Two words are never good news when paired together: “stomach” and “flu.” While stomach flus aren’t technically related to the influenza virus, it often comes with the same level of misery as the actual flu, only in gastroenterological form. Vomiting, diarrhea, belly pain, and queasiness at the thought of anything edible often leave you lying moaning and groaning on the couch, wondering what you did to anger the gut gods.
Even after you’ve recovered from the worst of a GI sickness, you might find you still feel a bit off as your system continues to recoup. Though there’s no magic pill that allows you to bounce back with rocket speed post-stomach flu, you can help your gut recalibrate a little faster. Use this checklist to nourish your gut as you recover.
1. Stay hydrated
If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a million times: During a bout of stomach flu, hydration is the name of the game. Turns out, keeping a water bottle handy isn’t just a good idea when you’re running to the bathroom nine times a day; it’s also smart to keep pushing fluids for a few days even after symptoms have passed.
“Seventy percent of our body is made of water, so staying hydrated is a critical part of helping the body recover from a gut illness,” says Payton Berookim, M.D., M.A., F.A.C.G., A.G.A.F, of the Gastroenterology Institute of Southern California. “Your body has just experienced significant fluid loss through diarrhea and/or vomiting that are usually involved in stomach bugs, and subsequent electrolyte imbalances can lead to further vomiting and dehydration. For this reason, your body and its organs, like your kidneys and heart, need more volume and circulation in order to get back on track.”
To determine whether you’re drinking enough, monitor the color of your urine. If you’re sufficiently hydrated, it should be pale yellow or clear; anything darker and you’ll want to get sipping. Lethargy, dizziness, and dry mouth can also be signs of dehydration, so bottoms up if you’re experiencing any of those!
2. Eat and drink electrolytes
When the contents of your stomach are given the heave-ho, you’re not just losing fluids. You’re also depleting your stores of electrolytes a.k.a. the special minerals your body needs for important functions like contracting muscles, maintaining blood pH, and regulating fluid balance. Having insufficient electrolytes in your system can leave you feeling sluggish and icky after a stomach bug.
Read More: Are You Getting Enough Electrolytes?
To replace lost magnesium, sodium, potassium, calcium, and phosphorus, try making your own mineral mocktail, suggests gut health dietitian Amanda Sauceda, R.D.N. “Alcohol definitely won’t agree with your gut, but a mineral mocktail may be just the ticket, helping replenish any minerals that were lost when you were sick and keeping you hydrated,” she says. Try sipping a mixture of coconut water, orange juice, and a pinch of sea salt. Or, opt for a premade electrolyte drink or mix; just look for varieties without added sugars or artificial colors.
3. Ease Back Into Eating
As much as you may want to down a cheeseburger after several days of barely eating, overloading your GI tract is likely a formula for regret. “Your stomach is a little more sensitive when it’s recovering from a stomach virus, so reintroducing foods slowly helps your gut acclimate,” says Sauceda. Give your stomach some space! Though you may be hungry enough to eat a big meal, doing so could make for a relapse into dreaded symptoms like pain and diarrhea. Starting with smaller, more frequent meals might be a better bet than diving right into your usual three square meals a day.
4. Keep your foods familiar
Ready for a surprise? When it comes to what you eat, you don’t necessarily have to stick to bland foods in the days following your gut-pocalypse. Though super-spicy items aren’t necessarily recommended, what’s more important, says Sauceda, is that you stay with the familiar.
“It can be helpful to stick with foods that you know agree with you,” she says. “This isn’t the time to get creative with new foods. Your gut likes routine, so when you add new things to the mix sometimes your gut won’t be a fan.” Probably not a risk worth taking when your system has just been through the ringer.
5. Amp up the protein and probiotics
Once you’re up for eating a little bit more, be sure to include protein-rich foods. Protein is involved in the healing process, helping restore damaged cells and tissues. “Plus, protein plays a role in keeping your immune system strong,” Sauceda says. (Again, a greasy burger probably isn’t an ideal choice right now—but a lightly seasoned chicken breast or salmon filet could be just what the doctor ordered.)
Another place to focus your pro-recovery choices: foods naturally high in probiotics. According to research from 2021, fermented foods and the probiotics they contain have demonstrated antiviral activity against GI viruses (as well as respiratory viruses). Yogurt with live and active cultures, kimchi, kefir, sauerkraut, and tempeh are all great choices. Just note that if you’re not used to these foods, you may want to wait a few days before you introduce them. “If it’s a probiotic food that you’ve never had before or rarely eat, wait until you feel better,” Sauceda advises.
6. Consider a supplement
Talk to your doctor about whether a dietary supplement makes sense for boosting your recovery from a stomach bug. Some may recommend ginger for conquering lingering nausea or digestive enzymes to reduce digestive discomfort, Berookim suggests.
7. Make room for extra sleep
As you recover from a GI illness, it’s natural to feel extra tired, so it’s a-okay (and honestly in your best interest) to heed the call and head to dreamland. “Sleep allows your body to restore and replenish what it’s lost and recover from what it’s just endured,” says Berookim. “Sleep also strengthens your immune system and reduces stress hormones.” A true win for your entire system.
8. Conduct a fridge audit
After the unpleasantness of stomach flu, we’re guessing you don’t want to repeat the experience any time soon. That’s why a quick audit of your fridge and pantry may be in order. “If you think you might have gotten the gut bug from something you ate, don’t chance it and toss out any leftovers you have in your fridge,” Sauceda recommends. Better safe than sorry, right?