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MMA: Effects On the Immune System


It comes at no surprise that exercise can help improve your overall health and immune system, but exercise can be just as, if not more, important to your immune system than the foods you eat. For a fighter it is of high importance to monitor both diet and exercise to be at top physical condition at all times, a viral illness can be detrimental to a fighter’s preparation.

Aerobic exercises, like those used by mixed martial artists for conditioning and endurance, are ideal for additional immune support. Workouts that keep your entire body moving reduce stress and release endorphins in your brain that aid in relaxation. Endorphins are known as natural pain killers and can also improve a fighters state of mind.


Exercising increases the amount oxygen in your blood and the production of antibodies. According to author David C. Nieman, in his book, “Nutrition and Exercise Immunology,” exercise increases antibody production by 300 percent, and increases the number of infection-killing T-cells circulating in the body.” Along with T-cells, your body will also produce more NK-cells and B-cells during exercise. NK-cells, or natural killer cells, are responsible for fighting against viruses and cancer cells while B-cells produce actual antibodies.

Even though exercising can benefit a fighters immune system, over doing it can do just the opposite. Extreme exercise regimens, like those fighters sometimes put themselves through, act as stress on their body. If fighters were to give themselves enough time to recover after an intense training session their body could adapt and become more fit. When preparing for a fight, fighters don’t often have the luxury of taking a day or two off from training. They then run the risk of overtraining which can lead to a compromised immune system. Some signs of overtraining, aside from the obvious fatigue and lowered performance, can include cold like symptoms.

Overtraining can occur after 90 or more minutes of strenuous exercise. For many fighters, a 90 minute workout could be just a warm up. Many fighters train for several hours and even subject themselves to multiple training sessions a day to keep their mixed and individual martial art skills in peak condition.

According to LIVESTRONG after 90 minutes of strenuous exercise your body’s declining immune response is due to lower carbohydrates causing the release of stress hormones:

“Lower carbohydrate availability during intense exercise triggers the release of stress hormones. Stress hormones negatively influence the production of immune cells. Free-radicals are associated with oxidative damage to your muscles, liver, blood and other body tissues. Free radical production increases during intense exercise and the number of free radicals may exceed the capacity of your defense systems.”

After any intense workout fighters need an extra boost to their immune system in other ways. Since more exercise is out of the question, most fighters get extra immune boosting nutrients through their diets, while others add to their diets with supplements. If fighters don’t keep their immune system healthy they run a greater risk of not only catching a cold or flu virus, but they also are at increased risk of bacterial infections. Staph bacterial infections are more common and more severe in people with a weak immune system.


Fighters are constantly exposed and prone to bacterial and viral infections due to their stressed immune systems, so it is important to find the perfect balance between training, overtraining and their diets.