Top 5 vegan hacks for sports performance

More and more athletes are choosing to lead a vegan lifestyle. Sports Nutritionist Ted Munson outlines his 5 vegan hacks for sports performance. 

Ted Munson

More and more athletes are choosing to lead a vegan lifestyle. Sports Nutritionist Ted Munson outlines his 5 vegan hacks for sports performance.
Jermain Defoe is one of many vegan sportspeople

Veganism is becoming more visible and accepted in sports performance. Several high-profile athletes have adopted a vegan diet, such as heavyweight champion boxer, David Haye. Data indicates that vegans consume less energy than omnivores and that these diets generally appear to be lower in protein, fat, vitamin B12, Riboflavin, vitamin D, calcium, iron and zinc1. Vegan diets can also lead to high fibre consumption and therefore tend to have low energy density and promote early satiety. This article aims to provide some tips on how a vegan athlete may promote their diet for sports performance.

Consume energy dense foods

 Where a high Calorie diet is needed due to increased training loads, increasing feeding frequency and consumption of energy dense foods such as all nuts, seeds and oils (olive, flax and coconut etc) will help to ensure that calorie goals are met. With this, it is suggested that an athlete should monitor and adjust a diet on the basis of unwanted body mass fluctuations. This will allow a diet to be tailored to an individuals’ energy and nutrient requirements1.

Consume some lower-fibre foods

Athletic diets generally require carbohydrate intakes of 4 to 12 g per kg of body mass per day to support high training volumes2. A high-fibre diet may promote gastric distress in some cases, depending on gender and the type/duration of exercise3. Achieving adequate carbohydrate intake with a vegan diet is relatively straightforward by consuming grains, legumes, beans, root vegetables and fruits. However, for athletes involved in high-volume training phases, it might be appropriate to choose some lower-fibre carbohydrate based foods, providing other micronutrients (i.e B vitamins) are provided! Foods such as rice, pasta, noodles and buckwheat contain less fibre than oats, lentils, beans and wholegrain breads1. Lower fibre, high GI carbohydrates may want to be consumed at least 90 minutes pre and within 30 minutes post training to promote energy and recovery4.pexels-photo-459469.jpeg

Protein rich foods are key

Recommendations for protein intake typically range between 1.2 – 2 g per kg of body mass per day2. This can be over 2 g/kg when reducing carbohydrate intake. The aim here is to support the maintenance of muscle mass and fuel adaptation and recovery. Plant-based protein sources are often incomplete, missing important essential amino acids, and may contain less BCAAs than their animal-based equivalents1. Aim to consume 20 – 25g of protein every 3-4 hours5. It is recommended that vegans consume beans, pulses, lentils and grains daily. Foods such as beans and legumes are rich sources of lysine however, and leucine can be obtained from soy beans and lentils1. Other BCAAs can be found in seeds, tree nuts and chickpeas1. Vegan protein supplements also provide convenient protein solutions, best used on-the-go to maintain protein intake between meals. Popular solutions include pea, soy and rice proteins that are often blended together.

Omega 3 fatty acids

Vegan diets are typically lower in total and saturated fat and higher in omega-6 fats than omnivorous and vegetarian diets6. Due to an absence of fish sourced fats, vegans naturally consume fewer omega 3 fatty acids. This might have important health and performance implications. The omega 3 fatty acids are important for normal growth and development, and play an important role in cardiovascular health, inflammatory and chronic disease7. Flax seeds, soybean, walnuts and chia seeds are a key food for vegan athletes and are sources of omega 3 and should be consumed daily1.


Research indicates that vegan diets may reduce muscle creatine stores8. Meat, fish and poultry are common sources of creatine but are excluded from a vegan diet. Creatines performance-enhancing effects have been well studied, and it appears that supplementation can improve short-term high-intensity exercise performance, muscle hypertrophy and strength9. Creatine supplementation might therefore be an important ergogenic aid for vegan athletes to consider, and may compensate for reduced muscle creatine stores. Dosing creatine effectively requires the achievement of muscle creatine saturation. Common dosing strategies include taking 20 g per day for 7 days to load, followed by maintenance doses of 3–5 g per day10. For vegan athletes who decide to supplement, powder forms of synthetic creatine are vegan-friendly (but always check!).

