Health & Wellness

Ten Foods to Keep Rowers Healthy During Winter

Old man winter is here, and inevitably, some rowers will succumb to a winter cold, or maybe even the flu. While research tells us that the temperature outside has little to do with catching a cold, we know that certain lifestyle choices like going to bed too late, high levels of stress, and a poor diet may contribute to a crippled immune system.

Rowers can target certain nutrients to help boost the immune system, such as vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, B vitamins, selenium, zinc, probiotics, flavenoids, certain amino acids, and fiber. Some of these nutrients activate the immune system while others build it, defend it, or strengthen it.

For a better chance at an illness-free winter, rowers can eat more of the following foods:

  • Yogurt: Choose probiotic-containing versions noted by a seal stating that “Live and Active Cultures” are present. Look for vitamin D as well. A Daily Value (DV) of 20% on the Nutrition Facts Panel is considered a good source of vitamin D. A deficiency of vitamin D is associated with increased risk of cold and flu.
  • Dark-colored Berries: The dark or bright color in berries is a sign of anthocyanins, which are believed to strengthen the immune system and fight disease. Blackberries, blueberries, strawberries and raspberries, as well as other exotic versions make the cut.
  • Almonds: Almonds contain vitamin E, which acts as an antioxidant, slowing down the process of cell damage. Vitamin E is also known to boost the immune system.
  • Cabbage: Roasted cabbage anyone? Glutamine, an amino acid, is the key in this vegetable’s immune-strengthening properties.
  • Oats or Barley: These grains contain a special fiber called beta-glucan, which acts as an antioxidant and an anti-microbial, which fights harmful microorganisms.
  • Garlic: The special ingredient in garlic is allicin, which battles infection and bacteria.
  • Fish: Fish is a source of selenium, acting as an aid to white blood cells (the primary fighting cell of the immune system). It’s also rich in omega-3 fats, which are helpful in reducing inflammation, increasing oxygen flow, and protecting the lungs.
  • Beef: Beef is a zinc powerhouse; zinc helps the white blood cells in the immune system develop. Rowers with a mild deficiency of zinc are more susceptible to infection.
  • Sweet potatoes: This winter root vegetable is rich in vitamin A, which helps build connective tissue like skin. Skin is the first line of defense for fighting bacterial and other infections.
  • Grapefruit: Not only a good source of vitamin C, grapefruit is loaded with flavenoids, which help activate the immune system.

Although food alone isn’t likely to determine whether or not a rower gets sick over the winter, these nutrients, coupled with adequate sleep, minimal stress and regular exercise will increase the odds against it.

Go ahead and make that bowl of oatmeal with almonds and blackberries. Eat that yogurt every day, and try a dinner of beef or fish with sweet potatoes. Including regular sources of immune-boosting foods, along with fruits, vegetables, and whole grains will help rowers stay healthy this winter while giving their bodies great nutrition.

Written by Jill Castle, MS, RDN | Jan 29, 2015

Jill Castle, MS, RDN is a childhood nutrition expert and co-author of Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School ( She is the creator of Just The Right Byte (, and is working on her next book, Eat Like a Champion: Performance Nutrition for Your Young Athlete, which releases in July. She lives with her husband and four children in New Canaan, CT.

We like these companies
Sponsors & Partners