As the weather turns colder, cold and flu bugs are lurking around every corner giving our immune systems have a hefty job to keep us healthy. As endurance athletes, we’re all healthier on one hand, but also more vulnerable to upper respiratory illness such as colds and flus. Here are some tips on how to stay healthy and manage your return to training if you do get sick:
When we get sick (or on the verge of illness), our bodies are speaking to us. It’s up to us to listen, then take quick action to slow the course of the disease. Pay attention to those early signs: sore, scratchy throat, headaches, excess fatigue, sneezing, runny nose, etc. Some even report “their hair hurts”… seriously. Attending to the early signs of illness will help you shut it down faster and either avoid getting sick altogether or shorten the time you are sick.
Next step, shut down your life as much as you can, as quickly as you can and sleep. Sleep as much as possible. I know this is not always easy, but you will feel better and so will everyone you come in contact with. This way you both take care of yourself and others because action helps stop the spread of disease.
Research supports the theory (and practice) that sleep really does help prevent illness. Scientists have found that information on germs are put into our long term memory storage banks as we sleep. Adequate sleep helps the immune system remember the key features of invading germs so that it can fight it if they return in the future.
Jump on the immune system boosters: Vitamin C, garlic, B vitamins, Manuka honey, green tea, zinc lozenges, vitamin D, larch, oregano oil, Asian mushrooms, ginger, homeopathics, lots of fluids….just to name a few.
Keep your diet clean. Just because you feel crappy, this is NOT a time to eat crappy. Your body needs deep nutrition to help the healing process. Crappy food only causes more stress on your body. Food is medicine. Get on the probiotics (and stay on them!) as the majority of your immune system is found in your gut. Happy gut, happy immune system.
Assess the seriousness of your illness. Do you need to see a doctor or just need rest and fluids? One general rule of thumb is that if it is at or above your neck, you’ll recover faster and get back to training sooner. If it’s below the neck (in your chest), this is more serious and will take more recovery time before returning to training. Avoid taking antibiotics unnecessarily as they will harm your good gut bacteria (and your immune system).
When you start to feel better, OK to start working out when you’re feeling at about 80-90%. If it’s in your chest, wait until you’re at 90-95%. Easy, light exercise can help boost your immune system; excess exercise stresses it. Keep the workouts short and easy aerobic. Stay indoors; training in the cold will stress your body too much. No intervals at this time. Shorten the workouts by about 50%.
Assess how you feel the day after your first workout post illness. If you feel better, you’re well on your way to recovery and can continue to train, but no intensity or long sessions until you’re 100% for a couple of days in a row. IF you feel worse the next day, you’re still sick and need another rest and recovery day (or 2) before training again.
Loss of fitness while sick: if you lose more than 4 days of training, yes, you will lose some fitness benefits. But, your body needs the rest and this is the first priority to healing. Some bodies get sick because they’re screaming for rest and recovery and this is how they get it. Hence the necessity of planned rest periods throughout the training year.
Prevention is always my first line of defense: wash your hands obsessively, don’t touch your face, eat well, get plenty of sleep and fluids, and take your vitamins.
Staying healthy is the best way to achieve consistency in your training allowing you to reach your training, fitness and race goals. But when that cold hits, swift action to take care of yourself speeds up your healing process.