients is at the foundation of a healthy immune system. With a daily habit of avoiding most junk and eating protein, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and fruit, you’ll have the energy, fiber, and nutrients you need to make sure you have the strongest immune system you can.