Recovering from COVID-19: Considering nutrition’s role to regain strength and energy

Dr. Jose Rodolfo Dimaano Jr.

Posted at Oct 07 2020 07:20 PM

MANILA - Millions of people around the world have been impacted by COVID-19. With cases in the country continuously rising, we know the virus affects people in a wide variety of ways, but one thing is certain – the road to recovery requires strength and energy. 

Illnesses often leave us feeling weak, but with proper nutrition, you can feel supported in your recovery – on the road to ultimately feeling better, stronger and more energized. 

The Impact of Inactivity on Muscle

While the effects of COVID-19 are wide ranging, mild to severe cases can leave individuals inactive or bedbound for days or weeks. This can have a dramatic impact on muscle mass. 

Research has shown that in healthy older adults, just 10 days of inactivity can lead to a 10 percent loss of total lean leg mass. This can be even more exaggerated in older adults recovering from an illness. 

While not always immediately apparent, muscle loss can be a drag on overall health. In fact, losing muscle can be one of the main drivers for more negative health outcomes, such as physical disabilities and poor quality of life, when fighting an illness. 

However, the right combination of movement and a healthy diet can help maintain muscle mass and help with recovery. 

The Link Between Muscles and the Immune System

Skeletal muscle accounts for about 40 percent of total body weight and contains at least 50 percent of all body proteins. 

Most people know the role of muscles in supporting movement, strength and energy. However, evidence suggests that there is a relationship between muscles and immune function as well. 

Muscles produce and release compounds which play an important role in the proliferation, activation and distribution of some immune cells. While additional research is needed, data suggest that loss of muscle mass is associated with compromised immunity and infections. 

Research in older adults has shown that increased markers of inflammation are associated with low muscle mass and muscle function. 

Immunity is affected if an older adult loses more than 10 percent of their lean body mass, while a decrease of more than 30 percent can make them susceptible to pneumonia. 

Additionally, muscle is a major storage site for amino acids that are used by the body during a traumatic injury or infection. 

Therefore, low muscle mass coupled with inadequate protein intake may affect the body’s response to an injury or infection. Given the evidence linking muscle to the immune system, maintaining or improving muscle health should be a priority. 

Prioritizing Nutrition to Regain Health

Along with physical activity, good nutrition provides the nutrients needed to support immune health and help prevent or reverse muscle loss. 

Even when fighting the common cold, someone might find themselves avoiding nutritious meals and opting for something light and easy, like crackers or soup.

But to properly recover from an illness, such as COVID-19, ample nutrition needs to be incorporated in order to promote health and regain strength. 

Nutrients that support the immune system include protein, zinc, and vitamins A, C, D and E. Protein is also critical to rebuild muscle which supports your overall strength, energy and health.

One symptom of COVID-19 can be the loss of taste, and with any illness, there’s often a loss of appetite, too. This can make it difficult for anyone to get the nutrients they need to support recovery. 

Oral nutritional supplements (ONS) offer a convenient way for a person to take in these nutrients. These supplements are nutrient-dense and easy to take, so people can get important nutrients, regardless of the size of their appetites. 

To promote muscle health, research shows that a little-known compound, HMB (β-hydroxy β-methylbutyric acid), can be beneficial too. Studies have explored the role of HMB, along with adequate protein, in various medical conditions and in those with age-related muscle loss. It was demonstrated that HMB can help in:

  • reducing inflammation and improving pulmonary function in COPD patients in the ICU. 
  • preserving muscle mass in individuals who are immobile. , 
  • improving muscle strength with exercise and muscle function in older populations. 

While HMB occurs naturally in foods such as avocados, grapefruit and asparagus, it’s hard to get enough HMB from food sources alone. Therefore, it can be beneficial to look for a nutritional supplement that includes HMB.

When recovering from COVID-19, or any illness, it’s important to prioritize right nutrition to help bounce back to good health. 

Oral nutritional supplements combined with good diet and regular exercise can strengthen the immune system and muscles to help adults on their road to recovery. 

Dr. Jose Rodolfo Dimaano Jr. is a nutrition medical director for Asia-Pacific at Abbott. Operating in 160 countries, Abbott is a global healthcare provider with a portfolio of products covering diagnostics, medical devices, nutritionals and branded generic medicines. 

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.