Supplements: Creatine can be helpful in boosting performance if consumed correctly


Veganism is a commitment whether you are competing in sport or not. As a Performance Nutritionist, I am often asked “will I be fitter and faster if I follow a vegan diet?” I can’t answer that question. Whatever the reason or answer is, there are clearly guidelines that need to be met in order to promote high energy availability, recovery and general health and wellbeing. Periodisation is key and knowing which carbohydrate to consume, when. Consuming lower fibre carbohydrates around training and competition can prevent unwanted gastrointestinal issues, but with this diet (just like any) trial and error must be practiced to see what works for your body. A clear challenge for the vegan athlete is protein intake with what appears to be less choice for the vegan athlete compared to an omnivore. Beans, lentils and pulses (to name a few) are key components of a vegan diet, but supplementation may be key during times when high protein intake is required. If you would like to read ore around the subject, I recommend looking at the Rogerson (2017) paper – Vegan diets: practical advice for athletes and exercisers.

Ted Munson

  1. Rogerson, D. (2017). Vegan diets: practical advice for athletes and exercisers. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition14(1), 36.
  2. Thomas, D. T., Erdman, K. A., & Burke, L. M. (2016). American College of Sports Medicine Joint Position Statement. Nutrition and Athletic Performance. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise48(3), 543-568.
  3. Rehrer, N. J., van Kemenade, M., Meester, W., Brouns, F., & Saris, W. H. (1992). Gastrointestinal complaints in relation to dietary intake in triathletes. International Journal of Sport Nutrition2(1), 48-59.
  4. Burke, L. M., Hawley, J. A., Wong, S. H., & Jeukendrup, A. E. (2011). Carbohydrates for training and competition. Journal of Sports Sciences29(1), 17-27.
  5. Areta, J. L., Burke, L. M., Ross, M. L., Camera, D. M., West, D. W., Broad, E. M., & Hawley, J. A. (2013). Timing and distribution of protein ingestion during prolonged recovery from resistance exercise alters myofibrillar protein synthesis. The Journal of Physiology, 591(9), 2319-2331.
  6. Lane, K., Derbyshire, E., Li, W., & Brennan, C. (2014). Bioavailability and potential uses of vegetarian sources of omega-3 fatty acids: a review of the literature. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition54(5), 572-579.
  7. Calder, P. C. (2015). Marine omega-3 fatty acids and inflammatory processes: effects, mechanisms and clinical relevance. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA)-Molecular and Cell Biology of Lipids1851(4), 469-484.
  8. Burke, D., Chilibeck, P., Parise, G., Candow, D., Mahoney, D., & Tarnopolsky, M. (2003). Effect of creatine and weight training on muscle creatine and performance in vegetarians. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise35(11), 1946-1955.
  9. Kreider, R. B., Ferreira, M., Wilson, M., Grindstaff, P., Plisk, S., Reinardy, J., … & Almada, A. L. (1998). Effects of creatine supplementation on body composition, strength, and sprint performance. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise30, 73-82.
  10. Clark, J. F. (1997). Creatine and phosphocreatine: a review of their use in exercise and sport. Journal of Athletic Training32(1), 45.

The Effectiveness of Sports Supplements – Part 2

The second part of our sports supplement series looks at individual products, specifically the benefits and pitfalls that comes with them.

Josh Williamson

The second part of our sports supplement series looks at individual products, specifically the benefits and pitfalls that comes with them.

Does whey protein equal muscle growth? ©Sportexamined

In Part 1, which can be found here (, the safety of sports supplements was questioned.

