As winter is upon us, the chances of catching the dreaded lurgy is usually increased. But if you’re like most athletes, your first concern when you start getting a runny nose and start sneezing, is great, what about my training, now I’ll lose all my fitness. Should I keep training, stop or modify my training plan?
But sometimes having to take a forced break due to sickness can be beneficial. Getting sick usually means your body needs a break and some rest. Having to rest is good for your body, so get in extra sleep and naps, as this is when your body repairs itself to help it get stronger and adapt to the training you have done.
But how much fitness do you lose by having to put the brakes on training when you get sick or injured. There are different components of fitness to look at when you are forced to stop training in regard to losing fitness. These include muscular and cardiovascular fitness. After about 4 days is when small loses in fitness begin to occur. Before that point, no significant drop in fitness is likely to occur, and if there is, they are very small or marginal. If you had been training consistently up to your first day of stopping training, then your overall fitness would be enhanced, similar to when you peak or taper for an event.
Blood volume is one of the first components of fitness to drop, where after 3-4 days, blood volume can be reduced by approximately 5-10%. This equates to a decrease in the amount of blood the heart can pump (important component in endurance-based activities).
After about a week of no training, the ability of your muscles to cope with lactate accumulation from hard efforts, usually starts to become less efficient. That means the sensations of lactate overload hit you quicker in your legs and breathing, ouch!
The ability of your muscles to utilise glucose from your bloodstream also starts to decline after a period of time. This results in your body having to be more reliant on your limited muscle glycogen stores.
So now you know some of the types of fitness you can lose, how do you know when to stop, continue or modify your training plan? We will stick to talking about the common head cold or Upper Respiratory Tract Infection (URTI). The common head cold is characterised by a runny nose, sneezing, slight sore throat and excess mucus build up, not the additional characteristics and symptoms of the flu such as a fever and body aches.
So, if the common head cold is what you have, and the symptoms are above the neck, then it’s probably possible to do some light intensity training (drop down the intensity and volume of training to a low level), such as recovery-based training rides (eg, zone 1). If your cold is making you feel really tired, coughing, fever, headaches and muscle aches, then it’s probably best to stop training all together until your symptoms cease.
Once your symptoms have stopped and you are starting to feel better, resist that fast bunch ride or smashing out high intensity intervals straight away. Gradually ease back into training and building intensity and volume, the last thing you want to do is to deplete your immune system and get sick again. Who knows maybe this forced rest is the break your body needs.
All the best, from the Euro Cycles Tours team.
Note: This is not individualised training advice, and all athletes should consult with an exercise or medical expert about their specific health needs.