Immunological aspects of sport nutrition

Immunol Cell Biol. 2016 Feb;94(2):117-23. doi: 10.1038/icb.2015.109. Epub 2015 Dec 4.


Prolonged bouts of exercise and heavy training regimens are associated with depression of immune system functions that can increase the risk of picking up opportunistic infections such as the common cold and influenza. Some common sport nutrition practices including high-carbohydrate diets and carbohydrate ingestion during exercise, training with low-glycogen stores, intentional dieting for weight loss, ingestion of high-dose antioxidant supplements and protein ingestion post exercise may influence immune system status in athletes. In order to maintain robust immunity, athletes need to consume a well-balanced diet that is sufficient to meet their requirements for energy, carbohydrate, protein and micronutrients. Dietary deficiencies of protein and specific micronutrients are well known to be potential causes of immune dysfunction and an adequate intake of some essential minerals including iron and zinc and the vitamins A, D, E, B6 and B12 are important to maintain a healthy immune function. Vitamin D may be a particular concern as recent studies have emphasised its importance in limiting infection episode incidence and duration in both the general population and in athletes and many individuals exhibit inadequate vitamin D status during the winter months. There is only limited evidence that individual amino acids, β-glucans, herbal extracts and zinc are capable of boosting immunity or reducing infection risk in athletes. The ingestion of carbohydrate during exercise and daily consumption of probiotics, vitamin D3, bovine colostrum and plant polyphenol containing supplements or foodstuffs currently offer the best chance of success, particularly for those individuals who are prone to illness.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Diet
  • Exercise*
  • Humans
  • Immunity*
  • Nutritional Physiological Phenomena / immunology
  • Sports Nutritional Physiological Phenomena / immunology*
  • Sports Nutritional Sciences*
  • Vitamin D / immunology


  • Vitamin D