We all experience ‘the sniffles’, runny noses, tickly throats and chesty coughs in winter. But should we let them interrupt our exercise regime?
It’s well known that exercise plays a huge part in keeping us healthy and can even help reduce the risk of diseases. Unfortunately (even for cyclists) it does not guarantee immunity from illness such as the common cold or other bacterial and viral infections, which can often get in the way of our normal exercise routines.
This can be extremely frustrating, especially in the run up to race season, following a solid winters training.
ONE Pro Cycling Performance Director Steve Benton has over 30 years of experience working with elite athletes and knows too well the mental and physical stress the common cold can have on the body.
“Illness and injury are the key things you try and minimise and control to the best of your ability from a coaching perspective. The law of averages for seasonal viruses means inevitably at some point an athlete is going to get ill. The key is really trying to avoid it if you can and then minimise its impact (not just on the individual but the rest of the team) from there on.” comments Benton.
Of course there are varying levels of the cold and as cyclists, we can often stubbornly ignore the effects the common cold can have on us. So how do we know when it’s time to hang up our cycling shoes and take things easy for a few days.
1. Rule of Thumb
“The general rule of thumb when symptoms are above the neck, such as stuffy nose, sore throat or headache, is that it’s okay to exercise at low to moderate intensity”, explains Benton. “If symptoms develop further and go below the neck into the chest such as a fever, a build up of a chest cough, mucus or shivers then 100%, you DO NOT exercise, you DO NOT train”.
2. Monitoring Heart Rate
Another method of checking how your body are coping with the cold is by monitoring resting heart rate.
“I don’t advocate people take their resting heart rate everyday of their lives, but if you know what your base reference is and you notice – along with other relevant symptoms – that your heart rate is elevated for no obvious reason, say by 5 – 8 beats per minute, then that’s potentially a sign your body is fighting infection and you should rest.” urges Benton.
“It’s important to help your immune system to do its job rather than giving it something else to deal with such as the effects of a hard training session.”
Find a pulse point, either on your wrist or at the side of your neck. Using your middle and index finger, count the number of beats you feel in 10 seconds. Multiply the number by 6 to find the total number of beats per (*You’ll be pleased to know this is most accurate first thing in the morning before you get out of bed!)
3. Listen to what your body is telling you
At the end of the day, you know your body better than anyone else. You can often tell how you’re feeling after just a few pedal strokes into a ride but Benton warns, “if you have cold symptoms and you feel worse after 15 – 20 minutes of exercise, I would advise that you listen to your body, knock it on the head and make your way home.”
Easier said than done. As cyclists, we all have goals and targets and getting a good winters training under our belt is paramount to a good season, regardless of sickness, right? WRONG!
Performance director Steve Benton explains that exercising under the duress of the common cold can have more serious effects on the body than perhaps people realise.
“Regardless of whether you’re an elite athlete or an amateur cyclist, if an individual pushes themselves through training with a chesty cold there are number of complications which can arise within the cardiovascular system in particular. One condition is dilated cardiomyopathy – where a viral infection causes inflammation of the heart muscle.
It tends to develop when athletes contract viruses which take a while to recover from and they return to “hard” training/exercise too quickly. That’s where complications can potentially occur. The sensible approach is once a cold virus appears to have run its course, is to ensure you have 24-48hrs completely symptom-free before resuming training.
With that in mind, we think it’s time to talk tactics.
Don’t be disheartened, we’ve gathered together a few simple actions which can be taken to minimise your time off the saddle and help you bounce back into action without fear of a dreaded relapse!
1.Feed the cold, Starve the fever
You might be familiar with the old phrase, “feed the cold, starve the fever.” Well we’re happy to report it’s a proven theory, but we’re not talking about going to McDonald’s for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Benton comments, “When you’re fighting illness, it’s crucial to make sure everything from a dietary perspective is as it should be with good quality nutrients derived from food including Vitamins C and D as well as minerals like Zinc. There’s a tendency for cyclists to worry about putting on weight when they’re not training and they often cut back on food, when in fact the nutritional side is crucial to aid recovery and help your body fight off any ‘bad’ bacteria or viral infections.”
2. Avoid excessive dairy
If Dairy products feature heavily in your diet be aware that foods such as milk, cream, yoghurt can exaggerate mucus production. By minimising dairy intake or excessive dairy intake for a period of time during a cold it will actually help minimise mucus production.
So if you’re someone who particularly gets really snotty and congested you should definitely try and avoid it until your symptoms start to clear. ‘A little bit of milk in your tea won’t do any harm but if you can keep it to a minimum it can often help.” explains Benton.
3. Re-introduce workload slowly
Finally! The day has arrived when those nasty symptoms have almost all but disappeared and you’re eager to get back out on the bike. But… it’s important to be careful how exercise is introduced back into our routine.
“This can be relatively quick after a minor 4 or 5 day head cold, but if there has been a considerable rest period of a week or more then it’s really important to get back into training slowly, particularly for endurance athletes.
I would always suggest re-introducing short sessions at a low intensity. Concentrating on keeping a low intensity but increasing the duration of the sessions gradually.
If an athlete is relatively fit and used to doing two to three hours without a problem then the first thing they should do is look to increase from thirty minutes to sixty minutes, sixty minute to ninety and so on. Ensuring all exercise is kept at a low to moderate intensity, minimising the opportunity for a reaction or symptoms to reoccur going back into training.
Once that box has been ticked, the intensity of workouts can gradually be increased. This is the pattern that needs to be followed, not the other way around.”
A final note from our Performance Director Steve Benton…
There’s nothing more important than your health and that’s one thing I’ve always highlighted. Your health is absolutely number one, it doesn’t matter if you’re training for your biggest event of the year – if you need to rest and recover, make sure you listen to what your body is telling you. Take care of your health, your health is for life, it’s important not to lose sight of that.Steve Benton