A lot of people ask me at this time of year about illness, and how it will affect their training.
Should I train, or go for total rest?
If I rest, when should I come back?
First, let’s define “sick”. For the purpose of this blog we’ll assume sick means colds & flus.
Both colds and flus are viruses, so there are thousands of variations / mutations of each. Once you have had one version, you can never get it again, sadly though, there are so many varieties that you are virtually guaranteed to never run out of opportunities to catch one!
So getting a cold and / or flu each year is pretty much a given.
The common cold is generally all in the head, stuffed nose, sneezing, tickly throat, a festival of mucous above the neck!
A flu will have all of the above, plus the body aches and pains, possible chest symptoms, and generally feels worse than a cold, and gets the whole body involved.
Question 1. Should you go for total rest, or train hard while sick?
It’s not a straight forward answer, a rule of thumb to start with is:
If it’s below the neck, do not train. So if it’s flu, or a chest infection for example, take total rest.
If it’s above the neck, a head cold for example, you should be able to push through and train, with a few rules.
When you have a virus or infection, your immune system (Click here to read our immune system post) is working overtime to fight off the bug.
Fighting off a bug, like training, is a catabolic process, which means it takes up energy and nutrients (vitamins & minerals). Of course, this means that you need to allow for that in your training and nutrition plan.
As the flu or an infection is far more serious than a cold, it will take up far more of those resources to fight off, which is why you should rest totally and give your immune system all the resources you can spare.
If it’s a cold, then, within reason, there is probably no reason you can’t train. However, you must remember that even with the common cold, your immune system is working hard, and you do need to back off your training to accommodate that.
Obviously, this is very, very general advice, and we would never presume to contradict your doctor. Any infection or virus should be taken seriously, and just “hardening up and pushing through” is not always the best way. So go to your doctor if you have any doubt your illness could be anything but the common cold.
Question 2. When should I come back?
If it’s the flu, and you have total rest, then give yourself a full extra day AFTER all “below the neck” symptoms have gone.
Follow the guidelines below for a big picture view of how to deal with illness when training to a goal.
1. Prevention is better than cure.
As I mentioned before, it’s practically impossible to avoid getting a cold or flu at some stage, pretty much every year, however, we can minimise the frequency and sometimes even avoid it all together with a few preventative steps.
Wash you hands, a lot! The common cold virus, and a lot of flus, is best transmitted from surfaces that an infected person has touched.
You touch the surface, touch your nose, mouth or eyes, and bingo! You have a cold.
So wash your hands, and avoid touching your face a lot.
Check out these videos from the Mythbusters crew about transmission of germs – yuck!
Some people are anti-vax, that’s cool, that’s not something I’m going to get into here, but personally, I get the flu shot every year.
I myself am in a high-risk group (chronic asthmatic), so it’s free, and why not?
Keeping in mind that the flu shot can only immunize against known strains, it does tend to lessen the effects of the flu if you do catch one.
The one year I didn’t get the flu shot I was sicker than I’d ever been! (no, it wasn’t just man flu, I was really sick. No, really….)
2. Give your immune system the best chance
* Avoid OVER or UNDER training
* Follow a structured nutrition plan
* Drink plenty of water
* Get plenty of rest
* Consider supplementing vitamins or minerals if your diet is low in fruit and vegies, and omega 3 rich fish
Check out our blog about your immune system and how it works for a fuller explanation (immune post link).
3. Returning to training
* If your symptons are all above the neck, then you should be ok to train, but back it off a little.
Take extra rest days, and take your effort / intensity levels down from an 8 or 9 to a 6 or 7
* If your symptoms are below the neck, then take total rest until the below the neck symptoms are gone.
Take one extra day, then return to training at a reduced effort / intensity and frequency.
Take extra rest days, and listen to your body. If any below the neck symptoms re-appear, then go back to total rest.
* Most of all, listen to your own body’s clues. It can be taxing on your energy systems and therefore your immune system to train, if it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.
There are other pros and cons of training whilst sick.
Sitting around feeling sorry for yourself can make you feel worse, while getting out and about can pick you up, both in mood and energy.
Training while sick can lead to spreading your illness around the gym, so if there is a lot of sneezing, coughing, and (yuck) mucous going on, it might be best to wait a day until those symptoms subside a little.
Hope that helps you, if you need any more advice on any topic, drop me a line or apply for a free success session.
Bren “Is that a tickle in my nose?” Ryan
Weight Loss Coach
Precision Nutrition Coach (Pn1)