4 Supplements to Take When Sick (Cold and Flu)

It's cold and flu season!

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 One of the few downsides to the holidays is the almost inevitable likelihood of catching a cold, flu or some other type of bug.

It can knock you down and ruin your time at work, with family or your general mood and well being. 

However, there are actually some supplements that are scientifically proven to help prevent cold and flu and help you recover quicker if you have one. 

 What are these seemingly magical supplements???

We’ve got you covered with a list below (in no particular order): 


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  1. Vitamin C


    Alright let's get this one out of the way since everyone knows about Vitamin C supplementation when sick. Long story short: The highest concentration of Vitamin C is found in leukocytes (white blood cells). During an infection , Vitamin C gets used up in the leukoctyes quicker than Usain Bolt running the 100m. In many studies reduced vitamin C levels are associated with lower immune function. Supplementing an extra 2-5g a day throughout the course of a day can help you fight off a cold and prevent one in the first place.

    A fun fact about Vitamin C is that the toxicity level is ridiculously high. Meaning - the likelihood of Vitamin C overdose to cause damage is extremely low. Studies have proven that doses up to 10g/day have not caused any toxicity related disease however may be associated with diarrhea. Supplementing Vitamin C while you have a cold has been shown to reduce cold symptoms by 0.5-1 day. That may not seem like a lot but it's something. Also, if you're an athlete - specifically endurance based - supplementing with daily vitamin C decreased the chances of catching a cold by 50%! Pretty damn good!


  2. Oregano Oil

    This one might be new to some people. Oregano Oil has proven antibacterial and antiviral properties. They've been shown in cell studies to kill off many forms of bacteria and viruses. I haven't come across research that specifically uses oregano oil as a cold and flu treatment but anecdotally speaking; this supplements helps me rid my cold in just 1 day! All you need is about 4 drops a day. Just make sure you dilute it in water or another drink - trust me, if you like your taste buds you won't mess around with this spicy oil undiluted.


  3. Zinc

    Zinc is a great supplement to take for anyone participating in regular exercise including resistance training, cardio and sports. It's also a big player in the cold and flu game. Taking zinc supplements when you start noticing a cold coming on can help shorten the duration of your cold. Imagine only being out of commission a fraction of the time? Sign me up. The recommended amount is about 75mg daily but read the label on the bottle or talk to a doctor for a prescribed amount. *Make sure you take it in pill form, other forms have been shown to give some people side effects.


  4. Protein!

    This is a BIG one. In times of high physical stress your body NEEDS adequate protein. Your immune cells are comprised of proteins and you need to give them an abundance in order to help optimize your ability to fight off Intruders like bacteria and viruses.

So this begs the question: How much protein do I need? And can I take a protein supplement?

To answer the former: your body performs optimally with between 1.5-2g protein/lb of bodyweight each day. So if you're 80kg you need 120-160g/ day (80 x 1.5=120 and 80 x 2 = 160, simple as that. 

Protein Supplements: they can be extremely useful when you're sick. There is a ton of evidence that shows that supplementing with protein and even some specific amino acids can help prevent cold and flu as well as decrease the duration.

Whey protein has been used as an immune booster for hundreds of years! Whey has unique proteins called immunoglobulins which help boost your immune system and fight off infections.

Just one scoop of most whey protein powder supplements contains about 30g of protein. That’s huge! It’s a simple way to hit your protein needs and fight off that infection.

Glutamine supplementation was once very popular in body building for building muscle but newer research suggests that daily overall protein count is much more important than glutamine itself. However, when it comes to the immune system and digestive tract glutamine is the most used amino acid of them all (40% of the bodies production of glutamine goes to the GI tract). Studies have shown that supplementing with glutamine when sick enhances immune function and protects muscles from being broken down to use as free amino acids.

BCAAs - as far as I'm concerned there's not much research on consuming BCAAs when sick.

I found one really cool study that had one group of triathletes supplement with BCAAs and the other placebo. The BCAA group showed 33.84% reduction of symptoms of infection compared to the place on group! That's definitely saying something!

BCAAs have received a lot of flack lately and are constantly being compared to regular protein supplementation. The argument is definitely valid because most people say that for the cost, you might as well just use regular protein powder. BCAAs are a group of anabolic amino acids that help with muscle growth and prevention of breakdown. They are 3 essential amino acids (out of 9) that can be found in whey protein as well. However, there are some cases where BCAAs may be advantageous over protein powder alone.

Think of it like this: If you have no appetite during a cold or flu, BCAAs might be a good option because they digest SO easily and you can drink it like a soft drink compared to regular food. This goes hand in hand with the study I mentioned, hear me out.

People who participate in long distance exercise or sport knows that it's difficult to perform at your highest level if you're exercising and trying to digest food at the same time. Sometimes you need to refuel during exercise. That's why things like Gatorade, energy gel packs and BCAAs are so useful! They're already broken down to a very easily digested form. 

If you've lost your appetite while suffering from a cold or flu, BCAA supplementation may be an effective alternative to helping you relieve symptoms and get back on your feet or back in the gym quicker than usual. 

Regardless of your choice, remember that colds and flus CAN be attenuated and the duration can be limited with the help of supplements and rest. You know how much they suck, you’ve dealt with them probably every winter season of your life. I can almost guarantee you’ll feel better, quicker. - You’ll find all of the above in my supplement cabinet and since trying a combination of these I can say with confidence that my colds have not lasted more than 24hrs and limited to 1 or less per year! The past 4 years have been pretty stressful with starting a business from scratch and high stress correlates to low immune function (as well as countless other issues). When a cold comes through this winter, take action and give these a try.

References: 

Gorton, H. C., & Jarvis, K. (1999). The effectiveness of vitamin C in preventing and relieving the symptoms of virus-induced respiratory infections. Journal of manipulative and physiological therapeutics, 22(8), 530-533.

Van Straten, M., & Josling, P. (2002). Preventing the common cold with a vitamin C supplement: a double-blind, placebo-controlled survey. Advances in therapy, 19(3), 151.

Hemilä, H. (1997). Vitamin C intake and susceptibility to the common cold. British Journal of Nutrition, 77(1), 59-72.

Burt, S. (2004). Essential oils: their antibacterial properties and potential applications in foods—a review. International journal of food microbiology, 94(3), 223-253.

Burt, S. A., & Reinders, R. D. (2003). Antibacterial activity of selected plant essential oils against Escherichia coli O157: H7. Letters in applied microbiology, 36(3), 162-167

Vimalanathan, S., & Hudson, J. (2012). Anti-Influenza virus activities of commercial oregano oils and their carriers. Journal of Applied Pharmaceutical Science, 2(7), 214.

Schuetz, B. (2016). Oil of Oregano: Nature's Antiseptic and Antioxidant. Healthy Living Publications.

 Gleeson, M. (2016). Immunological aspects of sport nutrition. Immunology and cell biology, 94(2), 117.

 Shankar, A. H., & Prasad, A. S. (1998). Zinc and immune function: the biological basis of altered resistance to infection. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 68(2), 447S-463S.

Venkatraman, J. T., & Pendergast, D. R. (2002). Effect of dietary intake on immune function in athletes. Sports medicine, 32(5), 323-337.

Marshall, K. (2004). Therapeutic applications of whey protein. Alternative medicine review, 9(2), 136-157.

Bassit, R. A., Sawada, L. A., Bacurau, R. F. P., Navarro, F., & Rosa, L. F. B. P. C. (2000). The effect of BCAA supplementation upon the immune response of triathletes. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 32(7), 1214-1219.