I’m in the UK right now and nearly over the lingering jetlag/tiredness (harder with a 9mth old). Before heading to the small country town of Knole in Somerset and winter I might add… we were in Bali on a invite only training camp with our friend who owns the amazing villa we run our TS Luxury Tri Camp at in May.
Two days into the camp and after a long day in the saddle with a 40km descent in the driving rain then getting cold waiting, the inevitable happened. Sick… I hate being sick, especially when you’re on camp. Even though I felt like crap, I really knew something was up when my RHR was 30 beats higher than normal.
I mentioned inevitable because that lovely word ‘hindsight’ showed how the odds where staked in my favor of getting sick.
In the lead up to the camp, I had a lot of various stress, from work to trying to get a lot done before leaving Australia for essentially the rest of the year. Sleep was also extremely limited. Looking back I think I got a sum total of about 6 hours sleep in 48 hours. Not good and definitely a lapse in not practicing what I preach… we’re all human right?
So the lessons here are, in times of increased stress, somethings got to give and that something is burning the midnight oil. You need rest. Period… or your body is going to bite you on the ass and make you rest.
But that leads us to another issue with OCD folks. We push too hard and don’t give ourselves enough time to fully recover and thus dig the hole even bigger. We should be smarter and thankfully this time when I got sick I was.
So sick has happened and here’s what you need to do about it (below I’ll cover some things that will strengthen your immune system and minimise the risk of getting ill). What you need to do is focus on the task of getting rid of the flu/cold/virus asap.
Take a Day or Two Off
A day or two missed training now is much much better than a week or two missed because you kept pushing it. I recommend to my athletes that you take a day off immediately if you’re sick or on the verge of getting sick. The following day, see how you’re and then make a decision whether to take another day off or ‘test drive’ the body.
The Come Back
Here’s where I see most athletes make BIG mistakes. Athletes fret about missing their sessions, so they either play catch up (not a smart move) or go back into training at full volume and intensity (definitely not a smart move on a still depressed immune system).
Here’s what your come back should look like:
Day 1: A short swim or bike session of 20-30 minutes max and you can even throw in a handful of short light 10 – 20 seconds efforts to help stimulate a recovery response.
Day 2: An easy short run and then another easy short session of swim or bike (20-30 minutes each). One of these sessions should have a few (3) short efforts of 15-30 seconds with full recovery between to lightly stimulate the systems and getting them back on track.
Day 3: If you have been tracking your morning resting heart rate (which I highly recommend) then you can effectively use that as a guide when to resume training. When it is elevated 5-10bpm higher than usual then take the day off. Also if you have started easing back in and the light sessions cause a higher heart rate than normal it simply means you have not recovered enough. A good site to see if you’re recovering enough from training is restwise.com (TS athletes get a 20% discount). On the other hand if you feel much better you can resume training but still EASE back into the volume and the intensity. Do not rush this.
When we are sick, unfortunately we crave crappy refined foods. Eating so called comfort foods right now is a big mistake. This is NOT the time to be eating highly processed and refined sugary foods. (not that anytime is really that great for those foods). Sugars create an inflammatory response and that is the last thing we need on a depressed and struggling immune system.
What you need to do is eat very clean (you may not feel like eating at all, which is OK, you have more than enough fuel on board and this includes even lean fit athletes. Some good lean protein (to keep positive nitrogen balance and stop muscle catabolism) and loads of vegetables. Keep fruit to a minimum to reduce sugar content and thus inflammation.
You’re going to want to keep your fats up and especially the healthy ones (omega-3 fatty acids). When you’re sick your body will be forming lots of new immune cells and since fats make up a good portion of a cells structural integrity, you’re going to want to provide them with the raw materials they need.
Another big thing you need to do is get hydrated. You’re still loosing more than you think, so drink up (water) your body and cells need it.
As a hard training endurance athlete I believe you need to supplement a good diet with some specific supplements. To keep it real simple, you’ll want a high quality antioxidant/multivitamin to reduce the oxidative damage to our cells. A high quality fish oil is absolutely critical for it’s anti-inflammatory roll, a good probiotic for gut health (your gut is your immune system) and a greens drink (vital greens or athletic greens). My recommendation is Jamieisrunning supplement.
Further to that, at times sickness I increase Vitamin C consumption to a level that has the therapeutic response I’m looking for. Vitamin C is an immune booster but the levels we’re are typically told to take are so low that won’t do anything at all. Ascorbic acid is found in high concentrations in white blood cells and when we get sick the VitC within these cells is used up quickly to prevent oxidative damage.
Personally and with a lot of my athletes we have dramatically reduced both incidences and length of cold/flu symptoms by using ‘large’ doses of ascorbic acid. At times of immune stress I up my VitC supplementation to what is called titration. This means the point of getting loose stool movements or even diarrhea (this is the only side effect) and means I’m a saturation levels. These levels are person and sickness dependent. I suggest taking 2000mg/hr until you reach titration, adding up how many mg you took and then reducing that by 2000mg the following day (spread out throughout the day).
So when I was in Bali, I was able to get over my flu symptoms (day 1, I had the typical fever and muscle aches) within two days and was back training properly on day 4.
Other vitamins you will want to ensure your getting enough of is Vitamin E due to it also improving immune function. The current RDA is not adequate in ‘healthy’ sedentary people so there is no way it will be adequate in athletes or those fighting sickness. You want to be somewhere between 800-1200 IU daily whether you’re sick or not. Then there is Zinc – again as athletes we’re more prone to have deficiencies and with zinc this leads to a diminished immune response. Zinc has been shown to shorten the duration of colds/flu by up to 50%. Amounts between 50-150mg/day are perfectly safe.
The lifestyle factor
As I mentioned above that hindsight can be a great thing… I got sick due to inadequate sleep, a few days of sub-optimal diet and still trying to fit in the work load (two businesses, training, organising a long trip). Something had to give. Sleep is of utmost importance during our everyday athletic, work and family lives. You can only kid yourself for so long that you can get away with it… you can’t. When you do get sick, sleep/rest is even more important as it taking a day or two off.
The cliff notes
1. Take a day or two completely off and use that time for the extra rest needed. When you do start back ease into the training and no making up for missed sessions.If your symptoms are still there or your RHR is still elevated, more time off is needed.
2. Cut out the refined foods… yes all those comforting foods. They will help you hold onto your sickness for longer.
3. Eat clean but get your good essential fats in.
4. VitC to therapeutic levels. This is the level of what your body needs, not what you think it does. Typically this is greater than 5000mg/day and sometime much much higher.
5. Ensure you’re getting 800-1200 IU of vitamin E and 50-150mg of Zinc/day
6. Rest… funnily enough it helps with recovery.