Experts in Sport: Can supplements boost your immune system?

graphic for latest experts in sport podcast

A healthy immune system is vital to a healthy lifestyle. In a time where public health is dominating the headlines, this week’s ‘Experts in Sport’ podcast discusses what role – if any – supplements can play for both the general population and elite level athletes.

Host Martin Foster (Applied Sport Management Lead) is joined by regular contributor Dr Martin Lindley, Senior Lecturer and Director of Biosciences within the University’s School of Sport, Health and Exercises Sciences, and Mike Gleeson, Professor of Exercise Biochemistry.

Professor Gleeson retired in 2016 after 40 years of research and teaching in diet, metabolism, health, and the performance of athletes.

The podcast begins with Professor Gleeson providing an overview of the immune system:

“The immune function relies on lots of different nutrients as it’s such a diverse, complex system. We know that specific deficiencies, such as simple things like not taking on enough energy or protein, can suppress immunity. Some of the essential micronutrients – iron, copper, zinc, selenium, vitamin A, B, D, etc are all very important for immune function.

“Essentially we need an adequate nutrient supply to achieve an adequate nutrient status. That will give us good immune function and better defence against viruses and bacteria.”

The conversation turns to elite level athletes and the nutrient deficiencies which are often found amongst this group:

“A few years ago, we conducted a survey and measured around 250 Loughborough athletes and we found that over half of them had inadequate vitamin D status. A quarter of these had deficient vitamin D status – which is a large proportion of individuals who you would think are eating and training well. The issue with vitamin D is that the majority of this comes from sunlight which we simply don’t get enough of in the winter months.

“Other things that can be deficient in athletes is iron – especially in female athletes – and zinc and selenium.”

Professor Gleeson also offers advice on how athletes can overcome the lack of vitamin D: 

“In the summer months, it’s not a problem. Once we get into April, the UV rays from sunlight become strong enough for us to produce vitamin D in the skin. We only generally need around 15-20 minutes of exposure a day to meet our requirements. In the winter it’s a different picture and you become reliant on what’s in the diet…which can be difficult. To get to the levels needed you probably do need supplements.”

The panel also discusses how athletes can alter their training methods during the pandemic to take on important nutrients – both through diet and supplementation.

Professor Gleeson has co-authored several books on exercise biochemistry, sports nutrition, and exercise immunology and has published over 200 research papers in scientific and medical journals.

During 2020, he is releasing a series of healthy lifestyle guidebooks that have been written for the benefit of public health. The first of these is ‘Eat, Move, Sleep, Repeat’ published by Meyer & Meyer Sport.

The full episode can be found above and listeners can subscribe to the podcast by visiting Buzzsprout. All subscribers will receive an alert once new episodes are published.

The 'Experts in Sport' podcast is a regular series that brings together experts from across Loughborough University with external thought leaders to discuss the latest research and hot topics in sport and academia.