How to Handle Illness During the Season

coughing cyclist

Consistency in training is one of the greatest determiners of success. To see tangible results in a fitness level increase takes time and consistently executing training week after week. Throughout the year, there are often many factors that aim to disrupt this consistency, life alternating events, increased work stress, social obligations to name a few. However, one of the most common disruptors to training consistency is illness. Illness during the season can derail training, lead to subpar race performance and put you on the backfoot. Almost everyone gets sick at some point during the calendar year, here are some tips to follow in order to bounce back to training, mitigate fitness loss and prevent getting sick before your target event of the year.

With illness during the season, how do we manage training?

So training has been going great, fitness is increasing and then one morning you wake up with the dreaded tickle in the back of your throat. At this point, it may be tempting to be in denial, convince yourself that everything is fine and proceed as normal. Downgrading your training to an easy endurance day or even a recovery day can pay dividends if your body is in the initial stages of an infection. If you move from the initial stages of infection to full blown illness during the season, there really isn’t a perfect timeline of training regimen to follow. It is best to play it day by day. If you have a fever or lots of fatigue, take the day off, as your body needs to divert all its resources to fighting off the infection. If there is no fever and energy levels are somewhat normal, short and easy endurance rides are perfectly acceptable. Use perceived exertion to dictate pace, as heart rate can be high and power relatively low while training when sick. Cut the volume of training down as well to ensure a surplus of energy is saved for battling the infection. Increase your carbohydrate and fluid intake during sickness, as this will fuel the immune system to operate at max capacity. Supplementing with zinc can also be effective at curtailing the duration of an infection.

snot rocket

Returning back to health from illness during the season

Getting sick can be frustrating but if you don’t listen to your body, you may prolong the episode. Continue to play training day by day until the majority of your symptoms have subsided and energy levels have returned to normal. Remember, your immune cells like neutrophils and macrophages play a big role in muscle recovery as well as being front line soldiers during an infection, so recovery from training can be diminished during a cold. If you aren’t able to recover from your training, there is much less benefit to training. If you are experiencing a lot of congestion in your chest, be careful about doing efforts above  threshold, as the increased ventilatory rate can potentially lead to a secondary infection, such as LRTI or pneumonia. Once healthy, ease back into training, no need to jump right back in from where you left off. Plan a week of easy endurance training, and maybe test the waters a bit in the back half of the week to see where the legs are at.

Preventative measures before your target race

Catching an illness during the season is highly probable and sometimes taking “forced rest” but could actually be a benefit overall. However, the last thing you want is to come down with an illness days before your target event/race. During heavy bouts of training, your body is somewhat immunocompromised and it will be easier for you to pick up an infection. Understand that attending social gatherings puts you at risk on intense training days (people are great vessels for germs that infect other people), and either consider skipping the party or training easier depending on your priorities. Try your best to avoid contact with infected people, and wash your hands diligently to avoid infection. Traveling before (or after for that matter) to race through an airport and sit on a plane is probably the easiest way to get sick (they call it the 'germ tube' for a reason). When moving through airports, mask up, use hand sanitizer and avoid finger foods to mitigate the chance of getting sick. Don’t let sickness derail your season! Use these tips to get back to normal training and remember, the best practice for sickness is to prevent it in the first place.

About the Author: Taylor Warren’s journey into the world of bikes started back in 2009 when he would join his dad once a week to cross train on the West Orange bike path in Orlando, Florida. In 2015, Taylor earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Exercise Science with a focus in Sports Medicine at Colorado State University while competing in collegiate racing on the road and track, rising to the rank as Category-1 racer in both disciplines. After graduating school, Taylor raced professionally on the road with the Colorado-based team, the 303 Project. Today, Taylor calls San Diego home where he works in a bike shop performing bike fits, trains to meet the demands of the US Pro Road Tour calendar, and applies the latest sports science to the athletes he coaches including himself. At the core of his coaching, Taylor believes balancing life demands with the eustress of training, while keeping the process fun, is the key to progression and a lifelong passion for health and fitness.  Learn more about Taylor Warren.