Being athletes makes us susceptible to getting sick because of the constant state of fatigue we always seem to put our bodies in. There are some easy things you can do to avoid getting colds, as well as some good strategies for dealing with a cold once you get one.
Probably the biggest reason we get sick is we let our bodies get run down. When training, make sure you are getting a lot of sleep. I always needed at least 8-9hrs of sleep when training. For those of us that have full time jobs and families this isn’t realistic. Do the best you can. Also very important to make sure you are eating healthy. For women it is important to get an adequate amount of iron in your diet. Low iron can result in anemia which can make it very easy for your body to get sick over and over again. Be sure to eat lots of whole grains, fruits and veggies and limit high fat foods such as meat and dairy. Another reason we get sick is we let ourselves get dehydrated. Hydration is the key to health! Did you know a 150lb individual has almost 50 quarts of water in his body? Dehydration can make you more susceptible to viruses, can prevent your body from recovering after hard workouts, and keeps your body from flushing out the toxins produced over night. Eating the right foods, drinking water, and sleeping are key to healthy living!
What can you do once you get a cold? For me the best thing to do is sleep as much as possible. If possible take long naps during the day and sleep in as long as you can. If work prevents this, then go to bed early and avoid the usual nighttime activities that keep you up late. The next thing you need to do is drink a lot of water. Pure water will help flush out the toxins in your body. When your body is hydrated, drainage from allergies and colds doesn't stick and collect in your throat and lungs, and your cough is more "productive". I like to drink three nalgene bottles of water a day minimum. Some other things that have worked for me are sucking on zinc lozenges and taking Zicam, a homeopathic anti-cold remedy. Sometimes these work for me and sometimes they don’t. Unfortunately a lot of times a cold just has to run its course, which can often be 10 days to two weeks
What about training when you have a cold? If you have a mild head cold, then easy to moderate exercise is ok. I would not do any kind of intensity. If your cold has dropped into your chest, then only 1hr recovery rides are recommended. If these irritate your lungs and cause you to cough, then ride indoors. Again, no intensity. If your cold turns into the flu and you have a fever, then no riding whatsoever. Wait until the fever is gone before getting back on your bike. In general, the less “training” you do while sick, the quicker you will recover. The problem most of us have as cyclists is we can’t stand the thought of not riding and we start to panic that we are losing fitness. So we go out and train while sick. This will prolong your illness and can lead to complications. The head cold might turn into the flu. The flu might turn into bronchitis, and bronchitis might turn into pneumonia. Let yourself be sick. Give your body a chance to fight the cold/flu and you’ll recover faster.
Every athlete out there will get sick at least once a year. Everything evens out in the end. Don’t stress when you get sick. Do the best you can and hopefully you will be back on your bike in a few days.