It’s February. The weather sucks. Your training is increasing in volume and intensity. Your immune system is under more stress than normal as a result. And your co-workers refuse to stay home when they’re ill for fear of being labeled as a “liar!” That last part is hyperbole, though if you’ve ever worked in local media, any and all “sick days” are a ruse.
On Saturday the bug got me. Bad. My alarm was set for 4:30 a.m. and I planned on being on the trainer by 5:00 a.m. for a 90 minute ride, which included five 10 minute intervals just below threshold followed by a short, but snappy 10 minute brick run. So when I awoke at 3:15 a.m. with unspeakable pain in my stomach and a splitting headache I knew that as I raced to the bathroom that would be the only running I’d be doing that day.
After a few more hours of restless sleep and trips to the loo the dreaded 24-hour bug was holding serve over my immune system. It picked off the entire house starting on Wednesday with my daughter, moved to my mother-in-law on Thursday, on Friday it was my wife, so Saturday was my turn.
This all begs the question: How should I exercise and what should I eat when sick?
Short answer: Don’t exercise and eat what you can.
Long answer: The old saying, “listen to your body” never holds more truth than when you’re sick. My body was telling me to stay seated or in a prone position. It was also screaming at me to sleep. It’s OK to miss a workout, a weekend’s worth of workouts, or even a full week’s worth if you’re sick and unable to perform your best. Forcing it will put more stress on your body and your immune system, prolonging the illness.
Low to moderate intensity exercise has been shown to have immunity boosting effects. However, your symptoms should dictate your activity. If you have a fever, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle and joint pain, and a headache (like I did on Saturday) then you shouldn’t be doing any physical activity. As those symptoms start to dissipate, you can start to work in some low to moderate intensity exercise.
It’s wise to continue with your scheduled workouts when you’re able to resume training. Don’t try to weave the missed sessions into the upcoming week by pulling double sessions or swapping the easier sessions for the harder ones you missed. Remember, last week I discussed keeping the spirit of the workout when shifting things around.
As for nutrition, you gut is ground zero for illness. Chemicals in the digestive tract help fight bacteria, viruses, and fungi. The best nutrition practice for sickness is simple: eat if you’re hungry, don’t eat if you’re not. Things like garlic, honey, green tea, and chicken soup have been shown to fight back against symptoms and help you feel better faster. Drink plenty of fluids too, and make rest and recovery a top priority.
Admittedly, not my best week given the sickness. Here’s a look at my workouts: