Reducing infections and monitoring stress in athletes

Reducing infections and monitoring stress in athletes

Research on the impact of exercise and training on immune function in athletes has improved international practice of sport science support personnel, coaches and athletes – leading to reduced infection risk for athletes.

A series of studies dating back to 2000, has demonstrated that disruption to athletes’ immune responses could be limited by an appropriate dose of carbohydrate being taken during prolonged exercise.

The research also showed that daily vitamin C and E supplements could reduce the inhibitory effect of exercise on some aspects of immune function.

Further research initiated in 2009, established that daily probiotic supplements can reduce the risk of common cold or upper respiratory tract infection (URTI) in athletes.

In recent years, several investigations have established the important influence of vitamin D status on immune function and susceptibility to illness in athletes.

Studies have also established the value of immunoendocrine monitoring as a practical tool to identify athletes who are not responding well to stress and are therefore at an increased risk of infection. For example, weekly measurement of salivary immunoglobulin levels has been shown to provide data that can be used to predict the risk of URTI.

The findings led to guidelines commissioned by UK Sport on immunoendocrine monitoring of athletes and strategies to minimise risk of overtraining and infection. These have been subsequently updated and are now endorsed by the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES) as an expert position statement and are used throughout the UK and beyond.


  • Guidelines adopted internationally

    New monitoring guidelines and strategies to minimise risk of overtraining and infection in athletes have led to recommendations – by UK, European, Australian and international sport societies and institutes – for regular salivary monitoring and nutritional and lifestyle strategies.

  • Infection risk for athletes reduced

    The research pinpointing the most effective nutritional interventions to boost immunity has led to reduced infection risk for athletes as they prepare for competition.

  • Saliva monitoring

    Several professional UK football and rugby clubs as well as the England rugby union squad have been assisted by a Loughborough researcher to introduce saliva monitoring to assess training and competition stress.

  • Olympic athletes benefit from probiotics

    Following discussions with the Head of Performance Nutrition at the English Institute of Sport, a Lactobacillus probiotic product – identified by Loughborough research as effective in reducing incidence of URTI in athletes – was used by GB athletes in the lead up to and during the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.