Make these small tweaks to your diet before and after your COVID-19 booster in order to feel your best.
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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 vaccines are effective in preventing severe disease and death from the virus. However, the protective effects of the vaccine can wane over time, especially in adults over 65, which is why it's recommended to receive a COVID-19 booster shot. New COVID-19 variants, like omicron, provide more reason to get boosted in order to improve your immune response and protect yourself against severe disease and death.

The CDC reports that the most common side effects from the booster shot include fever, headache, fatigue and pain at the injection site. Side effects could be more intense after the booster compared to the first two shots, which is actually a sign that your body is building up immunity to the virus. While taking pain relievers, resting and drinking water can help mitigate these symptoms, you may be curious if eating or avoiding certain foods and drinks can affect how you feel or the effectiveness of the booster. We interviewed doctors and dietitians to find out just that.

Here's what they had to say.

Before the Booster

Eat a nutritious meal

"There are few studies on which diet is optimal before getting your booster shot, but in general, proper nutrition allows our immune system to function well," says Liana Casusi, M.D., a consultant for Oh So Spotless. "Incorporating an anti-inflammatory diet actually helps long-term immune functioning and, in theory, may enhance our body's response to the booster shot. These foods include whole foods, extra-virgin olive oil, avocados, walnuts, fish, fruits and vegetables."

"Avoid going for your vaccine on an empty stomach, especially if you have a fear of needles or a history of feeling lightheaded or faint with needles," says Sue Mah, M.H.Sc., RD, P.H.Ec., FDC, a registered dietitian and president of Nutrition Solutions. Have a light snack or meal beforehand, depending on the timing of your vaccine, Mah recommends.

Avoid alcohol

"Drinking alcohol before you get the vaccine is not advised," says Sanul Corrielus, M.D., M.B.A., FACC, a board-certified cardiologist and CEO of Corrielus Cardiology. "Although having a cocktail or two after your shot does not appear to make your shot less effective, overdoing it can make you feel physically worse," he says.

Casusi agrees: "It is advised to avoid alcohol intake 24 hours before and after your booster shot. Studies have demonstrated that drinking alcohol may actually suppress the immune system. In addition, alcohol is known to cause dehydration, which worsens the fever and fatigue that you may have after receiving the booster shot."

Limit processed foods

Processed foods can promote inflammation in the body, says Wendy Bazilian, Dr.P.H., M.A., RDN, owner of Bazilian's Health in San Diego. Her recommendation: "Minimize foods that are proinflammatory, like heavy meats, fried foods or excess sugar."

"Highly processed foods, high sugar, packaged bakery goods and the like are also on the proinflammatory spectrum. Will they definitely 'hurt'? No," she says. "But they won't help and they may make the process of the body's natural response a little tougher."

Hydrate

"Headaches are a common side effect of the vaccine, and being dehydrated can exacerbate that pain," says Corrielus. "Stay ahead of the sour feeling by drinking lots of fluids. Stick with water, 100% fruit juice, teas or other options that aren't too sugary."

"Virtually every body function depends to some extent on being hydrated," says Bazilian. "This is important both before and after the booster (the time leading up to the booster, not just immediately before and in the 48 or so hours after) … and continued in general would be a good idea! Think about water, tea, moderate coffee, and hydration helpers like Hydralyte," she says.

Stock up on comfort food

It's no fun when you feel sick and crave comfort food but don't have any on hand. "Prepare anti-nausea food beforehand, including ginger tea and soda crackers. Comfort food such as chicken noodle soup can also help," says Casusi.

After the Booster

Stay hydrated

"The importance of hydration overall can't be overstated," says Bazilian. "The body uses water to help process and eliminate. So in the process of overcoming any side effects and feeling less impact from things like headaches, aches and pains, fever and the like, hydration is literally critical and will help minimize the severity or duration should they occur."

Water is your best source of hydration. "Tea—herbal or caffeinated—can hydrate and be soothing too," says Bazilian. Just watch the timing of caffeine, especially if you are sensitive to it, she says.

Avoid alcohol for 24 hours

"So far, we haven't come across any scientific evidence that shows drinking alcohol affects the COVID vaccines' effectiveness," says Mark Davis, M.D., a physician at Pacific Analytics. "However, alcohol dehydrates the body, which is not good for your body especially before and after taking the booster. In addition, people who drink too much alcohol have weakened immunity and they are more vulnerable to contracting the infection and develop a less effective response to the vaccine. For this reason, it is best to avoid alcohol before and after getting the booster for some days."

Eat comfort food, along with nutrient-rich foods

There are no specific foods that you need to eat or avoid, per se, after the booster. But, says Davis, "Anti-nausea and soothing foods can help you with tiredness and fatigue. Some of these foods are chicken broth, ginger tea and plain crackers. Apart from this, eat plenty of fruits, leafy greens, beans and lentils."

Continuing to eat wholesome foods will help keep your immune system strong, says Mah. "Think of your immune system as a team with different players. Each player has a role to play. Nutrients like vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E, protein and zinc are just some of the key players on Team Immune System. Fill half your plate or bowl with a variety of colorful veggies and fruit. Get vitamin D from eggs, fatty fish, milk, mushrooms, fortified beverages and supplements if needed. Look for whole grains, lean meats, fish and poultry, and plant-based foods like tofu, nuts and seeds," Mah recommends.

Rest

"Getting adequate sleep before and after getting the booster makes the immunity stronger," says Davis. "When you sleep, your immune system gets enough time to restore itself as your body is resting. Quality sleep also helps optimize your body's response to vaccine shots. Get sufficient sleep at least two to three days before getting the booster. Similarly, quality sleep is also necessary after the booster to let the booster work effectively," he says.

Ease in to exercise

"When it comes to exercise, people who follow healthy lifestyles and ensure exercise have better responses to vaccines than those who do not. This is because their body develops more antibodies actively. On the other hand, one should exercise according to his body's ability after getting the shot. You can start with some lighter exercises such as a walk or brisk walk according to your capacity," says Davis.

Bottom Line

Hydration and rest are of utmost importance before and after getting your booster. Don't show up to your shot on an empty stomach. To avoid feeling faint, have a nutritious snack with carbohydrates, protein and fat before going. Stock up on crackers, soup, tea and other comfort foods in case you don't feel well afterward. Booze won't help the booster—or your fatigue—so skip alcohol the day before and after your vaccine in order to feel your best.

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 CDCWHO and their local public health department as resources.