From individuals simply wanting to look better naked, to world class athletes, the growth of supplement use has been exponential. Both nationally and globally, billions are spent every year for that ‘magic’ pill to get even a 1% improvement. However, has anyone ever stopped to ask, ‘do these products actually work?’

The number one question any individual should ask themselves before purchasing a supplement is, ‘will this product benefit me?’. To answer this question, the individual must consider the evidence-based effectiveness of the product, but also, is it relevant to the individuals specific goal. The scope of this article is to highlight 4 key supplements which are research-backed.

It is outside the remit of this article to cover all supplements, and thus readers are directed towards This is a database of pretty much every supplement in existence which includes studies on products, usage, dosages, side effects etc. Only when individuals have considered the safety, effectiveness, and if the supplement is needed for their specific goals, should they consider purchasing said supplement. Here, I have outlined 4 of the most common supplements which have scientific evidence to support their effectiveness.

Whey Protein

“Little Miss Muffet, she sat on a tuffet, eating of curds and whey”

This very common nursey rhyme refers to the two proteins found in milk; curds (casein) and whey. The whey is the water-soluble part of the milk and is used for whey protein supplements. Despite the popular belief that protein supplementation itself enhances muscle growth and repair, this is not entirely true. If daily protein targets are achieved through dietary intake, supplementation is unnecessary. A high-protein diet combined with a specific resistance training plan, will support a biological environment for putting on muscle mass. The rationale for using a protein supplement is either to supplement your protein intake from food, and/or convenience. This rationale applies to all protein supplements in general, such as protein milk, protein bars, protein ice cream, protein bread etc which are all so common now.

It is also important to point out at this stage that whey supplementation, or high-protein diets in general, do not cause damage to the liver or kidneys in healthy individuals. If you have any underlying kidney/liver conditions, protein intake should be increased under the guidance of a medical professional.


Fish Oil

Fish oil commonly refers to two kinds of omega-3 fatty acids: EPA and DHA, which are typically found in fish and animal products. Fish oil exhibit a number of health benefits including enhancing mood, reducing disease factor risk, reducing inflammation, and is associated with reductions in triglycerides.

With relation to dosage, the American Heart Association recommends 1g per day; however, this reflects a combined total of EPA and DHA. Ideally, this should be achieved through a balanced diet; nevertheless, if individuals don’t like eating fish, this can be achieved through a fish oil supplement, or an algae supplement if you don’t like that fishy aftertaste that can come with some products. With fish oil supplements, it is important to read the nutritional label; for example, the label may state a combined total of 400mg per serving of EPA and DHA which would require 2-3 servings to achieve the recommended dose.


If you are currently involved in sport, or even gym culture, you will no doubt have heard of creatine supplementation. Creatine is potentially the single most studied supplement in history; and has endless evidence to support its effectiveness, and safety. Creatine is naturally occurring in some foods such as meat, eggs and fish, however the dosage provided is usually insufficient to provide a desirable outcome. To put this into context, creatine powder is usually consumed in dosages of 5-20g per day; this equates to 1-4kg of meat!

Typically marketed as a ‘muscle gain’ product, creatine essentially acts as a source of energy for your cells. Despite the marketing claims, creatine does not increase muscle mass per say; however, there is concrete evidence to support the use of creatine for high intensity exercise, power sports, and repeated sprint ability. This means weightlifters, bodybuilders, football/rugby players and basketballers to name a few, would benefit from creatine supplementation. There may be some research potentially supporting the use of creatine supplementation for endurance performance and it also shows promise on cognition.

With regards safety, it should be noted that there is no research demonstrating negative effects of creatine supplementation on either kidney or liver function of healthy individuals. On the other hand, individuals with pre-existing or underlying kidney or liver conditions should use caution if using a creatine supplement and do so under the supervision of a medical professional.

Being out in the sun is the most enjoyable way of getting vitamin D

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin and is essential for many biological functions. The most enjoyable source of this vitamin is obviously lying on a beach somewhere in the Maldives; however, it can also be consumed through dietary sources such as fish, eggs, and fortified foods.

