While all kids need healthy and balanced meals, a child who is into active sports needs a little extra. He needs more nutrition and energy not just to build endurance, strength, agility, and perform above par. He also needs it to boost his immune system. After all, if your child is prone to catching common illnesses easily, he might have to skip practice sessions or events often. And that means all his effort is going to go waste. Or, even an hour or two of strenuous training will leave him exhausted. So, apart from supporting his normal growth and development, nutrients will help him fight diseases better, recover from training faster, and perform better on the field. So, read on to know how you can support and enhance the immune system of an active child.

Do active children have a stronger immune system?

Certain scientific studies indicate that in order to get over a cold or a cough or feeling of tiredness, it might be best to head outdoors and get some exercise. However, it is not very clear as to how exercise might increase immunity in certain illnesses. As per researchers, physical activity might help flush out bacteria from the lungs and airways, and reduce the chance of contracting cold, flu or other illnesses. Some others claim that exercise causes changes in the antibodies and WBCs that are involved in the body’s response to fight off an infection.

Although physical activity is good for the immune system, it is important not to overdo it. It has been seen that intense exercise or excessive training can be harmful for an athlete’s immune system. If poor nutrition or unhealthy lifestyle habits are added to this equation, the way your child’s body responds to infectious diseases can be impacted. Therefore, whether an active child will end up having a stronger immune system depends on his or her eating habits, nutritional status and activity level.

So what can you do about supporting your active child’s immune system?

Missing a competition or performing below par due to an infection that causes coughing, cold or fever, can be frustrating and demoralizing for an active child. All those hours of training and preparation can suddenly seem meaningless to him. In addition, upper respiratory infections and infections that affect the gut can stall training and participation in competitions. So, what can you do to support your child’s immune system?

Take stock of your child’s training schedule

If your active child comes down with a cold, fever, cough more frequently than usual, or feels more tired than usual, it might be a case of excessive training. Talk to your child’s coach and assess if you need to reduce his or her training duration or intensity.

Take stock of your child’s eating habits and nutrient needs

The immune system’s ability to fight viruses, bacteria and other pathogens is dependent on an adequate supply of energy from glucose, amino acids and fatty acids. An ample supply of amino acids (that come from the protein you give your child) is also required for the production of proteins such as immunoglobulins, cytokines and acute-phase proteins, which determine your kid’s immune response to infections.

Micronutrients also fight diseases by functioning at various levels of the immune response. Some of the micronutrients impact immunity by being involved in nucleotide and nucleic acid production (of immune cells). Some others build antioxidant defenses that limit tissue damage that can happen during infections. Antioxidant availability is particularly important and protects the body during infections when oxidative stress increases. Some other micronutrients can directly affect certain immune cell functions by controlling gene expression.

Vitamins and minerals such as Vitamin B6, B12, D and iron are important nutrients that help your child develop an effective immune response to infections. So, here is how you can include them in his diet:

  • Vitamin B6 supports biochemical reactions in the immune system and also influences the action and production of WBCs, which are the main defense cells of the immune system. Vitamin B6-rich foods include chicken, fish such as salmon and tuna, green vegetables and chickpeas.
  • Vitamin B12 is mostly available from animal sources such as eggs, chicken, meat, shellfish and dairy. Deficiency of Vitamin B12 can impact the immune system’s functioning as vitamin B12 plays an important role in WBC production. In that case, do consult a doctor about supplements.
  • Vitamin D deficiency is the most prevalent problem in children in recent times. If your child trains and competes indoors, for sports such as table tennis and badminton, he or she is at an increased risk of this deficiency. And this deficiency can make him prone to various infections. So, adequate exposure to sunlight and including vitamin D fortified foods and beverages like milk and milk drinks in your child’s diet will ensure adequacy.
  • Iron is another important nutrient for immunity as it is present in the immune system enzymes that help destroy invading organisms. Unfortunately, iron deficiency is one of the major problems in children, especially as they tend to dislike iron-rich food sources, such as green leafy vegetables. So, you can introduce such veggies into their meals creatively by adding spinach puree to the roti dough or making tasty dishes like palak paneer.

Thus, make sure that your active child eats well-balanced and nutrient-dense meals regularly, to maintain a robust immune system. It is important to include extra nutrients in an active childs diet in the form of malt based powders or supplements which can be added to milk to provide essential nutrients like vitamins and minerals helping support immunity and also give sustained energy for a period of time. It will help him stay fit enough to perform impressively during training and main events.