Most people with COVID-19 feel better within a few days or weeks. But for some, symptoms can last longer and have debilitating effects. Based on data from the U.S. Center for Disease Control Prevention, roughly 7.5% of adults with COVID-19 will experience long COVID, or otherwise known as post-COVID-19 syndrome [1
If you, a family member, or a friend are dealing with long COVID symptoms, early research shows a few nutrition tweaks may support your recovery.
Before we dive into how you can optimize your nutrition for long COVID, let’s first take a look at what long COVID is, some of the common symptoms, and who is most susceptible.
What is long COVID?
Long COVID, or post-COVID-19 syndrome, is generally defined as the persistence of symptoms that develop during or following a COVID-19 infection that lasts more than 12 weeks and is not explained by an alternative condition or diagnosis [2
While those who have been hospitalized are more susceptible, individuals with mild cases can also experience these symptoms for extended periods of time as well [3
Long COVID symptoms
People with long COVID can have a wide range of symptoms that can last weeks, months, or even years after infection and can even return after they’ve gone away. Symptoms may also be difficult to manage and not well explained by tests. [4
Common symptoms of post-COVID-19 syndrome include [2
Trouble breathing or shortness of breath
Changes in smell or taste
Difficulty concentrating or thinking (brain fog)
Heart palpitations (pounding heart)
Pins and needles
Chronic kidney disease
Joint or muscle pain
Menstrual cycle changes
4 ways to optimize your nutrition for post covid syndrome
Growing evidence shows nutrition may play a key role in the management of post-COVID-19 syndrome and aid in long COVID recovery [2
]. Here are four ways you can tweak your nutrition that may help your body get over the hump.
1. Up your protein intake.
Not only does COVID-19 wreak havoc on your respiratory system, but research shows it also causes severe muscle protein breakdown, which can result in the loss of lean muscle mass. For individuals with long COVID, the breakdown of muscle protein can have significant detrimental effects on body composition, muscle function, and quality of life, particularly in older individuals [2
Given this, nutritional therapy to restore muscle mass has become a key aspect of the management of post-COVID-19 syndrome [2
]. The best way to do this is by prioritizing protein. Because protein is the primary building block of muscles, eating adequate amounts of protein will help you maintain muscle mass and promote muscle growth.
According to the RDA, the average healthy individual needs around 0.8 g/kg of body weight per day to maintain nitrogen balance and prevent muscle loss [6
]. However, factors like fighting infection and building lean muscle increase those needs, so if you’re recovering from long COVID and have experienced muscle loss, aim to get 25-30 g of high-quality protein at each meal, or roughly 1-1.5 g/kg of body weight each day, divided into 4-5 evenly spaced meals or snacks [7
To build muscle
, you’ll need high-quality protein which contains all of the essential amino acids needed to stimulate muscle protein synthesis. Good sources of quality protein include lean meat, fish, poultry, milk, eggs, cheese, tofu, peas, lentils, and soybeans.
If you’re having a hard time meeting your protein goals from food alone, protein supplementation can help. Protein powders, like Elo Smart Protein
, are made from protein-rich foods (like milk, egg whites, peas, and soybeans) and can be a convenient and cost-effective way to get more quality protein in your diet.
If you’re feeling up for it, talk to your doctor about incorporating some light strength training into your routine as well. Research shows when paired with resistance training, protein supplementation can be incredibly effective for increasing muscle mass and strength [2
2. Follow a Mediterranean diet.
Inflammation plays a significant role in acute COVID-19 infections and their severity, and early research shows it also plays a role in long COVID as well [9
Because the foods we eat can modulate both inflammation and the immune system, your diet can impact your recovery from COVID-19. Thus far, research shows a convincing association between adherence to the Mediterranean diet
and better outcomes in patients with COVID-19 [2
Given this, experts are recommending individuals experiencing long COVID follow a Mediterranean-style diet consisting heavily of plant-based foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes), high-quality animal proteins (omega-3 rich fish, lean meat, poultry, and eggs), and extra-virgin olive oil as a principal source of fat [2
]. These foods provide monounsaturated and omega-3 fatty acids, as well as vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals with potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits that may improve your recovery from long COVID.
In addition to prioritizing these foods, it’s important to stay well hydrated, so make sure you’re drinking 2.5-3 liters of fluid per day.
3. Boost your good gut bacteria.
In addition to triggering massive inflammation, COVID-19 can also wreak havoc on your microbiome
. Dysbiosis (an imbalance in microbes in the gut) can have both short- and long-term consequences on the microbiome and negatively affect gut health, immunity, metabolism, and even mood.
