What to Eat and Drink Before and After Getting the Flu Shot, According to Doctors, Nurses and Dietitians
About 36 million Americans per year come down with the regular seasonal flu, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates. With many health experts predicting a strong possibility for a "twindemic," involving high infection rates of COVID-19 and the seasonal flu, there's never been a better time to get an updated COVID-19 booster shot and this year's flu shot.
ICYMI, now or ASAP is the best time to get a flu shot this year, to bolster your immune system before the virus season really gets into full swing.
"The flu shot, in combination with hand-washing, is among our best defenses against this highly contagious, and potentially frustrating, infectious disease," explains Jonathan Yadlosky, M.D., the medical director of UPMC Matilda Theiss Health Center in Pittsburgh.
The National Foundation for Infectious Diseases recently released the results from a late-summer survey that found that only 49% of American adults plan to get a flu vaccine during the 2022-2023 flu season. The CDC recommends that everyone age 6 months and older get vaccinated against flu annually, Patricia A. Stinchfield, RN, M.S., CPNP, the St. Paul, Minnesota-based president of the NFID, confirms. So if you can do your part to raise that statistic, you'll be protecting not only your own health, but also the health of those with whom you share a household, workplace or school, along with anyone you encounter as you go about your daily tasks and holiday gatherings.
If the potential for post-shot pain has you on the fence about getting a flu shot, we'll coach you through how to feel your best each step of the way. Read on for what to eat and drink before and after your vaccine. You're just days away from feeling fantastic and having extra antibodies.
Before the Flu Shot
No need to overhaul your entire meal plan, Yadlosky advises: "A healthy and balanced diet along with a slight increase in hydration is all someone will really need to be nutritionally prepared."
We've broken down a few specific tips to act as your pre-shot starter pack. But there's no need to wait until you have a flu vaccine appointment (if you haven't booked one already) to start shifting your strategy, confirms Roxana Ehsani, RD, CSSD, a registered dietitian nutritionist in Miami and a national media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Start today to ensure that you feel your best before and after.
Drink 16 Ounces More Water per Day
"Staying hydrated is important to your overall health, and is a key thing to focus on when planning for your vaccine," Stinchfield says.
Drinking enough H2O helps your body maintain a normal temperature, which may be particularly helpful leading up to a flu shot since fever is a possible side effect. The amount of water you need varies based on a number of factors (here's a rough guideline for how much water you should drink), but "try to be intentional about drinking an extra glass or two of water each day leading up to your vaccine," Stinchfield adds.
If you find it challenging to meet your mark, there are a few things you can do to make it more enjoyable to up your intake:
- Carry a water bottle with you and refill it throughout the day.
- Infuse your water with citrus and/or herbs to perk up its flavor.
- Follow Drew Barrymore's lead and invest in a chic pitcher to keep within your line of sight.
- Consider adding some hydrating foods to your menu to supplement what you sip.
Prioritize Anti-Inflammatory Foods
While there's no one recipe ingredient, vitamin or mineral that can prevent disease, there are some foods and nutrients that can help support your immune system so it can perform at its peak and is better able to do its important job of fighting off foreign invaders like viruses and bacteria.
One of the best ways to "feed" your immune system is to lean into more anti-inflammatory foods. Beyond acting as part of your immunity Rx, this will also help reduce inflammation in the body pre- and post- shot, Ehsani says. Over time, following an anti-inflammatory diet can help reduce your risk for other chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes, too. Anti-inflammatory foods may also help decrease feelings of fatigue and possibly reduce your risk for headaches.
Our anti-inflammatory comfort food meal plan is packed with fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy fats like fish and nuts, hearty whole grains and protein-packed beans, lentils and more. The comfort food factor will help calm any pre-shot stress, and the cozy recipes are ideal to savor as temperatures begin to dip.
Aim for Balanced and Colorful Meals and Snacks
"It's important to note that the flu vaccine cannot cause flu illness. This is a common misconception. However, flu activity starts to ramp up in October and November, meaning it's a good time to give your immune system a boost with nutrient-rich meals at any time—and it's never too early to start this healthy strategy," Stinchfield says.
One of the easiest ways to mix up your menu and maximize the amount of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants you're consuming is to focus on adding more color to your plate, Ehsani says. (BTW, we suggest adding these 5 fall superfoods to your shopping list, since they can support your immune system during cold and flu season.)
"Fruits and veggies are among our most nutrient-dense foods, and most Americans are not consuming enough of them," Ehsani explains, and the USDA confirms.
Setting a goal to include at least three different natural colors on your plate at each meal will go a long way to help support an overall stoked and strong immune system. Bonus: Fruits and veggies are packed with water, so will help hydrate you pre- and post-shot too, Ehsani adds.
Pack a Snack
Receiving a flu vaccine can trigger anxiety among some individuals, Stinchfield says, which may, in turn, result in fainting.
"Having a snack and some water right before your vaccine has been shown to sometimes prevent anxiety-related fainting," she says. "Pack an easy snack and a water bottle just in case," to enjoy on your way to your flu shot.
Snag one of these healthy grab-and-go snacks, or whip up one of these 29 dietitian-approved homemade, packable snacks.
After the Flu Shot
There aren't any foods that are necessarily off-limits after getting a flu shot, says Lauren Manaker M.S., RD, LD, a registered dietitian and owner of Nutrition Now Counseling in Charleston, South Carolina. So just listen to your body to feed it what it's craving and keep these general best practices in mind.
Continue to Stay Hydrated
A good balance of fluids and nutrients helps the immune system process the flu shot and begin to build protection, Yadlosky explains. Plus, one of the possible ripple effects of a flu shot is a slight headache. Being dehydrated can exacerbate said headache, Manaker says.
Drinking adequate water (and a glass or two extra, if possible) the day before, the day of and the day after your flu shot is a good rule of thumb, she says.
Add in Some Prebiotics and Probiotics
The scientific jury is still out, but Manaker says that gut-healthy foods with pre- and probiotics may help make your vaccine more effective, according to some evidence.
Aim to eat fruits, vegetables, whole grains, yogurt, kefir and fermented foods (such as kimchi, sauerkraut and kombucha) to give your good gut bacteria a boost.
Related: Our Best Recipes for a Healthy Gut
Stock Plain Foods
While rare and almost always mild, another side effect of the flu vaccine is nausea, so it's never a bad idea to be prepared for an upset stomach, Stinchfield says.
Pantry staples like saltine crackers, pasta and rice are wise choices if you're experiencing any nausea, as are bananas and avocados. Check out our complete primer on easy-to-digest-foods—plus what to skip for when your stomach feels "off."
Maintain Your Healthy Habits
Within a few days of being vaccinated, you should be fully recovered from any of the possible rare and minor flu shot side effects, the CDC says.
"If you increased your water intake and incorporated more nutrient-rich foods in your diet, congratulations—and keep up the good work! These habits are great ways to support your overall health and wellness, flu season or not," Stinchfield concludes.
The Bottom Line
These ideas for what to eat and drink before and after a flu shot can help you breeze through the appointment and recovery process. Still, that doesn't mean you're protected by a germ-proof coat of armor.
"While getting the flu shot can protect a person during cold and flu season, it isn't a magic bullet for everyone," Manaker says. "Continuing to support your immune health by eating vitamin-rich produce, sleeping well and exercising can help support your immune health and can be important components of your lifestyle choices during cold and flu season."