Zinc to Help Prevent COVID

So Kelowna got hit with a number of COVID cases in the past week. And while many of the cases seemed to be tied to a younger crowd partying downtown, this serves as a good reminder to the rest of us that we’re not out of the woods.

We still need to wash our hands, disinfectant surfaces, maintain social distancing and self isolate if we’re under the weather or travel. As well, exercise can be one of the best things we can do to keep our immune system strong. And we can’t forget the benefits nutrition can play in keeping us healthy.

One nutrient in particular that may help is zinc.

Sources of Zinc

Zinc is an essential nutrient meaning we need to get it in the diet as our bodies cannot produce it. Red meat, chicken and shell fish will be our best sources of this nutrient but we also get it from baked beans, chick peas and nuts. Fortified cereals commonly tout being a source of zinc but this should be considered a last option compared to the other whole, fresh food options listed above.

Why Vegans & Vegetarians May Need More Zinc

Vegans and vegetarians should be more aware of their zinc intake for a couple of reasons. The first is the primary sources are from animal products. Secondly vegetables and grains containing phytates which will reduce the absorption of zinc. So it is even more imperative for vegans and vegetarians to meet the minimum daily amounts listed below.

How Much Zinc Do We Need?

In terms of how much zinc we should get, women should aim for 8 milligrams (mg) and men 11 mg per day. Deficiencies may lead to delayed growth in children, an increased risk of infection and possibly pneumonia. It is estimated that approximately 1.5 billion people are deficient in zinc. However, even though zinc is an essential nutrient and deficiency is widespread it is possible to overdose. Too much zinc can lead to nausea, loss of appetite and cramps.

Role of Zinc

When we do eat enough zinc this helps with enzyme support. Enzymes are biological catalysts and speed up the rate of reaction. Zinc is also important for our cardiovascular, reproductive and nervous systems. And with respect to our immune function, zinc helps with the production and maturation of white blood cells (WBC). Some WBCs produce antibodies which help fight pathogens in the body. Lastly zinc helps us avoid chronic inflammation.

Zinc & COVID

With the COVID pandemic zinc may play an important role. While it helps boost anti-viral immunity and curb inflammation there is also a connection to chloroquine.

It appears chloroquine increases the uptake of zinc. And if it ended there that would be a great thing. But there are known side effects including headache, nausea, diarrhea, rash and more. So probably not worth it.

But zinc has been used many years to block the replication of rhinoviruses such as the common cold. Higher levels of zinc help block the production of rhinoviruses and stimulate interferon alpha production. This helps cells close by to start the anti-viral defense process.

The take message is check a list of zinc containing foods. If you’re not eating these foods regularly look to add them to the plan. If you don’t animal products it’s even more important you hit your daily requirement of this nutrient.

Citation

Skalny, A. V., Rink, L., Ajsuvakova, O. P., Aschner, M., Gritsenko, V. A., Alekseenko, S. I., & Tsatsakis, A. (2020). Zinc and respiratory tract infections: Perspectives for COVID‑19. International Journal of Molecular Medicine46(1), 17-26.

Nutrition Cheat Sheet

Nutrition is one area of fitness and performance that many struggle with. Take for example the recent documentary Game Changers as an example. Since this film has begun to trend we’re hearing of more and more people making the switch to becoming vegan or vegetarian.

What this tells me is that the average person:

A. Can be easily swayed by a Hollywood story i.e. James Cameron, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jackie Chan produced and/or directed this documentary.

B. Is seeking more or better results and is willing to make changes to achieve better results.

Knowing that many don’t have a background in nutritional science and want to achieve the best results was the inspiration for this piece. Oftentimes those seeking the best results may invest in a supplement and so we want to provide some direction on that end as well.

As we evaluate the various aspects of nutrition we want to identify if there would be benefit to adding a supplement to the mix. We need to be on the same page as to what is a supplement and here is our criteria.

