Immune system of athletes (Part two)

According to Neil P. Walsh (2018), it is well researched that psychological stress can have a negative effect on immune function. Edwards et al. (2018) also found a positive correlation between psychological stress and an infection post training. Drew et al. (2017) describes depression, anxiety states and psychological stress as risk factors, which favour susceptibility to illness. 

What exactly is psychological stress?

Psychological stress can be very individual. Especially for athletes, an upcoming competition or injury can cause great psychological stress. But stress can also occur alongside the sporting career. Financial bottlenecks, relationship problems, sleeping disorders or travel can be triggers for stress. Therefore it is important to try to keep all stressors as low as possible. 

For this purpose, we will give you recommendations for optimising your wellbeing:

  • Minimise your everyday stress
  • Monitor any kind of stress, fatigue, energy and your mood
  • Try out mindfulness exercises such as yoga or meditation
  • Pay attention to good sleep hygiene
  • Get sufficient sleep (> 7h) 
  • If you feel afternoon sleepiness, take a short nap

Davidson et al (2003) even found that meditation and self-care programmes could increase antibody responses to an influenza vaccine in very stressed people. 

Another very important aspect is good nutrition. It is important that the diet provides enough macro and micro nutrients to support the immune system.

Manufacturers of many sports drinks often claim that they support and strengthen the immune system: but studies have shown that dietary supplements often do not have a positive effect on the immune system (Bermon et al., 2017).

Dietary recommendations for maintaining immune health:

  • Avoid dieting in winter
  • Ensure sufficient food supply 
  • Eat at least 600 g of fruit and vegetables every day
  • Consume over 50% of your food intake through carbohydrates 
  • Ensure adequate protein intake: 1.2 - 1.6 g/kg body weight
  • Additional vitamin D3 supplementation (1000 IU/day) from autumn to spring


  1. Bermon, S., Castell, L. M., Calder, P. C., Bishop, N. C., Blomstrand, E., Mooren, F. C., Nagatomi, R. (2017). Consensus statement immunonutrition and exercise. Exercise Immunology Review, 23, 8–50.
  2. Davidson, R. J., Kabat-Zinn, J., Schumacher, J., Rosenkranz, M., Muller, D., Santorelli, S. F., Sheridan, J. F. (2003). Alterations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditation. Psychosomatic Medicine, 65(4), 564–570.
  3. Drew, M. K., Vlahovich, N., Hughes, D., Appaneal, R., Peterson, K., Burke, L., Waddington, G. (2017). A multifactorial evaluation of illness risk factors in athletes preparing for the summer Olympic Games. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 20(8), 745–750. 
  4. Edwards, J. P., Walsh, N. P., Diment, B. C., & Roberts, R. (2018). Anxiety and perceived psychological stress play an important role in the immune response after exercise. Exercise Immunology Review, 24, 26–34.
  5. Walsh, N. P. (2018). Recommendations to maintain immune health in athletes. European journal of sport science, 18(6), 820-831.

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