Protein is vital to build and help repair the body’s tissues during times of infection, including making blood proteins such as antibodies which help fight viral infections.
An antibody is a protein that is synthesised in response to the presence of a foreign substance in our body, called an antigen, such as a virus. They play a huge role in the immune system. If you get tested for COVID-19, or have been already, it is your antibodies to the virus that they will be checking (IgG and IgM) which you need for your body to mount a proper immune response.
The immune system goes through various phases when fighting an infection, including an acute phase and a recovery phase and your overall energy requirements, including protein requirements, in different stages will vary. Not enough is known about Covid-19 specifically, but it is well-established that certain opportunistic viruses employ several strategies to hijack and control cellular activities, including protein production which is part of their system of replication and taking control of the body. This may mean that more protein than usual is required but equally care should be taken when not much is known about the specific virus’s replication system. So if we don’t know enough, what should we do?
What to do:
- If you are well, simply ensure you are eating sufficient, high-quality protein for you needs. The government guidelines are that protein should consist of 15-20% of your daily energy requirements. This is regarded by many as too low. For athletes I tend to work in grams per kg of body weight, with the recommendations typically varying between 1.2g-2.0g/kg of body weight. However, hopefully most athletes are currently conserving their energy requirements with a view to supporting their immune system in these unusual times and the lower end of the scale may be adequate.
- If you are recovering from COVID-19, it is likely your protein requirements will be higher than normal as your body looks to heal and repair, replenishing depleted systems. Look to plenty of high-quality, free-range eggs, wild-fish or small fish lower down the food chain, plenty of grilled lean meats such as chicken and turkey and a little good quality grass-fed red meat is ideal. If you have been left with any gut dysfunction such as unusual bowel movements, abdominal pain, it may be worth looking to smoothie options with a good-quality protein powder, as well as potentially seeking advise if your gut does not settle down.
- If you are currently inflicted with COVID-19, during the early stages of infection it is likely you will not have much appetite. However, if you have moved on and hunger is returning but are still bed-bound (or any upset stomach issues), it is likely your gut function may be impaired. So simple, easily digestible forms of protein are likely to be most beneficial. In this scenario, smoothies are a great option with some additional, high quality protein powder added.
Green, Immune-Supporting Smoothie Recipe: 1 large handful of spinach or other leafy green, 1 square cm piece of ginger, juice of 1/2 lemon or 1 whole lime, 1 stick of celery, 1 kiwi, 120g of cucumber, 1 tbsp ground flax and 1/2 avocado (optional) – top up with filtered water (approx 300ml) to desired consistency. Sometimes I miss out the avocado if I want a lighter, more hydrating smoothie.
Protein Powders: Choices may now be more limited but when choosing a protein powder, do read the label and check there is no added sugar in terms of dextrose, maltodextrin, fructose and others. If you don’t like the flavour of the more natural powders, add some extra sweetness through berries or some raw, local-honey or Manuka honey which has been shown to have good anti-viral properties.
For more advice and information on how to support your immune system please see my earlier blog which can be found here along with regular recipe tips/inspiration which can be found on my Facebook and Instagram pages.
If you would like some more 1-2-1 advice on how Nutritional Therapy can help support you either through this pandemic or in general, please do get in touch.