What Should You Eat Before and After Getting the COVID Vaccine? Here's What the Experts Say
As more of us get our COVID-19 vaccine and booster shots, in attempts to protect ourselves from the virus and its variants, like delta and omicron, you may be wondering if you should eat or drink anything special when your appointment comes up. The possible side effects of the COVID vaccine are fairly well known. A sore arm, feeling achy, or having the chills, according to the CDC. But what role does food play, if any? Are there certain things you can eat before and after getting the COVID vaccine to minimize symptoms or support your immune system? Are there foods you should avoid? We interviewed several doctors to get the facts on the role of anti-inflammatory foods, alcohol, hydration and sleep in relation to the COVID vaccine.
Choose anti-inflammatory foods
"There is not enough research to support that anti-inflammatory foods or supplements such as vitamin C will make the COVID vaccine more effective. But in general, eating highly nutritious food and taking vitamin C does help the immune system," says Dr. Heather Koza, MD, family medicine physician at Comprehensive Integrative Healthcare in Michigan. (Learn more about the best immune-supporting vitamins and minerals.)
Dr. William Li, MD, co-founder and medical director of the Angiogenesis Foundation and author of Eat To Beat Disease: The New Science of How Your Body Can Heal Itself agrees, "There is no hard evidence taking any supplements can make the COVID vaccine work better. The COVID vaccines have all been tested in people who were eating their usual diets, so we know they are effective without any special nutritional preparation. People should be wary of any supplements or products that claim to enhance vaccine response."
However, eating mostly whole foods like fruits and vegetables and fewer processed foods will help your immune system work better in general because of less inflammation in the body. "A healthy diet that is maintained long-term can improve immune responsiveness and help us fight infections better and perhaps boost immune response to vaccination, but it's doubtful that eating differently on the morning of the vaccine will have any impact at all on vaccine responsiveness," says Dr. Louis Malinow, M.D., internal medicine physician and medical advisor to Persona Nutrition.
Reach for whole foods and reduce consumption of processed foods all year round, not just when getting the vaccine. "Vegetable oils like corn oil, soybean oil and others which show up in processed foods (like fast food) and snack bags and boxes are uniquely inflammatory and should be avoided," says Dr. Malinow. Instead, focus on whole foods like nuts, fish, fruit and vegetables. "If I had to name my favorite anti-inflammatory foods, it would be daily extra virgin olive oil, almonds and walnuts, fish, fruit and veggies," he says.
It won't hurt to eat anti-inflammatory foods after getting the vaccine but it probably won't make much of a difference in how you feel. "Turmeric is a spice with anti-inflammatory properties and could be sprinkled on food or consumed in tea. Fish is also anti-inflammatory, and salmon, mackerel, sardines, anchovies and herring have the most anti-inflammatory omega-3s. Fish oil (omega-3 fats) actually turn into compounds called 'resolvins' which mean they're resolving inflammation," says Dr. Malinow.
These foods are good to incorporate into your diet all the time. Seeing as you might not feel up to making a proper dinner after your vaccine, it's okay to make some chicken noodle soup or have something else on hand that's easy and comforting. It might be nice to have one of these make-ahead freezer meals on hand.
Don't go on an empty stomach
There's no need to fast the night before the COVID vaccine like you might for other procedures. This could make you dizzy and more likely to faint if you are someone who gets queasy around needles. "My advice would be to eat something that is made at home and with as little processing as possible like yogurt and fruit, eggs and fruit or a healthy bar are all good options," says Dr. Malinow. (These healthy snack recipes might be a good place to start.)
After the vaccine, you may have side effects like arm pain, a low-grade fever or body aches. These mean your immune system is working, experts say. Ask your doctor about over-the-counter pain medications you can take to alleviate symptoms.
Drink plenty of fluids
Doctors agree that staying adequately hydrated before and after getting the COVID vaccine is extremely important. "Not only does everything in the body work better in a well hydrated state, but some with needle phobia and fainting history will do a lot better if they show up hydrated," says Dr. Malinow.
"Before and after getting the vaccine, I recommend drinking plenty of fluids," says Dr. Koza. She also encourages consumption of foods like fruits, vegetables, and broth-based soups to boost the immune system. The CDC also recommends drinking fluids after your shot, if you're experiencing discomfort from fever.
What about alcohol?
According to a spokesperson for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), "There is currently no evidence that drinking alcohol will make COVID-19 vaccination less effective. There is also no evidence that COVID-19 vaccines are unsafe for individuals who consume alcohol."
However, the CDC and doctors recommend avoiding alcohol the day before and after getting the vaccine because alcohol suppresses the immune system and can dehydrate you.
"Even light consumption of alcohol causes you to be relatively dehydrated, and this could make the body aches that occur after the second shot of the mRNA vaccines feel worse. Just like drinking booze when you have the flu will make you feel even crappier, it's a good idea to hold off or go light on the alcohol for a day or so after getting the vaccine," says Dr. Li.
The CDC explains, "Alcohol use can increase the risk of acute respiratory distress syndrome and pneumonia, which are sometimes associated with COVID-19. In general, drinking alcohol weakens your body's ability to fight infections, increasing the risk of complications and making it harder to get better if you are sick."
Not to mention, you have to get to and from your appointment safely, says Dr. Javeed Siddiqui, MD, MPH, Co-Founder and Chief Medical Officer at TeleMed2U. In addition, says Dr. Siddiqui, healthcare providers need you, "to be in a clear frame of mind when discussing symptoms and post vaccine care issues."
Since we know alcohol can dehydrate you and isn't great for your immune system, maybe hold off celebrating with a glass of bubbly for a few days.
Try to get a good night's sleep
Get a good night of sleep the night before your shot. "In addition to sustaining a healthy diet, getting an adequate amount of sleep the night prior to vaccination is critical and probably more important than anything consumed that morning. One bad night's sleep can diminish immune function by as much as 70%," says Dr. Malinow.
"Your body uses sleep to rebuild its defenses, and chronic sleep deprivation actually depresses your immune system," says Dr. Li.
Stress also suppresses the immune system, so as much as you can control, keep stress levels low, says Dr. Koza. There's no need to worry if you didn't sleep well, but do your best to try and sleep (these 4 tips from a sleep expert may help).
Should you exercise?
Rest is of utmost importance, especially if you aren't feeling great after getting vaccinated. But if you're up for it, "Get some form of exercise. Not everyone is up for a hard workout but even going for a brisk walk gets your circulation going, which is good for priming your health defenses," says Dr. Li.
Dr. Siddiqui also emphasizes the importance of exercise, "During the pandemic many of us have decreased our activity and time for exercise. I want to remind everyone how important diet and exercise are during this time as well. With vaccination, please wear a mask but get outside when possible and move around and get some exercise."
Eating a variety of anti-inflammatory foods like fruits, vegetables, fatty fish, nuts and seeds is always a good idea but isn't likely to boost the efficacy of the COVID vaccine or minimize your symptoms afterwards. The most important things to do are get a good night of sleep the night before your vaccine, avoid alcohol the day before and day of the vaccine, and stay hydrated.
"The main issue is to get the vaccine unless you have an exclusion criteria. I want to stress the need for vaccination and the urgency for individuals to get vaccinated. Do not delay," says Dr. Siddiqui.
The situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to change quickly; it's possible that information or data has changed since publication. While EatingWell is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations by using the CDC, WHO and their local public health department as resources.