Despite the excessive media attention on vitamin D deficiency, the majority of the population are not deficient in vitamin D, or we would have a rickets epidemic on our hands. However, there is a stark difference between minimum threshold, and ideal amount. Most of the research on vitamin D status and populations demonstrate that most people are not in the ideal range; as a result, supplementation is a viable option. Vitamin D supplementation is associated with increased cognition, immune health, bone health and overall well-being, thus individuals should be aiming to consume the ideal amount; especially if in cold or overcast areas. Individuals should aim to consume a Vitamin D3 supplement anywhere in the range of 1000IU-10,000IU per day; preferably along with meals.

Note; All information in this article is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice or instruction. It is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical condition. For specific medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, consult a professional.

Josh Williamson

Top 10 practical nutrition tips for marathon preparation

Whether you’re preparing for a marathon, or simply looking to get the best out of your morning run, this guide will help you achieve your goals.

Ted Munson

Whether you’re preparing for a marathon, or simply looking to get the best out of your morning run, this guide will help you achieve your goals.

Professional marathon runners
  1. Prepare: If you’re heading out for a morning run, prepare your breakfast the night before. Foods like overnight oats are ideal choices and allow you to get up and get fuel on board. Likewise, if you’re heading out after work, make sure you have your recovery shake or meal ready. I recommend taking on both carbohydrates and protein within 30 minutes of finishing a run to fuel adaptations and assist recovery for your next session.


  1. Complex carbohydrates: These will help fuel your runs and include foods like bread, pulses, legumes, rice and pasta. This will release steadily into the bloodstream to provide sustained energy. It’s recommended to consume these around 2 hours pre-run to allow time for digestion, helping to prevent unwanted gastrointestinal issues. Combine complex carbohydrates with a source of protein like meat, eggs, fish or cheese for the ideal pre or post training meal.


  1. Carbohydrate load: Carbohydrate is the main fuel for performance and will fuel you on the road. You should aim to take on around 8-10g of carbohydrate per kilo of your body mass per day for 48 hours before your race. This should be implemented along with a taper in training. This does seem like a lot of food, so consider using high energy carbohydrate (maltodextrin-based) drink between meals to increase carbohydrate stores.


  1. Hydration: It’s not always practical to carry a bottle and drink during long runs. Pre-hydrate effectively by drinking an electrolyte solution. The sodium will help the body retain and absorb fluid more effectively. Electrolyte tabs are a convenient way to increase sodium intake both pre and post exercise. Don’t forget you will usually have access to water on race-day, so it is important to learn to drink while running! How much you drink depends entirely on your sweat rate. Weigh yourself pre and post session and work out toughly how much water you’re using through sweat. Aim not to lose 2% of your body mass. From my experience, this usually works out as consuming 250ml – 500ml per hour during longer runs (half marathon +) When training, you could run loop past your house and practice taking on small amounts of fluid during the run.


Hydration is key
  1. Fuel for the work required: We use both fat and carbohydrate as a fuel source during endurance exercise. Fuelling for the work required involves training sessions with reduced energy intake (e.g having breakfast after a morning run) and training sessions where your race- day fuelling strategy is practiced (e.g fuelling with 60g per hour during a run, using energy gels). Quite simply, fuel longer sessions with carbohydrate (perhaps your long weekend run?) and fuel shorter sessions with low carbohydrate. It’s always important to refuel effectively post run, especially if undertaken in a fasted state.


  1. Practice your nutrition strategy in training: It’s important to train the body to utilize carbohydrates and tolerate sports nutrition during running. Our digestive system works differently when we exercise, so It’s important to practice using gels, bars and drinks during training runs. I recommend starting off using 1 gel immediately before a run and progressing to 1 gel during a run. Eventually, you should be able to easily consume enough food during runs to take on 60 g per hour. The worst thing you can do is try new forms and amounts of carbohydrate on race day!


