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6 min read

As an athlete, fitness enthusiast, or TransPHORMer … hitting the gym or a training program on a regular and intense basis is a key component of earning the results you’re after. There are many favorable consequences on the body and mind in doing so. But… even with all of the great benefits, one fact remains… hard training will suppress your immune system, leaving you susceptible to getting sick this time of year.

I think we can all agree that getting sick and missing two weeks of training due to an illness is a real setback! This reality is why we, unfortunately, see people working out while sick … and leaving all of their germs in the gym for us to contract as well.

This is why we all need effective strategies to prevent getting sick as well as manage illness when/if we do get sick. Then, after beating the illness, we need proper strategies to get back into training without making ourselves sick again.

How To Prevent Getting Sick

None of us live in a bubble … or at least no one I know. Therefore we will be exposed to germs and lots of them. Minimizing the risk of contracting them is the name of the game. Hard training sessions suppress your immune system for a period of 3 to 72 hours. This period of suppressed immunity is known as the “open window” for germs, parasites, infections, and so on… So, being pro-active in your strategy to prevent getting sick is crucial during this time…. which if you train 4 or more times a week… you’re most likely always in this open window for germs.

Here are some guidelines to avoid getting sick:

  • Stick to a healthy nutrition plan
  • Drink 100oz or more of water a day
  • Avoid crash diets and rapid weight loss.
  • Minimize time spent in large crowds.
  • Minimize your time around people who are sick
  • Wash your hands before eating or after contact with sick people, public places and bathrooms.
  • Wash your hands after training, even before you leave the gym.
  • Try to avoid touching your mouth, nose, and eyes with your hands.
  • Follow proper post-workout protocol to reduce the stress on your body
  • Do not share food or drink with anybody, even your significant other or kiddos!
  • Wear appropriate clothing to avoid getting overly cold and wet.
  • Make sleep a priority
  • Try to lower your stress levels

Effective Ways To Boost Your Immune System

We should all be working to keep our immune system strong 365 days a year, not just when we think we are getting sick. Here are 4 great ways to help keep your immune system strong through nutrition and supplementation.

CARBOHYDRATES

We already said that intense training weakens your immune system… well really emptying the tank and depleting your body will suppress your immune system even further. Fueling properly during and after heavy or prolonged exercise helps minimize these effects. So, making sure to have carbs pre, intra, and post-training will help you stay healthy!

GLUTAMINE

Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in your body. During periods of intense training, high stress or even sickness you can severely lower the Glutamine stores in the muscle. When Glutamine levels in the muscle get too low catabolism can set in, wasting muscle tissue and increasing your recovery time. Supplementing with Glutamine will ensure your levels of this amino acid are optimized to help you recover faster and boost your immune system

PROBIOTICS

The majority of your immune system lives in your gut. Taking high-quality probiotics will help increase gut health and good bacteria to fight off germs that are attacking your body.

HEALTHY LIFESTYLE HABITS

Smoking … drinking … eating junk food… not sleeping …. all are very hard on your immune system. The more of those you do, the more likely you are going to get sick due to the toll it will take on your immune system. Remember, training hard leaves an “open window” for germs for up to 72 hours after training. We need to make sure that we are helping our immune system out by cutting back on poor lifestyle habits and replacing them with more beneficial habits, especially during cold and flu season.

Recovering From Getting Sick

As I said, this time of year… the bugs are out. Cold and flu season hit a little earlier than normal this year as well. So, unfortunately, the reality of the situation is that even despite our best prevention efforts, we may still fall sick.

When this happens, the first step is to stop training. I know that is not what you want to hear. I myself struggle with forcing myself not to go to the gym or go train in some way… but, if you are sick, you need to stay home. You are not showing off your toughness or impressing anyone by training through illness. In fact, you’re most likely making the people around you mad as they see you hacking your germs all over the equipment.

Training through a more serious illness like viral infection can have serious negative outcomes, including mononucleosis, pneumonia, or myocarditis, an infection of the heart caused by common cold viruses. It’s always better to back off for a few days rather than blow up your common cold into one of these serious conditions.

Here is a fact to remember: you can’t build fitness on a sick body.

So how do you know when you are too sick to train? Well, the reality of the situation is that any illness symptoms are reason enough to avoid training hard – even less severe symptoms like a mild sore throat, stuffy nose and headaches. In these instances, a little light exercise at home may be helpful… but not at the gym where you have a higher chance of contracting more germs… and getting sicker.

If you have more severe symptoms like a really sore throat, fever, fluid in your lungs, coughing, body chills, and aches, exhaustion, diarrhea or vomiting… any or all of that good stuff, it’s time to take a day off. You may even need to take a few days off!

During that time off it is imperative that you take care of your body and help it overcome the illness ASAP. Make sure that while you are sick you are resting, drinking plenty of fluids, increase your nutrients, and even utilizing proper medicine when needed.

How To Start Training After Being Sick

Now, once you’re healthy enough to go back to training, that doesn’t mean you are ready to fully attack your training session. Our immune system is most likely still in a weakened state and going out to CRUSH a workout to make up for “lost time” while sick is a good way to make yourself sick again. So… here are some tips for getting back into your training routine after being sick:

  • Wait one extra day after you feel like “I’m ready to go.”
  • Your first day back to training, the intensity should be a notch or two above an active recovery day.
  • If you were sick for three days or less, resume your training plan after your one “wait day” plus one recovery day.
  • If you were sick for more than three days, resume training with one “wait day” and two or more recovery days.
  • After two or more successful recovery days, gradually ramp up your workouts over the next 3 to 4 workouts.

If you feel yourself regressing, or getting sick again… take a recovery day right away to avoid getting sick again.

Stay Healthy This Year

The best way to avoid getting sick is by making sure you are keeping your immune system strong with good habits. Then, taking the proper steps to avoid getting germs into your system. If you do get sick, REST!

Then, when you are healthy, start working back into your training routine with some lighter activity and intensity. Increasing back up to full go!

*This post was written by Will Grumke. He is a NASM Certified Personal Trainer, NASM Certified Fitness Nutrition Specialist, NASM Certified Weight Loss Specialist, NASM Certified Behavioral Change Specialist, and CrossFit Level 1 Trainer.

Will Grumke
Will Grumke



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