T Nation

Exercise and Immune Function

Every time I increase the intensity of my exercise routine to the point where I start to get sore again, I seem to get sick and catch something like the flu, which knocks me out for a few days. Is there something about exercise intensity that affects the immune system? It seems that taking extra BCAAs helps, but I haven’t noticed any other supplements that have any particular effect. Can anybody suggest what I might look into? Are there any studies on exercise and illness I can look into for some ideas? Maybe it’s just psychological too.

I find a gram or two of vitamin C seems to keep the colds and flu away. I’m sure taking a good antioxidant formula wouldn’t do any harm.

Yorik, moderate intensity exercise upregulates the body’s own primary antioxidant system: SOD (Superoxide Dismutase). As such, it can have potent effects on preventing disease and illness, as SOD then combats the inflamation at the heart of many (if not, in some way, all) of these processes.

However, very intense exercise has been shown to supress the body’s immune system through decreased SOD production and increased inflamatory responses. Thus, antioxidants and anti inflamatory supplements may help during times of intense exercise.

Try fish oil ( I personally take 10 1g. caps/day), Rhodiola Rosea (an underrated Biotest supplement, in my opinion), an “adaptogen” which among other things helps to combat nervous system fatigue caused by neurotransmitter depletion, and Curcumin 500.

These supplements will combat the inflamatory process and reduce stress induced by nervous system fatigue. I think people underestimate the degree to which stress can compromise the immune system.

Other than that, it’s just basic common sense things: get plenty of sleep, including a daily nap if possible when training hard,and eat lots of antioxidant rich fruits and vegetables(Superfood is, I believe, one of the most important “supplements” anyone could take, not just those lifting weights);

In fact, I don’t consider Superfood to even be a supplement, but, rather, an engineered food. If your budget is limited, personally I would probably skip the Rhodiola and Curcumin before I would give up the Superfood. It is hands down the best supplement of its kind.

Just don’t fall into the mindset of believing that it can replace whole fruits and vegetables in your diet–it is meant to supplement them with a quality and variety that would be impractical to obtain on a daily basis otherwise.

Hope that helps, and good training,


Thanks for the advice. I’ve found that the fish oil generally does some amazing things in terms of suppressing inflammation and soreness, but this past time I was sore and stayed sore despite the fish oil.

Now that I think about it, I tend to go more low-carb when increasing the intensity, so maybe I should be more careful there and actually increase the vegetables when the intensity increases then go low carb after I settle in at a new level.

The budget is not a problem, so I’m trying some Curcumin right now.

One thing I noticed is that I’m much less sick throughout the year since I’m training. The only periods where I get a flu or something is when the intensity of my program is too much and I approach overtraining. When I start to feel run down, it’s a sign for me to back up a bit before I get really sick.

Also, if by low carb you mean low calorie as well you could be setting yourself up for a situation where your body has inadequate energy and substrates (such as glycogen) to properly recover.

This would lead to increasingly stressful workouts, again potentially compromising your immune system. If you’re training really intensely I think it’s hard to overestimate the stress this places on the nervous system. In this regard Rhodiola is very helpful.


Eat more food, get more sleep and start supplementing vitamin D3.

There’s a great thread in this forum on that last one.