Special feature for the Olympics: effects of exercise on the immune system: modification of immune responses to exercise by carbohydrate, glutamine and anti-oxidant supplements

Immunol Cell Biol. 2000 Oct;78(5):554-61. doi: 10.1111/j.1440-1711.2000.t01-6-.x.


Immunosuppression in athletes involved in heavy training is undoubtedly multifactorial in origin. Training and competitive surroundings may increase the athlete's exposure to pathogens and provide optimal conditions for pathogen transmission. Heavy prolonged exertion is associated with numerous hormonal and biochemical changes, many of which potentially have detrimental effects on immune function. Furthermore, improper nutrition can compound the negative influence of heavy exertion on immunocompetence. An athlete exercising in a carbohydrate-depleted state experiences larger increases in circulating stress hormones and a greater perturbation of several immune function indices. The poor nutritional status of some athletes may predispose them to immunosuppression. For example, dietary deficiencies of protein and specific micronutrients have long been associated with immune dysfunction. Although it is impossible to counter the effects of all of the factors that contribute to exercise-induced immunosuppression, it has been shown to be possible to minimize the effects of many factors. Athletes can help themselves by eating a well-balanced diet that includes adequate protein and carbohydrate, sufficient to meet their energy requirements. This will ensure a more than adequate intake of trace elements without the need for special supplements. Consuming carbohydrate (but not glutamine or other amino acids) during exercise attenuates rises in stress hormones, such as cortisol, and appears to limit the degree of exercise-induced immunosuppression, at least for non-fatiguing bouts of exercise. Evidence that high doses of anti-oxidant vitamins can prevent exercise-induced immunosuppression is also lacking.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antioxidants / administration & dosage
  • Antioxidants / metabolism*
  • Dietary Carbohydrates / administration & dosage
  • Dietary Carbohydrates / metabolism*
  • Dietary Proteins / administration & dosage
  • Dietary Supplements*
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Glutamine / administration & dosage
  • Glutamine / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Immune System / physiology*
  • Immune Tolerance
  • Lymphocytes / metabolism
  • Micronutrients / administration & dosage
  • Neutrophils / metabolism
  • Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Physical Education and Training
  • Physical Fitness
  • Sports*
  • Stress, Physiological / physiopathology


  • Antioxidants
  • Dietary Carbohydrates
  • Dietary Proteins
  • Micronutrients
  • Glutamine