  1. Have your ‘pre –run’ meal around 90 minutes before: When preparing for a race or a long training session, aim to have a carbohydrate meal around 90 minutes before. This will ensure that you start your run with ‘topped-up’ energy stores. This goes for both training and race day. Practice your pre-run meal and consume what works for you. Keep it the same for race day. Note that marathons often start early and you may have to have an early start to take on your breakfast!


  1. Don’t neglect protein: During endurance exercise, our muscle protein still breaks down, which is detrimental to adaptations (the purpose of training). We also need to consider the mitochondrial adaptations! Aim to take on 1.2-2g of protein per kg of your body mass per day top help muscles adapt and provide key amino acids to help make new muscle proteins. Ideally, take on protein at a rate of 20-25g every 3-4 hours throughout the day, as well as before and after training.


TH96Run 2017-7
  1. Recover: Recovery isn’t just about protein, we need to consider that tough endurance exercise depletes energy stores and can impair immune function. I recommend taking on a meal within 30 minutes of finishing your training runs. This should contain around 60% carbohydrates (including vegetables) with a lean source of protein. Although, many runners do not want to eat immediately post-exercise. Here, a recovery shake can provide a convenient protein and carbohydrate source. I always recommend that if you have a recovery shake, always aim to take on a full mal within 1 hour of finishing.


  1. Avoid: In the 48 hours before your event, it’s a good idea to avoid certain foods that might upset your stomach or what you’re not used to having. Key foods that may (or may not) cause problems are both spicy and high fat foods. I would also recommend having low-moderate fibre the day before your race. Make sure you’ve practiced your pre-race nutrition strategy and most importantly, never try anything new on race day!

Ted Munson

The safety and effectiveness of sports supplements – Part 1

More and more people are now turning to supplements to support their training regime. But how useful are they?

Josh Williamson

More and more people are now turning to supplements to support their training regime. But how useful are they?


According to the Nutritional Business Journal1, it is estimated that by 2022, the global sports nutrition market will be worth over 32 billion pounds. Protein powders, amino acids, creatine, essential fatty acids, probiotics, caffeine, multivitamins, fat loss and weight loss pills; just a small list of common dietary supplements bought on a daily basis. Recent estimations suggest approximately one in four Brits consume a sports supplement as part of their daily diet2; however, many experts believe this to be underestimated. Furthermore, 12% of university students have reported to consuming more than 4 dietary supplements per week. With claims such as ‘mind-blowing muscle growth’, ‘superhuman strength’, and ‘hardcore fat loss’, it’s easy to see why so many people invest in these products. Previous statistics show that 80% of ten years olds are afraid of being fat with the leading causes being social media, ‘weight-teasing’, and peer pressure3; however, with the explosion of social media fitness bloggers, it is likely that this figure is much worse than we first thought. The growing epidemic of negative self-image and constant endeavour to achieve the ‘perfect’ body is clearly reflected in the exponential growth of the supplement industry.From the Olympic athlete, right through to the recreational gym goer just wanting to look better naked, supplement use has increased aggressively over the past decade. This raises major ethical concerns over safety, not to mention if these products are even effective. For part one in this series,  the focus will be on the safety of these products.


According to the UK Anti-Doping Agency, as much as 25% of sports supplements have been contaminated with illegal substances4. In practical terms, almost half of all positive drug tests are due to sports products being contaminated with banned substances4. In 2015, the New England Journal of Medicine, published a robust research study, concluding in the United Sates of America, 23,000 people ended up in the emergency room as a result of taking dietary supplements5. Additionally, the now illegal fat loss drug known as DNP has caused 15 deaths in England and Wales alone6, with medical experts reporting, “individuals are cooking themselves from the inside out”. As weight loss is the number one reason why most people go to the gym, its not surprising that of those 23,000 ER visits, 35% were due to fat loss and energy-boosting supplements. It could be concluded that the majority of these ER visits were due to individuals overdosing specific products. To elaborate, many popular pre-workout and diet supplements are heavily dosed with stimulants; specifically, caffeine. Caffeine is one of the most commonly consumed drugs and may boost mental and physical performance when used in the correct dosage. However, high doses of caffeine can lead to anxiety, digestive issues, high blood pressure, increased heart rate, palpitations and headaches. From the presented statistics it is clear to see as a society we have a lack of education surrounding supplement use.

