Written by SYJ teacher Michelle Didner
Our yoga practices shift with our bodies’ needs from season to season, and so should our food choices.
In the cold months I tend to prefer foods that are comforting, warming, and more calorie dense, like creamy soups, oatmeal, and warm cocoa. After my practice, I usually feel an intuitive nudge for something super nutritious and hydrating.
When you roll up your mat after class with your favorite SYJ teacher, what do you reach for?
The conscious attention to your body does not end when class ends. Supporting your muscles as they recover, replacing minerals lost in sweat, and boosting your immune system with the right nutrients are all just as important.
What you put into your body is an expression of self-care and love.
Our immune system is a complex network of metabolic reactions that protects us from harmful molecules from both inside and outside our bodies.
Our innate immune system is our first line defense and is made up of our skin, mucus that lines the respiratory tract, enzymes in our blood and cells, as well as our digestive tract which is exposed to the outside world from the food we eat and the water we drink.
Our adaptive immune system involves a memory of past exposures that invites an immune response, and involves antibodies that treat specific viruses, bacteria, or even proteins such as gluten.
Both of these immune systems need to be supported by a balance of nutrients that include proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals.
An easy way to do that is with smoothies that will help keep your immune system working for you during these short winter days, providing your body with nutrients aimed at restoring your body rather than fueling your performance.
So, what makes a great smoothie and how can we turn it into an extra immune-boosting blend? Here are five tips to follow.
1. Focus on macros
Macronutrients supply the main caloric intake that our bodies need in order to function. They include carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.
Protein is one of the main building blocks of our bodies and our post-vinyasa smoothie!
The easiest way to know if you are getting a comprehensive balance of amino acids is by using a full-spectrum protein powder that supplies at least 20 grams of protein per scoop.
According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition, eating protein before or after resistance exercise, like yoga, helps your muscles restore and rebuild.
Including complex carbs, (and I would suggest high fiber) within 30 minutes of your practice will help your body refill its used energy stores which is easier for our muscles to do within 30 minutes of a physical activity such as exercise.
Consider frozen berries packed with phytonutrients and vitamins, baby spinach high in magnesium, a banana for potassium, or even frozen chopped zucchini (super keto friendly.)
A 1/4 cup of oats is a favorite nourishing addition of mine to help meet my hunger especially on these chilly winter days.
Add fresh avocado, a handful of nuts or a tablespoon of hemp or chia seeds which are loaded with Omega 3’s.
Try to avoid nut milks which may be loaded with unnecessary oils and additives.
Adding just one brazil nut can supply the selenium you need for the day. Research shows that selenium boosts the immune system and plays a critical role in influencing the immune response, regulating oxidation stress and inflammation that can occur during exercise.
2. Bump up the vitamin C
A powerful antioxidant, Vitamin C has also been shown to stimulate white blood cell production and function, helping us to fight infection. Since it is used rapidly by the body, consistent intake is necessary in order to maintain adequate levels.
Your body can easily need 500 mg – 1,000 mg a day when the immune system is working hard.
I add a scoop of powdered buffered ascorbic acid to my smoothie as an easy and inexpensive way to boost my levels.
3. Spice it up with ginger
Used in both Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine for thousands of years, ginger is known for its heating, cleansing and stimulating properties, qualities welcome in any winter smoothie.
In addition to its spicy essence, it contains gingerols and shogaols, phenolic compounds, that pack an arsenal of health benefits.
It is anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidative, and antimicrobial, which offers the potential to help in treating infectious diseases.
Use fresh ginger root, which has been shown to aid in resisting viruses as well as disease of the respiratory system.
Fresh ginger roots can be found at the farmers market and grocery store.
Toss a 1/4-inch chunk (1/2 inch if you like things caliente) into the blender. Its flavor pairs well with cocoa, making it an ideal combo with your chocolate protein powder.
4. Add electrolytes after a sweaty class
Sweating is awesome. It helps your body detox but you also lose valuable minerals that dissolve through the skin when you sweat. Electrolytes are minerals like sodium, chloride, potassium, magnesium, and calcium that are all necessary to regulate your blood pressure, bone health, blood glucose levels, and nerve impulses to name only a few.
Minerals like sodium boost the innate immune system and help regulate inflammation and other functions of immunity.
My favorite way to add electrolytes to my smoothies is with coconut water, which is a natural way to replace electrolytes, hydrate, and boost your resistance to disease.
5. Support your gut with probiotics
Remember I mentioned your digestive tract as being a key player in your innate immune system? Gut health and integrity is vital to immune health.
Our gut contains trillions of microbes — more than the number of stars in the sky!
We want to know that our microbiome is balanced and thriving especially when it is confronted with toxins, pathogenic bacteria, stress, or food sensitivities.
I often forget to take my probiotic supplement in the morning, but if I include it in my smoothie in a powdered form then I get those good bacteria working for me throughout the day.
Also, consider that banana which may be adding healthy prebiotics that contribute to good bacteria growth.
My favorite immune-boosting smoothie recipe
• 1 serving chocolate vegan pea-based protein powder with full spectrum amino acids
• 1 tbsp almonds
• 1 tbsp chia seeds
• 1 scoop powdered 500 mg ascorbic acid
• 1 serving probiotics
• ¼ cup rolled oats
• 1/2 cup frozen raspberries or blueberries
• 1/2 cup frozen zucchini
• ½ – 1 cup fresh baby spinach
• 1 banana
• ½ inch fresh ginger root
• coconut water
Build your smoothie with the dry ingredients as a foundation and then introduce the fruits and veggies finishing with liquid to almost cover depending on your desired consistency.
Tip: premix the and store in the fridge or freezer in containers ready for blending (except probiotics and vitamin C which should be added when blending.)
Stay healthy so that we can keep seeing you on your mat — and let me know what you blend up!
Michelle Didner found healing in yoga as a new mother struggling with a health crisis. After completing her RTY 200 training with Saraswati’s Yoga Joint in Norwalk, CT, she lived in Argentina and Switzerland where she taught yoga and meditation to an international community. During that time, she began to explore a deeper understand of nutrition and health and completed certification as a Holistic Health Coach with Institute for Integrative Nutrition in NYC. Michelle holds an BA in English from Boston College. She is currently receiving her Master’s of Science in Human Nutrition at University of Bridgeport.