While boosting your immune system may not sound as sexy as the latest fat-shredding workout, it’s certainly key to long-term health, and of course, reducing the risk of catching a common cold or flu.

Although most people are only aware of the immune system when they are fighting off a cold, it is, in fact, an essential part of our daily lives for much more than just defence against infection.

For the fitness enthusiast or bodybuilder, the immune system plays a key role in cellular repair and most importantly, helping to keep us germ- and illness-free when we train – a time when, temporarily, your immune system is actually weakened, and you are more susceptible to illness.

The immune system is comprised of several biological cell types and systems which protect against a wide variety of illnesses and disease. It acts as your body’s natural defence system against ‘pathogens’, which can be anything from viruses to worms which attack your body’s tissues and cells. 

That's why it's vital to keep your immune system working optimally to ensure you can train harder and stay disease-free. 

Here are four scientifically-proven ways you can boost your immune system…

Deadlift

1. Consume High Antioxidant-Based Foods

Nearly everyone is familiar with the links between Vitamin C and colds or flu. The reason that Vitamin C can be beneficial is because it’s an antioxidant, which is a broader term encompassing several nutrients that play a key role in your body’s immune and defence system.

However, while antioxidants do regulate the immune system, they may be beneficial or detrimental depending on the circumstances or body's requirements.

Antioxidants are obtained from a variety of food sources, including:

* Berries, such as cherries and blueberries,

* Dark chocolate,

* Pecans,

* Artichoke,

* Coffee,

* Kidney beans,

* Green tea,

* Apples,

* Vegetables such as tomatoes and greens,

* Oily fish

On a daily basis, antioxidants play an important role in reducing cell death, which over the long term helps us live longer, reduces the signs of ageing and fights off diseases such as cancer.

For a bodybuilder, or anyone who's training, antioxidants play a crucial role in cell repair, reducing muscle damage and aiding in general growth after the workout. However, a word of caution – antioxidants are a double-edged sword in muscle growth and consuming too many may inhibit anabolism

Blueberries

2. Consume Garlic on a Regular Basis

Other ‘superfoods’ such as garlic provide a tonne of beneficial effects for both your physique and health. Garlic has been used to fight off illnesses and disease for centuries.

The bioactive compound in garlic – Allicin – has anti-bacterial properties which can potentially prevent illnesses, and there is some evidence it promotes cell death in some cancers.

While these aren't directly modulating the immune system, one thing allicin is known for is anti-inflammatory properties which actually does have an effect on the immune system.

Recent research has also suggested that allicin reacts with sulphur-based compounds that fight disease and boosts your white blood cell count – a key defence system. 

When testing this, one study gave 46 participants garlic supplementation during winter and monitored them for three months. For those individuals taking garlic supplementation, they found that around 40% less reported any form of sickness or illness. Interestingly, those participants that did get a cold or flu reported they recovered 70% faster than those not taking the supplement.

Garlic can easily be added to most dishes; however, it is also easy to supplement with garlic tablets at around 1000mg per day.

Garlic

3. Improve Your Gut Health

Your gut health is quickly becoming a centre of attention for disease risk, fat loss and muscle growth.

New research is constantly emerging to show how your gut health affects fat metabolism/storage and muscle protein synthesis, adds new muscle, impacts sports performance and affects many other aspects of health and disease. 

If you work hard to improve and repair your gut, you’ll have an easier time achieving your fitness, physique and health goals.

For your immune system and illness, around two-thirds of your body’s entire immune cells are found in the gut walls. Your gut also plays an important role in metabolising bodily toxins and acting as a natural detox system for the body.

There are numerous ways to improve your gut health. By doing so, you have more chance of staying disease- and illness-free, while also having an easier time to lose fat and add muscle.

Fish oil

Here are a few key methods that further emphasise the importance of a healthy lifestyle and diet.

  • Eat more vegetables and fibre; especially fibre from resistant starch, which is a special type of dietary fibre that has numerous health benefits and can improve your gut health and gut microbiome.
  • Reduce stress and excessive cortisol by making positive lifestyle alterations, meditating, sleeping more, reducing processed food intake and possible adding in supplements such as phosphatidylserine.
  • Reduce your exposure to carcinogens and environmental toxins by choosing BPA-free products, natural cosmetics and beauty products.
  • Exercise on a regular basis.
  • Reduce inflammation, which increases your unhealthy gut bacteria. 
  • Use pre- and probiotics to improve your healthy gut bacteria.

Broccoli

4. Consider Adding These Supplements

Several other supplements are a great choice for improving your immune system and providing many other benefits.

Here are a few research-proven supplements:

Vitamin D: One of the latest “superfoods” to emerge, Vitamin D is a super vitamin that functions more like a hormone. It can boost testosterone and other anabolic hormones, while also helping to boost your immune system, insulin sensitivity and fat loss.

Glutamine: When we train, around 70-90% of our body’s glutamine stores are depleted. It plays an important role in recovery, along with feeding your gut and supporting your immune system.

Vitamin C: A well-known vitamin for fighting off the common cold and flu. Despite popular belief, it is not as powerful as garlic; however, it can help you recover faster when you are already run down or ill. 

Zinc: A vital mineral with over 200 chemical reactions within the body, zinc can help boost your testosterone and support your immune system.

Remember, a healthy inside will help you achieve a healthy outside.

If you want advice from UP's world-leading personal trainers on how to optimise your diet, training and lifestyle to get in truly incredible shape, simply click on the enquiry form below and tell us your goals…