High dietary protein restores overreaching induced impairments in leukocyte trafficking and reduces the incidence of upper respiratory tract infection in elite cyclists

Brain Behav Immun. 2014 Jul;39:211-9. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2013.10.002. Epub 2013 Oct 10.


The present study examined whether a high protein diet prevents the impaired leukocyte redistribution in response to acute exercise caused by a large volume of high-intensity exercise training. Eight cyclists (VO2max: 64.2±6.5mLkg(-1)min(-1)) undertook two separate weeks of high-intensity training while consuming either a high protein diet (3gkg(-1)proteinBM(-1)day(-1)) or an energy and carbohydrate-matched control diet (1.5gkg(-1)proteinBM(-1)day(-1)). High-intensity training weeks were preceded by a week of normal-intensity training under the control diet. Leukocyte and lymphocyte sub-population responses to acute exercise were determined at the end of each training week. Self-reported symptoms of upper-respiratory tract infections (URTI) were monitored daily by questionnaire. Undertaking high-intensity training with a high protein diet restored leukocyte kinetics to similar levels observed during normal-intensity training: CD8(+) TL mobilization (normal-intensity: 29,319±13,130cells/μL×∼165min vs. high-intensity with protein: 26,031±17,474cells/μL×∼165min, P>0.05), CD8(+) TL egress (normal-intensity: 624±264cells/μL vs. high-intensity with protein: 597±478cells/μL, P>0.05). This pattern was driven by effector-memory populations mobilizing (normal-intensity: 6,145±6,227cells/μL×∼165min vs. high-intensity with protein: 6,783±8,203cells/μL×∼165min, P>0.05) and extravastating from blood (normal-intensity: 147±129cells/μL vs. high-intensity with protein: 165±192cells/μL, P>0.05). High-intensity training while consuming a high protein diet was associated with fewer symptoms of URTI compared to performing high-intensity training with a normal diet (P<0.05). To conclude, a high protein diet might reduce the incidence of URTI in athletes potentially mediated by preventing training-induced impairments in immune-surveillance.

Keywords: CD8(+) T lymphocytes; Dietary protein; Immune-surveillance; Infection risk; Overtraining.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Athletes
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes / drug effects*
  • Cell Movement / drug effects
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Dietary Proteins / therapeutic use*
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Leukocytes / drug effects*
  • Leukocytes / metabolism
  • Male
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / epidemiology
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / immunology
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / prevention & control*
  • Young Adult


  • Dietary Proteins