Stay Court-Ready with Immune-Boosting Foods
No doubt about it, COVID-19 put quite a block on pickleball play this year. While the future of the virus is unpredictable, one thing we do have some control over is how we take care of ourselves, including what we choose to eat.
Much like consistent pickleball practice improves abilities over time, healthy eating habits increase immune function over time, not overnight. Perhaps more accurately, a diet deficient in nutrients can weaken your immune system. A dedicated commitment to eating a varied, plant-strong diet, including foods with the following key nutrients, will give you your best shot at staying well and court-ready.
We need adequate protein to build everything in our bodies including immune system cells and antibodies. High-quality protein can be found in both plant and animal sources. The average recreational player needs about .9 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight daily.
Best Shots: Beef, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy, beans, peas, lentils, quinoa, nuts, whole grains
Vitamin C is important for healthy tissues including skin and muscles. It plays a role in the immune system by taming wayward molecules that might otherwise do damage, and by stimulating antibody production. Fresh fruits and veggies are the highest sources of vitamin C; cooking or storing produce too long reduces vitamin potency.
Best Shots: Papaya, peppers, broccoli, strawberries, Brussels sprouts, pineapple, oranges, tomatoes
Some forms of vitamin A including beta-carotene can increase immune cell function and help keep tissues healthy. Orange and yellow fruits and vegetables tend to be highest in vitamin A.
Best Shots: Pumpkin, sweet potatoes, carrots, red and yellow peppers, apricots, dark green leafy vegetables, winter squash, chili peppers
Important for T-cell function, deficiency in this mineral can reduce immune abilities quickly. Luckily symptoms can be reversed once zinc is reintroduced. Try keeping pumpkin seeds in your pickleball bag for a post-play snack.
Best Shots: Beef, lamb, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, chickpeas, hummus, lentils, quinoa, turkey, shrimp
PROBIOTICS and PREBIOTICS
Probiotics and prebiotics are important for gut health, an essential part of your immune system. Probiotics
are the good bacteria that help us digest food, make nutrients, and fight pathogenic bacteria. Probiotics can be found in cultural fermented foods. Prebiotics are the food probiotics need to thrive and are found in high-fiber foods like whole grains, vegetables, and some fruit.
Best Shots: Probiotics – cultured yogurt, kefir, fresh miso, fresh sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, kombucha tea; Prebiotics – bananas, leeks, garlic, onions, Jerusalem artichokes, asparagus, jicama, beans, whole grains
If you’re looking for an excuse to play more outdoor pickleball, this one is legit. Vitamin D is a hormone that humans make when our skin is adequately exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet light. We need D for immune system regulation, and for healthy bones and muscles.
Under ideal circumstances, it only takes 10-15 minutes of daily UV sun exposure to make enough vitamin D. Unfortunately, we face limiting factors including time of year (any season other than summer), living north of the 37th latitude (check your map), skin color (darker tones block UV rays), age over 65, and the important cancer-preventing use of sunscreens. These factors block vitamin D production like a Newman at the NVZ.
Because it’s hard to get enough vitamin D from food, this is one nutrient I often recommend supplementing. Ask your doctor what dose is right for you.
Best Shots: Summer sunlight, supplementation, wild-caught salmon, UV-exposed mushrooms, fortified foods like milk, soy beverage, orange juice, and cereal
GET THE WHOLE PACKAGE
Your favorite pro would never win gold with a strong serve alone; to make it happen, she also needs the drop, drive, volley, dink and that little bit of unexplained magic that the rest of us would love to get from a
bottle. The same rule applies to vitamins. Good-quality supplementation can help in a pinch, but even the best supplements can’t replace healthy food. Eating a wide variety every day is recommended so that you get the whole package, including those magical nutrients we haven’t discovered yet.
High in protein, prebiotics, and vitamins C and A, this recipe is versatile, so you can make it your own way!
6 large fresh peppers (Hatch, poblano, or bell
2 cups cooked protein (quinoa, ground beef, or
1 small onion
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup cooked rice (brown or white)
1 cup cooked beans (black, pinto, or small red) 15 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 packet taco seasoning (or season your way to
1 cup cheese (Monterey Jack, cheddar, Pepper Jack, vegan)
Halve peppers lengthwise, removing stem, seeds and ribs. Pre-roast cleaned peppers on an oiled baking sheet at 350F for 10-15 minutes, or until somewhat softened. While peppers are pre-baking, sauté onion and garlic in 1 tablespoon cooking oil until softened. Add protein, rice, beans, tomatoes, and taco seasoning; heat through, mixing thoroughly. Fill prebaked pepper halves evenly and sprinkle with cheese. Return to preheated oven and bake until peppers are softened to preference and cheese is melted, about 15 minutes.