Sickness time. Here it comes for us Northern Hemisphere athletes. The shift in seasons, ramp of inside-living, and holiday travel all contribute to the increase in common colds and sickness. Many of us are going to be faced with sickness over the coming months, so it is worth addressing here.
Let me first put your mind at ease if the lurgy does catch up with you. We plan for it, expect it, and frame a season of performance around such hiccups. There isn’t a sane coach alive who panics if an athlete experiences a head cold in the course of normal training, and it is rare for such sickness to impact overall performance. If you do get sick, don’t panic. Things are going to be fine in the long run.
I often get asked how often we should expect to get sick (of the head cold varietal), and while this is dependent on the situation and athlete, a normal healthy person can expect one-to-two bouts over the spread of a year. The flag begins to go up if you are experiencing sicknesses that refuse to go away for an extended time, or if you are getting sick with a greater frequency than many others. An inability to defend a virus or recover from one is often a trend toward global over-stress and weakened immune system -- not a place that you are set up to thrive from. I would argue the repeat offender is very much over-stressed globally and not only are they not thriving in health but, by extension, they are not thriving in work or sport either. We must address baseline habits, training approach, sleep, and also travel protocols (if applicable).
With the sickness being a part of the journey, every athlete should understand what to do if it does strike. First, don’t panic and accept it for what it is, then fall into the sickness or injury protocol. You can read all about it here: https://education.purplepatchfitness.com/hc/en-us/articles/360020797014-Sickness-Injury-During-Training
Be patient and truly follow this approach, as it is your best bet to minimize the impact and length of reduced training effectiveness. I think it can help, but what about avoidance? Is there anything we can do to reduce the likelihood of sickness taking hold? Sure. Here is your little quick hit-list of habits to get into:
- Baseline habits: This is a super time to focus on positive daily habits including healthy eating, quality sleep, post-workout fueling, adhering to easier sessions when asked, etc. As obvious as this is, let’s begin here.
- Wash your hands: Seriously. A lot. Do it more than you think, especially you dirty and disgusting lazy men who tend to skip it once your stand-up business is complete. Yes, I see you in the airport all the time!
- Pull back at first symptoms: Too many aim to push through initial symptoms due to fear of looming sickness, but this time of the year calls for pulling back from training when initial symptoms strike. It is often that one last tougher workout that pushes you over the edge. Sickness symptoms should be respected at this time of the year.
- Remain hydrated: Hydration is a wonderful supporter of the immune system and global function-don’t get dehydrated during this time of the year.
- Avoid high alcohol consumption. Holiday parties are coming, and I am not asking you to avoid all fun, but keep consumption in order and maintain awareness around your overall levels. It is all about risk-reward.
- Sleep and travel: There is nothing more suppressing of the immune system than poor sleep quality and quantity -- so remain aware of this as you navigate this cold season. Make sleep a priority and you lower your risk of catching the cold.
- Eat yer veggies: Vitamins and minerals are the backbone of bodily functions and your immune system. It is a wonderful time to include a rainbow of colors of vegetables and fruit on a daily basis.
There you go -- your lucky-7 quick list of sickness avoidance. There is no magic and no promises, but this provides the basic defense and good habits that may just improve resilience and give you a fighting chance. Stay healthy.