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Nutrition in the Time of COVID-19 (and Beyond!)

There is a LOT of fitness and nutrition “advice” slamming newsfeeds right now. We know it’s overwhelming. Heck, we’re overwhelmed and we do this for a living! So our friend Zach Lewandowski (B.S. Nutrition & Dietetics, NASM-CPT) put together this very smart, easy-to-understand (and cited) resource to help guide you. The best part: this stuff doesn’t just apply during COVID-19 time… it pretty much always works!

Read on to learn more about:

  • Nutrition that supports immune health
  • Simple Do’s and Don’ts of eating during (and after) a pandemic
  • Quick snacks and food ideas, including some you might not think of!

Role of Nutrition and Exercise for Immune Function

This is a really weird and stressful time for many people. Many of you have had to change your daily routines drastically. Many of you have probably noticed by now, a lot of things that are normally available at grocery stores are basically sold out. It is much tougher to find the foods we typically eat. There has also been a massive increase in people trying to sell “supplements” that are claimed to “boost” your immune system. In this article I’m going to talk about the importance of nutrition for immune function but also explore foods that you can substitute for others you might typically consume. Also, I discuss the most effective ways to actually support your immune system during this time.

During the time of this pandemic, a healthy and functioning immune system is vital. An important thing to know is that a resilient immune defense system won’t just increase your chances of avoiding the virus or remaining asymptomatic, but it will also reduce the course of infection if you do become symptomatic, subsequently reducing your risk of spreading the infection to others who may be more susceptible.

Many things have changed in our daily lives, especially for us gym-goers. If you do not know by now, moderate to high intensity exercise is beneficial to our immune system for several reasons. Exercise causes alterations in white blood cells and antibodies, resulting in a more rapid circulation which may detect (and consequently fight) diseases earlier.(1) Exercise can also slow the release of some stress hormones; although like I mentioned earlier, not too high of an intensity because chronic exposure to high intensity exercise may increase the chance of illness. If you are constantly sore, struggling to sleep, and have low motivation to work out then it may negatively impact your immune system. The main takeaway from this is to try and continue to exercise in some way even if you do not have access to most of the gym equipment you typically use.

If you have had the opportunity to go to the supermarket lately, you may have noticed that fresh produce, lean meats, and whole grains are hard to find. To make things worse, some food has become overpriced. Our main goal during this time is to have a well-rounded diet that focuses on a higher protein intake (1.6-2.2g/kg of bodyweight), since a diet that is deficient in protein can impact immune function. You should aim to consume carbohydrates that are high in fiber since fiber has been show to have many benefits such as decreasing the risk for type 2 diabetes (T2D), cardiovascular disease, and colon cancer by reducing the digestion and absorption of macronutrients and decreasing the contact time of carcinogens in the intestinal lumen.(2,3,4,5) Fiber is also a prebiotic for the gut microbiota. Microbiota are important for optimal immune function. Focus on getting a minimum of 25g of fiber per day. Finally, focusing on eating enough calories to fuel our body and give it the nutrients it needs.

If your goal is weight loss, this might not be the best time to be in a caloric deficit, taking in less calories than your body needs which results in weight loss. Severe caloric restriction has been shown to impair immune function.

One of the most important takeaways from this article is that these adjustments do not take place in a day or two. You can’t instantly change your diet and expect to “boost” your immune system. It takes months for changes to take place. Another important note is to try and keep stress to a minimum, eat foods that you enjoy, and don’t be afraid to have some of those beers you love.

Below, I’ve created a list of food and their macronutrients category. It also includes substitutes that people may not normally think of. If anyone has questions about any of the content in the article or even nutrition questions in general please email me: [email protected]

  • Bread
  • Pasta
  • Fruit
  • Rice
  • Oatmeal
  • Honey/Syrup
  • Cereal
  • Potatoes
  • Corn
  • Pretzels
  • Beer (track as carb)
  • Oatmeal
  • Rice cakes
  • Shredded Hashbrowns
  • Chicken Breast
  • Egg Whites
  • Deli Meat
  • Turkey
  • Tuna
  • Protein Powder
  • Lean ground beef
  • Ham
  • Low fat milk
  • Seafood
  • Avocado
  • Olive oil
  • Butter
  • Salad dressing
  • Egg yolk
  • Nuts
  • Coconut
  • Pesto
  • Fish oil
  • Granola
  • Doughnuts
  • Nut Butters
  • Avocado on toast
  • Cereal with milk
  • Hummus
  • French fries
  • Banana with peanut butter
  • Fat-free yogurt
  • Greek yogurt
  • Protein shake with fruit
  • Egg white with potato
  • Beans/lentils/peas
  • Chicken and rice/pasta
  • Whole eggs
  • Cottage cheese
  • Salmon
  • Bacon
  • Pork
  • Chicken Thighs
  • Steak/Higher fat content beef
  • Popcorn (incl. options with low fat, low sodium, or other specifics for you)
  • Jell-o chocolate or vanilla pudding
  • Yogurt with granola
  • Avocado toast (High fat and moderate carb)
  • Cereal with 1% or fat free milk (carb and protein, low fat)
  • Eggo Nutrigrain waffles with lower sugar syrup (carb)
  • Pretzels or vegetables and hummus (carb)
  • Hard boiled eggs (protein and fat)
  • Salad with Greek yogurt dressing (add chicken for protein)
  • Beef jerky (protein)


  1. Campbell JP, Turner JE. Debunking the Myth of Exercise-Induced Immune Suppression: Redefining the Impact of Exercise on Immunological Health Across the Lifespan. Front Immunol. 2018;9:648. Published 2018 Apr 16. doi:10.3389/fimmu.2018.00648
  2. Sierra M, García J, Fernández N, Diez M, Calle A. Therapeutic effects of psyllium in type 2 diabetic patients. ‘European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.’ 2002;56(9):830-842. doi:10.1038/sj.ejcn.1601398.
  3. Lattimer, J.M.; Haub, M.D. Effects of Dietary Fiber and Its Components on Metabolic Health. Nutrients 2010, 2, 1266-1289.
  4. Kaczmarczyk MM, Miller MJ, Freund GG. The health benefits of dietary fiber: beyond the usual suspects of type 2 diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular disease and colon cancer. Metabolism. 2012;61(8):1058–1066. doi:10.1016/j.metabol.2012.01.017
  5.  Raninen K, Lappi J, Mykkänen H, Poutanen K. Dietary fiber type reflects physiological functionality: comparison of grain fiber, inulin, and polydextrose. Nutrition Reviews. 2011;69(1):9-21. doi:10.1111/j.1753-4887.2010.00358.x.

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