With just four days to go before a bodybuilding show, IFBB pro Kristina Olson got the flu. Congestion, sneezing, a sore throat, It wasn’t good.
She spent months training for the event, and didn’t want to drop out. And she also had another bodybuilding competition booked a week later.
What would you do?
Maybe you’re not a professional bodybuilder, but you’ve probably been cruising through your workouts, making progress, and then all of the sudden, Wham! You come down with a cold.
- Do you tough it out and follow your training program to the T?
- Can you train when you’re sick if you only have mild symptoms?
- Or do you scale it back, rest up, and ease back into training when you’re feeling better?
Here’s what Kristina did. She took the last few days of training off before the first show. That gave her time to rest up, treat the symptoms with over-the-counter cold medicine, and still compete.
But the following week, she resumed training hard in the final prep week before the next physique competition. She performed well, but there was a price to pay for training hard while sick:
“Post show it took me a very long time to get well,” says Kristina. “Upwards of two months as my flu turned into a very bad case of bronchitis, borderline pneumonia.”
3 Ways Training Keeps You Healthy
It’s possible that training when you have a cold or mild case of the flu won’t impact your performance or further compromise your health like it did for Kristina.
And that’s good to know. Getting sick is never convenient. And if you’re committed to following a plan or program with an end-goal in mind, you don’t want getting sick to goof it all up.
If you have mild symptoms, you may be able to continue training. After all, exercise keeps you healthy in a couple of different ways. 
- Exercise helps strengthen your immune system by removing and preventing harmful bacteria in your body from turning into a full-on cold.
- Being active helps boost white blood cell production, which your body needs to fight infections.
- Physical activity helps reduce stress, which can weaken your immune system.
Assess your health. If you’re feeling a little sick and your symptoms are mild (congestion, sneezing, sore throat). It’s probably OK to keep training, although you might notice a drop in strength and fatigue faster during cardio sessions.
When Training Sick Only Makes Things Worse
But if your symptoms are any worse than mild, you should probably hang it up for a couple of days and rest up before you hit your next workout. Ignoring your symptoms when you have a cold, can make things worse.
Kristina decided to train hard while sick the last week before a show. She still competed and performed well, but it taxed her immune system big-time, and took a lot longer to recover.
Are you too sick to workout? If you are too sick to workout, you need to rest to help your body heal. Plus, nobody wants you to spread those germs around at the gym, the office, the store, and other places you frequent.
If you have any of these symptoms, stay home:
- Trouble breathing
- Muscle aches and pains
If you do take some time off when you get sick, ease back into training when you feel better. Don’t resume heavy lifting immediately, or jump right back into high-intensity interval training. Give yourself another week or two of active recovery and less strenuous workouts. And you’ll be a lot more likely to get well and stay well.
5 Ways to Stay Healthy
Even if you live a really healthy lifestyle, you can’t entirely avoid getting sick. But you can come pretty close. Here are five ways to stay healthy so you can keep on training, working out, and making gains.
- Eat a healthy diet. Your body needs vitamins and nutrients found in food to support metabolism, digestion, organ function, muscle growth and repair, and a healthy immune system.
- Drink more water. Aim for a half-gallon a day or about 8 glasses. Proper hydration helps ward off infection, improves circulation, and keeps your sinuses moist, which helps keep cold and flu germs out.
- Rest. Aim for 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night, or take a nap during the day. Sleep is a powerful tool that strengthens your immune system.
- Wash your hands after going to the bathroom, before eating, and definitely after you workout. Lather up with soap. Scrub for 20 seconds, and rinse. Proper hand-washing is a powerful defense against cold and flu germs.
- Get the flu vaccine. Getting the flu vaccine can help prevent the most common type of cold/flu viruses for the season. And if you do get sick, people who are vaccinated typically have less serious symptoms and recover faster.
Learn healthy habits to train smart and avoid getting sick. That’s what you’ll find in my 8-week and 12-week training programs designed to help you shred fat, build muscle, or transform your body.
- Olson, K. (2016). What do bodybuilders do when they're sick/ill? Quora. From: https://www.quora.com/What-do-bodybuilders-do-when-theyre-sick-ill
- National Institutes of Health. (2017). Exercise and immunity. U.S. National Library of Medicine. From: https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/007165.htm
- Walsh, N.P., et al. (2016). Exercise, immune function and respiratory infection: An update on the influence of training and environmental stress. Immunology and Cell Biology. From: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26563736
- Groom, D. (2017). Should your client exercise while sick? International Sports Science Association. From: https://www.issaonline.edu/blog/index.cfm/2017/should-your-client-exercise-while-sick