Weight loss supplements are popular among gym goers

Do Your Research!

Before taking a new product, it is important that you are aware of the potential side effects associated with that product. A supplement is most likely to cause side effects when they are taken instead of prescribed medicines, when they are taken in quantities greater than the recommended dose, or when supplements are used in combination. For example, consuming too much vitamin A can cause headaches, whereas too much iron can cause nausea and vomiting. These are some of the ‘milder’ side effects when compared to the aforementioned, DNP, or other illegal supplements such as DMAA. When taking any new dietary supplement, it is recommended you consult a registered professional or your General Practitioner/Physician beforehand. This will provide a better understanding of whether a specific supplement is necessary and if it will interact with any medication.

How Can I Keep Safe?

Fortunately for consumers of sports supplements, there are many third-party laboratories which verify individual products. These companies test what is stated on the ingredient list with what is in the actual product. This initial batch-testing is usually followed up by continual randomised testing to ensure good manufacturing practices. The three largest companies which provide this testing are NSF International, Informed Choice and Consumer Lab. It is important to note; the onus is on the individual consumer and they should form their own educated decision on specific product. From a professional prospective, consumers should be able to research the traceability of individual products as this will allow dissemination of the source and ensure the product has been manufactured to the highest standard.

Practical Considerations

Before considering any dietary supplement, individuals need to consider 3 criteria as outlined by the Sports and Exercise Nutrition Register7;

  • Is there a need for supplementation? A performance need or a general health need?
  • What are the risks and side effects associated with the supplement? Can it be accessed on Informed-Sport or other third party independent testing? Has it been batch tested? Store the batch tested certificate for a minimum of 10 years to keep in line with retrospective anti-doping testing protocols.
  • Is there consequences from consuming the supplement? For an athlete this could be a 2-4 year ban from their sport or loss of sponsors. For recreational individuals this could serious health complications and subsequent impact on family and friends.

Josh Williamson


  1. Supplement Business Report. New Hope Network; 2016. Available at: Accessed March 13, 2018.
  2. Consumer consumption of vitamin and mineral food supplements. Food Standards Agency, 2008; Available at: http://www.
  3. Mellin, L., McNutt, S., Hu, Y., Schreiber, G. B., Crawford, P., & Obarzanek, E. (1997). A longitudinal study of the dietary practices of black and white girls 9 and 10 years old at enrollment: The NHLBI growth and health study. Journal of Adolescent Health, 20(1), 27-37.
  4. United Kingdom Anti-Doping. Supplement Risk for Performance Athletes. 2018. Available at:
  5. Geller AI, Shehab N, Nina J, et al. Emergency Department Visits for Adverse Events Related to Dietary Supplements. New England Journal of Medicine. 2015; 373:1531-1540.
  6. Office for National Statistics. Number of deaths where dinitrophenol (DNP) was mentioned on the death certificate, England and Wales, 2007 to 2016. Available at:
  7. Sports and Exercise Nutrition Register. Supplement Use in Sport Position Statement. 2016; Available at:

Immune function, nutrition and the athlete- Practical recommendations

It’s vital for athletes to take on the correct fuel before and after sport to perform at their peak. Here is our guide.

Ted Munson

It’s vital for athletes to take on the correct fuel before and after sport to perform at their peak. Here is our guide.