Research shows the presence and diversity of beneficial microorganisms in the gut may play an important role in determining the course of this disease, including the occurrence and severity of long COVID [10
If you have long COVID, prioritizing foods that support a healthy microbiome may boost your recovery and support your overall physical and psychological well-being [2
]. You can do that by incorporating more fermented foods into your diet. Fermented foods that contain live cultures include:
Some cheeses, including Swiss, Gouda, Gruyere, provolone, and cheddar
Raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar
In addition to these foods, you may also want to consider taking a probiotic supplement. Many probiotics, including Lactobacillus
, have been shown to improve or alleviate lung disease conditions and might also improve the immune response [2
To learn more about probiotics and which strains might be right for you, check out Elo’s guide to the benefits of probiotics
4. Consider post COVID nutritional supplements
If you’re struggling with post-COVID-19 syndrome, research shows that certain supplements may help reduce inflammation, induce healthy changes in the gut microbiome, and improve immune response [2
]. Here are some post-COVID nutritional supplements to consider adding to your routine.
plays a fundamental role in immune function. Early research shows higher vitamin D levels have a protective effect against severe COVID-19; however, more studies are needed to better understand the role of vitamin D in the protective immune response against prolonged COVID.
Given the prevalence of vitamin D deficiency (90% of Elo members start with low levels) and its fundamental role in immune function, experts consider it a safe and inexpensive supplement to include as part of COVID-19 treatment [11
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for people between the ages of 1 and 70 is 600 IU/day, and for adults over 70, the RDA is 800 IU/day [12
]. If you do not get adequate sun exposure, already have low levels, or have an increased risk for low vitamin D, these amounts may not be adequate, and supplementation may be necessary.
If you choose to supplement, a daily dose of 1,000–2,000 IU of vitamin D3 is sufficient to meet most people’s needs, with the safe upper limit set at 4,000 IU/day [12
If you don’t know your vitamin D level or are confused about how much vitamin D you should take, there’s no need to worry. At Elo Health, we take the guesswork out of the equation by overlaying your blood biomarker results, wearable data, and questionnaire answers to recommend the right nutrition and supplements for you. Elo’s formulary includes over 60 nutrients (including vitamin D), all of which undergo rigorous third-party testing. Try Elo Smart Supplements
out for yourself today.
have potent anti-inflammatory benefits and might also inhibit the viral replication of enveloped viruses (like COVID-19), possibly reducing the risk of new infections [2
To improve inflammation, experts recommend those with post-COVID syndrome aim to get 1.5–3 g/day of omega-3 fatty acids (specifically EPA and DHA). Moreover, the consumption of extra-virgin olive oil should be increased to provide an adequate intake of monounsaturated fatty acids, tocopherols, and polyphenols, which have demonstrated anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties [2
Similar to probiotics, prebiotics
have the ability to alter gut microbiota, thus inhibiting pathogens and stimulating the immune system while also enhancing the growth and survivability of probiotics [14
Studies also show prebiotics like wheat bran, fructooligosaccharide (FOS), and galactooligosaccharide (GOS) can be beneficial for reducing inflammation in some respiratory diseases [10
Given this, many experts recommend the concurrent use of prebiotics and probiotics for the treatment of COVID-19 infection [14
Whole grains, fruit, vegetables, and legumes are great food sources of prebiotics; however, prebiotic supplements are available and may provide additional benefits for those all-important gut microbes.
Polyphenols are plant compounds with various health benefits that may be beneficial for recovery from post-COVID syndrome [2
Polyphenols like quercetin, resveratrol, and catechins have potent antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties. Similar to probiotics, they have also been shown to induce healthy changes in the gut microbiome [2
Berries, dark chocolate, red wine, red cabbage, whole grains, green tea, and turmeric are some of the best-known food sources of polyphenols. Studies also show that polyphenol-containing supplements (like green tea extract
, resveratrol, and curcumin, the bioactive compound in turmeric) may further support long COVID recovery [2
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Roughly 7.5% of adults recovering from COVID will experience long COVID. The symptoms (which can include fatigue, sleep disturbances, difficulty breathing, increased anxiety, depressed mood, brain fog, and digestive upset) can vary in severity and persist for months or even years after the initial infection. To boost your recovery from post-COVID-19 syndrome, health experts recommend following a Mediterranean diet with plenty of high-quality protein and probiotics. Certain supplements, such as vitamin D, omega-3s, prebiotics, and polyphenols, may provide additional benefits for long COVID recovery.
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