Winter is here and it seems that everyone is sniffling and picking up bugs! No one likes being sick, especially when it affects your day to day activities such as your training. A question we’re commonly asked here at The Fit Clinic, is how you should manage your training and nutrition when you’re under the weather.
Should you train or should you rest?
Should you decrease calories?
Should you supplement your diet?
One of the hardest things when it comes to your training is knowing when to push yourself and when to rest. Should you sweat it out when sick or should you rest up?
When it comes to being sick, training should not be your priority. Yes, it’s great to push yourself and to get out and complete a session the majority of the time but when you’re sick, this is not the time to do it!
There’s no doubt about it, training has many benefits for both our physical and mental health. In fact, research has shown that consistent, moderate exercise and resistance training can strengthen the immune system over time. So by all means, push yourself and train hard when you’re fit, well and healthy.
But the thing we can often forget is that training is also a stressor on our body as well as a source of inflammation. Heavy exercise increases cortisol levels in our body which is our stress hormone. When we’re fit and healthy, our body is well able to adapt to this and deal with it. However, when we’re sick this is a different story. Our body is already in a stressed and inflamed state so adding extra stress isn’t going to be a good idea and can be more than our immune system can handle, leading to prolonged sickness.
You can also be pretty sure that you’re not going to smash your workout when you’re under the weather. So trust us when we say, you’re much better off resting up when sick rather than pushing yourself through a session in the gym.
Some light, non-strenuous activity such as walking, stretching and yoga can be a good way to gently move your body when you’re unwell without pushing it too far. Non-strenuous activities such as these have been shown to boost immunity and don’t place a stress on the body.
Ease back into exercise in proportion to the length of your sickness. If you were sick for 3 days. Take 3 days to ease back in.
The first thing that can spring to mind when you’re unwell and taking some time off the gym is whether you should cut your calories. Initially this may make sense as your activity levels are lower but in fact, this is actually the opposite of what you want to do.
When we’re sick, our body responds by increasing our metabolic rate. This means we actually start burning more calories in order to fight the infection. So by decreasing our calorie intake, we could actually be putting ourselves more at risk of not fighting the infection as well as we could have.
It's important to fuel your body with nutrient dense foods when you’re under the weather. While it may seem tempting to live off pizza and ice cream, your body will thank you for giving it all the nutrients it needs!
Consuming foods such as citrus fruits, kiwis and bell peppers is a great way of boosting your vitamin C intake. Upping your intake of probiotic rich foods is also a good idea. Did you know that over 70% of your immune system resides in your gut? Looking after your gut health is therefore really important, especially when you’re under the weather. Probiotic rich foods include natural, live yoghurt, kefir, kombucha and unpasteurised kimchi and sauerkraut. Your gut microbiota also needs prebiotic fibres to feed on so be sure to up your intake of fruits and veggies.
And of course, don’t forget the 80/20 rule still applies - 80% of your food should come from nutrient dense things like lean meats, fish, fruit, veggies, nuts, wholegrains and healthy fats; While the other 20% should be the fun food you’re craving! So don’t feel like you need to restrict yourself either.
Supplements can also play a really important role when you’re sick. While there are a lot on the market, these are our favourite, scientifically-proven supplements:
Vitamin C is particularly good at reducing the severity and duration of colds in both the general population and in those who are very active. Supplementing with high doses of vitamin C at the start of a cold can reduce the duration of a cold by 8-14%. Super loading 1-3g of vitamin C spread throughout the day at the onset of a cold is a good guide for reduced duration.
Zinc has been studied in relation to colds. Supplementation of 80-100mg of zinc acetate, gluconate or citrate in the form of lozenge within the first 24 hours of a cold and for a few days afterwards can reduce its duration by up to 40%. However, this is a super high dose of zinc and should not be taken consistently, just for a few days surrounding your cold.