Strong evidence indicates that physical activity influences immune function and risk of certain types of infection, such as upper respiratory tract infections (URTI). Many components of the immune system exhibit change after prolonged heavy exertion. During this ‘open window’ of altered immunity (which may last between 3 and 72 hours, depending on the parameter measured), viruses and bacteria may gain a foothold, increasing the risk of subclinical and clinical infection. Prolonged bouts of strenuous exercise have been shown to result in transient depression of white blood cell (leukocyte) functions which may be the cause of impaired immune function, increasing the risk of infection1. This review aims to explore the nutrition applications that aim to combat impaired immune function in athletes.

First and foremost, ensure a varied diet is consumed and do not neglect any macronutrients, especially carbohydrate that is an essential fuel for the cells of the immune system. High-carbohydrate diets are designed to keep the liver and muscle stores of glycogen high to ensure glucose/glycogen availability during exercise and may even help attenuate increases in stress hormone2. Aim to keep carbohydrate at 50% of energy intake and protein at least over 1.2g/kg. A common mistake/ method used by athletes is to reduce carbohydrate intake throughout winter to assist body composition while out of competition. While ”fuelling for the work required” is recommended3, fuelling with carbohydrate helps avoid chronic low energy availability. As a general rule of thumb, when exercising over 90 minutes, consume around 60g of carbohydrate per hour. This helps lower circulating stress hormone and anti-inflammatory cytokine responses, while delaying the symptoms of overreaching during intensive training periods4. Treat this particular session as your “train as you race session” and only practice low energy/ fasting during low- moderate exercise and ensure sufficient refuelling.


When training sessions are performed with low carbohydrate availability, it is not recommended that this is done for more than a few days per week4. If the aim is “weight loss”, athletes are more likely to be infection prone, as such a multivitamin supplement may be beneficial to support restricted food intake4. Athletes reducing carbohydrate intake for training adaptations are risking reduced immune function and a balance must be struck weighing up body composition and keeping well. After fasted sessions with low energy availability, refuelling is key to bolster immunity. Current refuelling guidelines suggest the consumption of 1.0–1.2 g/kg/h within the first hour of exercise cessation and the continuation of a carbohydrate intake of 1.0–1.2 g/kg/h for 4–6 h, or until regular meals resume5.

Athletes should always “eat the rainbow” and take 5+ fruit and vegetable portions per day. Varying colours of fruit and vegetables should be consumed, with varying vitamins and minerals in each different food. For example, spinach is an excellent source of vitamin K and A, while strawberries and kiwis are rich in vitamin C. Polyphenols are a large class of chemical compounds synthesized by fruits, vegetables and other plants that possess health benefits. Flavonoids are the best-defined group of polyphenols in the diet, providing flavour and colour to fruits and vegetables. There are six major subclasses of flavonoids, including flavonols, the subclass that includes quercetin – with research suggesting quercetin supplementation can have anti-inflammatory and pro immune effects, especially when coingested with other flavonoids and micronutrients6. Other evidence suggests that quercetin and green tea can reduce upper respiratory symptoms in highly physical active individuals4. Other flavonoids have also shown positive effects on immune function7 8. Always eat a varied diet and possibly supplement if undergoing periods of food restriction e.g travelling.

Vitamin D has a key role to play when maintaining a healthy immune system9, with many athletes deficient in the winter months5. During winter months, it is recommended to take a vitamin D supplement to avoid deficiency (25(OH) D G50 nmol/L)5. How much? A study on professional swimmers found that a daily vitamin d supplement containing 4000iu of vitamin d was enough to maintain levels for 6 months compared to a placebo10. Other supplements like probiotics may even reduce the risk of gastrointestinal infections by improving gut barrier function11 and may even reduce the duration and incidence of infections in elite Rugby players12. It has also been suggested to take a zinc supplement (e.g lozenge) at the onset of a cold or in the build-up to an important competition, in case a URTI begins at such an important time4.