  1. Something that is in addition to and not in place of.
  2. Something that is morally and legally justified.
  3. Something that has 3rd party labeling to assure the quality.

If a substance doesn’t adhere to these three rules we, the coaches at Okanagan Peak Performance Inc., would not recommend it to our clients. Obviously it is possible to source many products that don’t satisfy these three rules, and find coaches that may recommend them, but these are our rules.

Now onto the nutritional guidelines.

Step 1 – Energy Balance

The first step is to determine is you are eating enough calories to support your goal. The last part of the sentence is key. If we want to change our mass we need to eat for our goal not for our current state. For example, if a young athlete wants to add 15 lbs he or she will need to eat for the mass they want to be not the mass they currently are. And vice versa if someone wants to shed some mass they need to consume calories based on the less massive version of themselves.

So how do you figure out how much to eat? The truth is most people don’t count calories. And we don’t recommend this for our clients either. That being said here’s how you can figure out how much to eat.

A quick start would be to answer the following:

  • your age (more calories for younger, less for older)
  • your sex (more for male, less for female)
  • your height (more for taller, less for shorter)
  • your occupational activity level (more for vigorous work, less for sedentary work)
  • your fitness training (more for frequent and intense, less for infrequent and moderate)
  • your goal (more to increase mass, less to decrease mass)

This provides six criteria to estimate how many calories to eat daily based on a range of 10-20 calories per pound of body weight. For example a 150 lbs person would eat between 1500 and 3000 calories based on the conditions above. If all of the six criteria above were on the low end this person would eat closer to 1500 calories per day. And if the six criteria were towards the upper end the individual would eat 3000 calories. Understand this is a rough starting point and further adjustments may be required.

Instead of counting calories people typically do better with adjusting portion size. If the goal is to gain mass, eat larger portions and to lose mass eat smaller portions. To change your portion size change the size of the dinnerware you eat from. Use a smaller bowl or a saucer instead of a plate. Do the opposite if your goal is gain mass.

For an extra tip check out this previous blog that has worked wonders for a number of our clients.

If you’ve done everything you can with to change your mass, up or down, there may be benefit of a supplement. For weight loss, look to add some spice to the kitchen as they may help suppress appetite. A couple I use include cinnamon and hot sauce with cayenne pepper.

If the goal is to gain mass, consider a meal replacement in the form of a shake. These are advantageous as you can typically drink calories faster than you can eat them, you can consume them on the go and you can doctor the recipe to more of what you like in the shake.

If there are particular ingredients in a meal replacement you’d like to know more about check out examine.com. Hands down this is the best resource online for unbiased info on all things related to supplements.

Going forward journal everything you eat for two weeks. On a weekly basis track your weight upon rising, your waist circumference and bodyfat. If you are gaining or losing 0.5-1 lbs per week don’t change anything as you’re on the right track. If you haven’t seen a gain in your mass after two weeks add a post-workout shake to the plan. If you haven’t lost anything after two weeks double check where your strength, waist circumference and bodyfat are at. If these are moving in the right direction you’re on the right track. If not try reducing your portion size by 5-10% and track again for two weeks.

Step 2 – Protein

Once you’ve figured out your daily caloric requirement you’ll want to figure out how much protein to eat. The range for this macronutrient is from 1.2-3.3 g/kg bodyweight. The low end of the range is for sedentary people and the high end of the range is for those looking to add mass. If you think in pounds instead use 0.5 – 1.5 grams for pound of bodyweight. If we look at an example for an obese person they should eat 0.5 – 0.7 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight. So a 250 lbs person would eat 125-175 grams of protein per day. Another way to think about this is use the palm of the hand to represent a portion of protein. If a serving was 30 grams this would equate to 3-5 servings of protein per day.

For individuals of healthy weight they may consume more protein depending on their activity level and goal. An active person looking to increase their mass while staying lean may consume up to 1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight. So a 200 lbs athlete may consume 300 grams of protein per day.

