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n International SportMed Journal - Diet and the immune system in athletes : review article
Objective : This study reviewed the current literature that relates diet to immune function in athletes.
Data sources : Research from the authors' laboratory was combined with literature on diet and immune function in athletes using MEDLINE and library searches.
Study section : Athletes are exposed to multiple stresses (including physiological, psychological, environmental), which, together, may suppress the immune system. Dietary intake of carbohydrate (CHO), fat and protein are needed to meet the demands of exercise and to supply elements of the immune and antioxidant systems. Over-exercise or under-nutrition may negatively affect the defence systems.
Data extraction : Many athletes eat fewer calories than they expend, avoid fats and red meat, and thus may not have sufficient stores of intramuscular fat and micronutrients to support the immune system.
Data synthesis : Exercise stress leads to an increase in stress hormones and immunity, including : sympathetic nerve activity (SNA), catecholamine levels, cortisol, neutrophilia, lymphopenia, oxidative bursts, natural killer (NK) cell activity, lymphocyte proliferation, increased pro- and decreased anti-inflammatory cytokines. These responses are blunted by exercise training and exacerbated by overtraining or under-nutrition. It is clear that diets too low in total calories, or of insufficient calories from CHO, fats or proteins lead to greater immune and oxidative stress. Deficits in macro- and micronutrients can be made up by supplements; however, the evidence is not convincing that supplementing athletes on a balanced diet is beneficial.
Conclusions : Athletes should eat a diet where total caloric, CHO and fat calories are balanced against expenditure during training and performance to optimise performance, immune function and antioxidative defence.
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