Exercise and Nutritional Immunology. A Three-Part Series: Part 3: Lifestyle Immune Health

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Exercise and Nutritional Immunology. A Three-Part Series: Part 3: Lifestyle Immune Health

Created by Karlyn Grimes, MS RD LDN CSSD+
(biography click here)

Parts one and two in this immune health series for athletes focused on practical, nutrition-based interventions to optimize immune system functioning. Part three will focus on lifestyle practices and behaviors that can be employed to promote optimal immune health and resilience, thereby allowing training to continue unabated.


Training Load Supervision

Regular exercise keeps our immune systems happy, but chronic overreaching or overtraining can alter immune function, leaving athletes sidelined and unable to progressively improve their performance. It’s generally recommended to minimize increases in training duration, volume and intensity to less than 10%, and integrate recovery protocols as workouts intensify. It’s also useful to maintain a simple log that subjectively monitors for signs and symptoms of overreaching such as soreness, fatigue, irritability, overuse, reduced appetite, weight loss, disturbed sleep, altered immune function, loss of motivation, and overall performance decline. If these symptoms sound familiar, then it is time to rethink an athlete’s training and recovery plan.


It has been well established that there is an intimate relationship between mind and body. The immune system is impacted when excessive levels of psychological stress, including that from high volume and/or intensity training, are paired with inadequate coping strategies. Furthermore, oxidative stress and muscle damage can impact mental health status.

  • Lighten up!! Incorporate cognitive and/or somatic-based strategies such as imagery, progressive muscle relaxation and breathing exercises into your daily routine. Mindfulness meditation training for sport (MMTS) is a technique shown to improve overall well-being by boosting tolerance of negative experiences and enhancing mental flexibility, allowing for a reduction in the perception of stress.
  • Positive self-talk will reduce nerves and performance anxiety while boosting confidence, all of which positively affect immunity.
  • There is no way around it, training is hard and excellence requires effort. When the going gets tough, athlete’s need to stand strong and remind themselves of the performance rewards while at the same time keeping in mind that the body will need regular physical and mental breaks to truly optimize performance. There is no way around it: Training is hard and excellence requires effort. When the going gets tough, athletes need to stand strong and remind themselves of the performance rewards while at the same time keeping in mind that the body will need regular physical and mental breaks to truly optimize performance.
  • Klean Focus will help dial in your mental game by providing antioxidants and other nutrients that support cognition.

Sleep Hygiene Tactics

In addition to overtraining, inadequate recovery and  stress, there are other factors that can lead to performance-limiting sleep disturbances that can have cumulative effects on the human immune system. Research has shown that at least 7-8 hours of sleep per night are required for psychological well-being, mood stability, attentiveness, and immune resilience. Athletes can also incorporate strategic napping of ~20 minutes or extend their siesta to 90 minutes to ensure a complete sleep cycle.

  • Aim to sleep in a cool, dark bedroom.
  • Try using white noise to block out distractions.
  • Meditation may help transition from the daily grind to a restful state.
  • If you train and live with other athletes, pair up with those who have similar circadian rhythms.
  • Avoid caffeinated beverages and/or alcohol within 4 hours of bedtime. Caffeine blocks brain chemicals that induce sleep, while overconsumption of alcohol can disrupt sleep quality, all of which can be detrimental to performance.
  • Minimize dysregulation of the sleep hormone melatonin by avoiding blue light-emitting sources such as computer screens and tablets, cell phones and flat-screen televisions 30 minutes before bedtime.
  • To support the sleep-wake cycle and overall sleep quality, have athletes give Klean Melatonin a try.

Sanitation Salute

Here are some tips and reminders:

  • Athletes need to wash their hands regularly, especially before meals, and after contact with potentially contaminated equipment, people, public places and bathrooms. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • If soap and water are not available, CDC recommends consumers use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol or >70% isopropanol.
  • Whenever possible, use single-use, disposable paper towels, and personal water bottles, cups and towels to reduce germ sharing.
  • Halt self-inoculation by avoiding touching the eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Cough and sneeze into crook of the elbow.
  • Refrain from exercise sessions in poorly ventilated gyms and workout facilities.
  • When required, wear face masks. Athletes should look for masks made from lightweight, moisture-wicking, breathable materials. Additionally, masks containing elastane or spandex will allow the mask to move with the body during workouts.

Immune Considerations

Unfortunately, there are currently no specific vaccination guidelines for athletes. As a result, athletes are advised to follow guidelines for the general public.

A Final Word…

Athletes following the tips and guidelines outlined in this three-part immunity series will have a greater chance of maintaining a rigorous, year-round training schedule. Always keep in mind that nutritional immune health is not one size fits all. Experimentation with these guidelines will help an athlete find his or her own personal recipe for building an immunity fortress. Be well!!

Karlyn Grimes, MS RD LDN CSSD, is the founder of Simply Simple Health (SSH) and author of “The Everything Anti-Inflammation Diet Book.” SSH creates and administers nutrition, fitness and health education programs for athletes, educators, coaches and sports teams at schools and colleges throughout the Boston area. Its programming includes individual and group sports nutrition counseling, as well as sport-specific personal training. SSH also contributes to numerous academic textbooks and magazines.
Karlyn has a dual Master’s degree in nutrition and exercise physiology from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree in biology from Colgate University, with a minor in economics. She is a registered dietitian (RD) with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, a certified specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD) and a licensed dietitian nutritionist (LDN) in the state of Massachusetts. She is currently a faculty member in the Nutrition and Biology Departments at Simmons College in Boston, where she teaches sports nutrition, medical nutrition therapy, exercise physiology, anatomy and physiology, general biology, and numerous other courses.
+Karlyn Grimes, MS, RD, LDN, CSSD is a retained advisor for Klean Athlete.


  • Palmowski, J., BoBlau, T.K., Ryl, L., Kruger, K., & Reichel, T. (2019). Managing Immune Health in Sports – A Practical Guide for Athletes and Coaches. German Journal of Sports Medicine, 70(10), 219.