Eating 300 grams of protein per day can be a challenge. Not only can finding the time to eat this much protein be a challenge it’s also tough to eat some steak, chicken or fish when you’re on the goal. A protein supplement can work well in this way.

There are lots of options when it comes to protein supplements including whey (isolate or concentrate), casein or plant (soy, hemp, pea or rice). Whey will be more quickly digested and casein more slowly. For those that don’t want a dairy-based protein the various plant options work well.

Step 3 – Carbs and Fat

The next step is to figure out how many carbohydrates and fats to consume. These macronutrients are grouped together because they can both be used as energy.

If you are an athlete and speed and power are a part of your game you will need to consume carbohydrates. The graph below shows why this is the case.

The horizontal axis represents intensity increasing from left to right. The vertical axis shows the percentage use of carbs or fat as fuel increasing from bottom to top. The blue line represents carbohydrate and the red line represents fat. At low intensity i.e. 10% of VO2 max, more of our energy come from fat and less from carbs At high intensity i.e. 90% of VO2max, most of our energy comes form carbs. Between 30-40% of max intensity we see there is a crossover from using less fat and using more carbohydrate.

If your goal is not high performance and/or your sport doesn’t involve speed and power you may be able to function on fewer carbohydrates. Whereas an endurance athlete may eat up to 6 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight someone on a ketogenic diet may limit their carbohydrate intake to 5% of total calories. In the literature a very low carbohydrate diet (VLCD) means eating 40% of calories as carbs.

When the goal is weight loss or there is a metabolic disorder fewer carbs may be advantageous. On days when you are more active or you compete increase your carb intake. When you do so remember that carbs and fats can both be used as fuel. So if the carbs increase dial back the fat intake accordingly. Sometimes in bodybuilding circles you’ll hear this referred to as carb cycling.

With your fat intake this makes up the balance of your nutrition. Of your fat intake this can partitioned as one third each of mono-unsaturated (olive oil, avocado, some nuts), poly-unsaturated (fish) and saturated (butter, animal fats and coconut).

As for servings sizes of protein, carbs and fats Precision Nutrition has a great info-graphic to remind us how much to eat of each. We may not always carry a scale or at a glance be able to figure out portions. But we will always have our hands with us.

Step 4 – Nutrient Density

The last thing to consider is the vitamin, mineral and fiber content of your food. The goal should be to ensure that essential nutrients are satisfied first though with real food before looking to add a supplement to the plan.

For example, oftentimes a certain nutrient may be deficient from the diet. Vitamin B12, also known as cobalamin, plays a role in energy metabolism. When someone is low in vitamin B12 they may experience anemia and feel weak or tired. Although you can find breakfast cereals fortified with vitamin B12 you’d be better off to eat more fish, liver or eggs than a big bowl of Fruit Loops.

The average North American is also commonly deficient in vitamin B6, omega-3, folate, potassium, vitamin A, magnesium, calcium, copper, iron, vitamin D and vitamin C. A few foods can satisfy our requirements for all of these nutrients. Increasing your consumption of fish, broccoli, spinach, fruit,eggs and getting outside for 20 minutes of sunlight daily will address all of these deficiencies. Eat some eggs and a piece of fruit for breakfast. Get outside for some sunlight at lunch. At dinner eat fish with a spinach salad or broccoli. It’s simple but not easy.

Wrapping It Up

Going forward approach your nutrition in this order. Make sure you’re eating the correct amount of calories to support your goals. Track your results for a couple of weeks then make small changes, i.e. 5-10%, if necessary. For portion sizes remember to use your hand as a guide for how much protein, carbs and fats to eat.

Once your calories are dialed in make sure you’re eating enough protein. Follow this with the right amounts of carbs and fats based on your goal and how intense your training is. Lastly, address any vitamin or nutrient deficiencies. If you eat a typical North American diet than you may benefit from eating more fish, eggs, broccoli, spinach, fruit and getting some sunshine.

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