For the past week and a half I have been brought down by yet another Easter cold - sore throat, congestion, nasty cough, and every other text-book symptom. And with the immune system of an infant, I know that this is not going to be over soon. In childhood, I developed a long list of allergies - most of which I grew out of, with the exception of gluten and an intolerance to diary. (I know, living in Denmark - a dairy nation that has delicious bakery bread as a daily staple - is a bit ironic...and like a constant tease).
Years of intense sports in high school, over-exercising, under-eating, and a consistent lack of sleep in University, and the subsequent years of excessive training and being under-weight - has all left me with not just a propensity for getting sick, but staying sick.
A few years ago, being sick would have taken me out of the game for a couple of days, and then I would be back in the gym - despite not being fully recovered. But over the years I have come to realize that this does nothing but prolong the time it takes me to reach 100% again, while stressing out my already weak immune system.
Being sick means staying away from the gym for three very important reasons: 1) My body is already working overtime to recover, and the stress of working out will do nothing but prolong the process; 2) It is not fair to expose others to my coughing and congestion; 3) Working out like crazy is not going to keep me healthy - but my diet will.
In the long run, it's just not worth it.
Despite being sick, one should not fret about not being able to keep up with their normal active lifestyle. On the contrary, the focus should shift to diet! In fact, 80% of weight loss is diet - and only 20% is physical training. That is, working out accelerates weight loss, but the key is really caloric intake - not just how many calories are being consumed, but what kind of calories are being consumed (a topic for another post).
Diet is also key to recovery - getting lots of vitamins and minerals (fruit!). Additionally, if you are allergic to gluten or lactose intolerant, it is even more important to stay away from these foods, as your body cannot process them or break them down, and will therefore expend a lot of energy trying to do so - this energy is taken away from fighting whatever virus is bringing you down. If you have no such allergies (lucky you!), you should still follow this logic and stay away from foods that require more effort to digest: Ice cream, broccoli, cabbage, legumes, raw onions, chocolate (sorry!), and any foods with additives or preservatives that your body is not built to process.
Relaxing when sick is a hard concept to accept when - like me - one might be accustomed to an extremely active lifestyle, and a regular gym routine is just as much about fitness and being in shape, as it is about sanity. However, if I have learned anything in my years of training, dieting, and being sick far too often, it is this: It's not the economy, it's the diet, Stupid.
Finally, when sick - taking a break from the gym and focus on this:
- Make sure you are getting enough calories - most of us spend our lives dieting and trying to lose weight. When sick, your body is naturally working harder than it does any other day, and your immune system needs the calories to keep up the fight.
- Remember your vitamins! They will give you the boost you need to recover - especially fish oil (omega-3) and vitamin C. I also recommend acai berry and ginseng for maintaining health and keeping energy levels up.
- Protein, protein, protein! This is key - protein is used in the development of healthy cells development, and thus important especially when sick.
- Sleep. Your body recovers when you are sleeping, so do as much of it as you can! The gym will still be there when you wake up :).