Appalachian State

NCRC Study Finds Polyphenol-Packed Diet Shields Athletes from Illness

September 22, 2014

BusinessWire September 22, 2014 10:00 AM Eastern Daylight Time

KANNAPOLIS, N.C.–()–NC Research Campus (NCRC) scientists have found that a polyphenol-packed diet may keep athletes’ immune systems revved up before and after intense exercise.

Numerous studies show that athletes, especially marathon runners, experience depressed immune systems for up to 72 hours after competing. In a study conducted at the NCRC, the blood serum of athletes showed dramatically reduced viral replication after ingesting a blueberry and green tea polyphenol-protein powder for 17 days. The last three days included 2.5 hours of intense exercise per day. The placebo group received a protein powder without polyphenols and experienced higher than normal viral replication.

Polyphenols are compounds in fruits and vegetables that research links to benefits like anti-aging and anti-inflammation as well as anti-viral effects. The protein powder the athletes consumed was equivalent to eating three cups of blueberries and a cup-and-a-half of green tea per day.

“This is the first study of its kind to show that athletes who regularly eat polyphenols had more anti-viral protection after three days of intensive running,” said study author David Nieman, DrPH, director of the Appalachian State University (ASU) Human Performance Laboratory at the NCRC. Nieman is a pioneer in exercise immunology and was one of the first to prove depressed immune systems in marathon runners contribute to post-race illness.

“I highly recommend that athletes increase their polyphenol intake from fruits and vegetables to reduce their likelihood of getting sick from viral illnesses,” he concluded.

“Eating the phytoactive components isn’t necessarily the same as eating whole fruits,” added study co-author Mary Ann Lila, PhD, director of the NC State University Plants for Human Health Institute at the NCRC. “Using a powder can make it easier to get health benefits when fresh fruits are not feasible.”

These findings were published in the journal of Phytotherapy Research. Other study collaborators from ASU are immunologists Maryam Ahmed, PhD, and Dru Henson, PhD, and, from the NCRC, Nicholas Gillitt, PhD, vice president of nutrition research for Dole Foods and the director of the Dole Nutrition Institute.

The NC Research Campus in Kannapolis, just north of Charlotte, NC, is home to corporate, academic and healthcare partners focused on advancing science at the intersection of human health, agriculture and nutrition. For more information, visit

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