Sniff, cough, pfffft. Flu season is here. And while we hope you don't get it, it happens to the best of us. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that 48.8 million people got the flu during the 2017-2018 season. If you do happen to be one of its unlucky victims, you’re going to want to do everything in your power to make it go away as quickly as possible.
And that antibiotic isn't going to help. The flu is contracted from a virus—it’s not bacterial—so all the Z-Paks in the world can't make this one go away. But when you have the flu (a fever, muscle aches, headaches, coughing, sore throat, and runny nose), there are ways to stay hydrated that go beyond chugging water.
How to Stay Hydrated With the Flu
“Drink plenty of fluid” is something you’ve probably heard every time you’ve gotten sick. The CDC confirms that those with the flu should drink extra fluids to prevent dehydration (that thing that can make you feel even worse). But what kind of fluid is best? Guys, ginger ale and apple juice aren't doing you any favors: They may dehydrate you even more. So to get you prepared for flu season, we chatted with a few nutritionists to figure out the best things to stock up on (or order for delivery) when you're down and out.
1. Water (duh, but we had to say it).
If you’re dehydrated, water will obviously help get fluid into your system quickly. But you’re probably craving something with a bit more substance. “For the body to maintain adequate hydration status, which is important for your immune system, metabolism, and heart health, it needs you to replace not only water but also sodium and carbohydrates,” says Kelly Jones, RD, CSSD. “If you’re just drinking water, you want to be sure you’re eating foods with carbohydrates that are low in fiber, so that you can keep them down easily,” she adds.
If you prefer to drink hot tea instead of straight water while you feel like crap, go for it. Research suggests that it’s just as hydrating. Add honey to the hot liquid to get some more calories into your body quickly—and because honey makes everything taste better IMO.
3. Coconut Water
While we love a good excuse to down sugary drinks that are supposed to make us feel better (we're looking at you, Gatorade), coconut water is definitely a better option. Coconut water doesn't contain nearly as much sugar and salt as standard sports drinks, and research suggests that it may be just as hydrating and cause less stomach distress. Jones suggests adding a dash of salt to the drink to get the sodium you need while dehydrated.
We know the kids these days are drinking Pedialyte to prevent hangovers, but they can be great if you get the flu too (for the same reasons they're supposed to help a booze-induced headache). If you’ve caught the nasty flu and end up severely dehydrated, Pedialyte may save the day. It’s a solid balance of electrolytes, including sodium and potassium, and a small amount of glucose to help the body rehydrate.
5. Bone Broth
“Chicken noodle soup is a great flu remedy since it offers fluids, as well as some electrolytes that you are lacking, like sodium and potassium,” says Vicki Shanta Retelny, RD, author of Total Body Diet for Dummies. “Plus, the herbs and spices in the soup are anti-inflammatory, which can help fight off the flu bug.” If you can’t tolerate an entire soup with chicken and noodles, opt for a bone broth that is packed with protein. Pacific Foods makes really convenient eight-ounce cartons, which you might as well keep in your cupboard for emergencies.
6. 100-Percent Orange Juice
It never hurts to get more immune-boosting vitamin C in your diet, especially when you’re sick. Unfortunately, loading up on vitamin C when you’re already sick won’t decrease the severity of your symptoms, but the potassium and fluid in OJ can help keep you hydrated. If you’re having a hard time keeping any food down, the small number of calories in a glass of 100-percent OJ can help get some nutrients back into your body.
7. Fruit-Based Popsicles
Hydration doesn’t just come from fluid—water-rich foods also do the trick to keep you well-hydrated. “Frozen fruit or fruit pops allow you to take in some fluids and calories quickly, making them a great option when you have the flu or stomach bug,” says Shanta Retelny. She adds that the icy popsicle may help soothe an inflamed sore and scratchy throat. Look for ones that are made with real fruit, like Outshine Fruit Bars, so you're not sucking on a ton of added sugar.
But what if we're hungry too...
Sitting down for a proper meal is the last thing you probably want to do when you’re sick, but if you're starting to feel a wee bit better, getting some calories and nutrients into your body is important for recovery. Jones recommends eating bland foods with salt, like pretzels, salted rice cakes, and salted crackers. Bonus points if you can include some lean protein, like a hard-boiled egg, for a little bit more substance.
If you’re on the mend and can tolerate some fruits and veggies, add ones to your plate that are rich in water. Options like berries, kiwi, mango, cucumber, melon, and celery are good places to start. If you don't feel like chewing (because that can take up too much energy), ask your partner/spouse/roommate/mom to add them into a smoothie.
If you think you have the flu, visit your doctor immediately. They can administer an antiviral medication, which needs to be given in the first two days after getting the flu. You’re contagious for the first 24 hours after your fever breaks, but you will probably continue to feel icky for at least 5-7 days. The best thing you can do when you get the flu is go home, rest, hydrate, and generally take care of your body.