Considering lifestyle based factors, increasing amounts of evidence suggest that sleep deprivation can have detrimental effects on immune function, and that immune responses feed-back on sleep architecture13. A review examining the link between sleep and immunity concluded that sleep improves immune responses and that most immune cells have their peak pro-inflammatory activity at night13. Disruptions in endocrine and physiological circadian rhythms due to sleep deprivation may result in impaired immune responses14. In addition, while moderate exercise may benefit immune function and provide a range of health benefits, heavy exertion by endurance athletes leads to transient immunosuppression and increased risk of infection15. However, it is unclear what defines “heavy exercise” and may be individual depending on the athletes training status.


More research needs to be done in applied athlete settings to determine conclusions of the effect of nutrition supplements on immune function. However, there is evidence to suggest the use of vitamin D, polyphenols (flavonoids), zinc and probiotics to help promote immune function. An athlete should place emphasis on consuming more fruit and vegetables along with a varied diet. While train low strategies may be practiced, it is important to “fuel for the work required” and fuel longer/ intense sessions for enhanced immune function.



  1. Walsh, N.P., M. Gleeson, R.J. Shephard, M. Gleeson, J.A. Woods, N.C.Bishop, M. Fleshner, C. Green, B.K. Pedersen, L. Hoffman-Goetz, C.J. Rogers, H. Northoff, A. Abbasi, and P. Simon (2011). Position Statement Part One: Immune function and exercise. Exercise Immunology Review, 17, 6-63.
  2. Venkatraman, J. T., & Pendergast, D. R. (2002). Effect of dietary intake on immune function in athletes. Sports Medicine32(5), 323-337.
  3. Impey, S. G., Hammond, K. M., Shepherd, S. O., Sharples, A. P., Stewart, C., Limb, M., & Close, G. L. (2016). Fuel for the work required: a practical approach to amalgamating train‐low paradigms for endurance athletes. Physiological Reports4(10), e12803.
  4. Gleeson, M. (2015). Effects of exercise on immune function. Sports Science Exchange28(151), 1-6.
  5. Thomas, D. T., Erdman, K. A., & Burke, L. M. (2016). American College of Sports Medicine Joint Position Statement. Nutrition and Athletic Performance. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise48(3), 543-568.
  6. Nieman, D. C., Henson, D. A., Maxwell, K. R., Williams, A. S., Mcanulty, S. R., Jin, F., & Lines, T. C. (2009). Effects of quercetin and EGCG on mitochondrial biogenesis and immunity. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise41(7), 1467-1475.
  7. Somerville, V. S., Braakhuis, A. J., & Hopkins, W. G. (2016). Effect of flavonoids on upper respiratory tract infections and immune function: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Advances in Nutrition: An International Review Journal7(3), 488-497.
  8. Zhang, H., & Tsao, R. (2016). Dietary polyphenols, oxidative stress and antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Current Opinion in Food Science8, 33-42.
  9. Chun, R. F., Liu, P. T., Modlin, R. L., Adams, J. S., & Hewison, M. (2014). Impact of vitamin D on immune function: lessons learned from genome-wide analysis. Frontiers in Physiology5, 151
  10. Lewis, R. M., Redzic, M., & Thomas, D. T. (2013). The effects of season-long vitamin D supplementation on collegiate swimmers and divers. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism23(5), 431-440.
  11. Mengheri, E. (2008). Health, probiotics, and inflammation. Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology42, 177-178.
  12. Haywood, B. A., Black, K. E., Baker, D., McGarvey, J., Healey, P., & Brown, R. C. (2014). Probiotic supplementation reduces the duration and incidence of infections but not severity in elite rugby union players. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport17(4), 356-360.
  13. Bollinger, T., Bollinger, A., Oster, H., & Solbach, W. (2010). Sleep, immunity, and circadian clocks: a mechanistic model. Gerontology56(6), 574-580.
  14. Halson, S. L. (2014). Sleep in elite athletes and nutritional interventions to enhance sleep. Sports Medicine44(1), 13-23.
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