You’ve been killing it in the gym and satisfied with your results. You’ve been sticking to your training plan and feel like nothing can stop you.
And then you wake up with a sore throat and running nose. Great. You’re wondering how sever this will be and your first thought is what will happen to your precious gains.
Do You Lose Muscle When Sick?
This is all dependent on the length and severity of the sickness. Your body does become catabolic and is prone to muscle loss while the body fights off infection. However, by resting and eating adequate nutrition you can combat most of the muscle loss. Within a couple weeks after being sick, you can ensure that you will return to your full strength.
Illness Effects On Your Body
During an infection, the body becomes catabolic which means that muscle protein is broken down. The degree of protein breakdown depends on the length and severity of the infection.
This happens because the liver uses amino acids as an energy source through glucose production to help fight infection. This means that glucose is not being used to fuel and build the muscles.
If you find that your muscles are sore when you are sick, that is because the chemicals in the body that build and repair muscle also initiate muscle breakdown during infection.
Fat metabolism in the body is also impaired during infection, meaning that your body has a difficult time burning fat. Your body will use protein stores for energy rather than fat while sick.
Due to this, any weight loss that occurs while sick is usually muscle mass. However, note that it takes about a month of not training for muscle atrophy or muscle loss to occur.
Aerobic metabolism is also impaired during sickness, which is the primary energy source during long-distance running and training.
Should You Workout While Sick?
If you have a slight cold accompanied by an itchy throat it is okay to do light exercise. Anything more and it is best to let your body rest.
Your body is already under stress when you are ill, and putting it under the added stress of working out can only do more damage.
If you have a fever, you will experience symptoms such as weakness, dehydration, muscle aches, and loss of appetite. None of which are ideal for those looking to keep on muscle. If you have a fever, going to the gym is not a good idea and can actually make the fever worse.
If you have a frequent cough, it can cause your airways to become blocked, making you more likely to become out of breath and fatigued.
Severe flu symptoms can include chills, body aches, fatigue, and congestion. If any of these are hindering your ability to workout, it’s better to take a few days off until you are feeling better.
You also should be respectful and stay home so that you are not spreading your sickness around at the gym. Taking a few days off to recover properly will not hinder your progress.
It is actually good to give your muscles a break every once in a while and you may find yourself pushing through a plateau after returning to the gym.
So when should you return to your training?
It is important that your body fully recovers before you get back to intense training. Remember, a week or two off from the gym will not set you back. Think of your progress in a few months or a year down the road. This one week of not training will not set you back.
It is best to slowly get back into your training as symptoms of sickness fade. Start by going for a jog or doing a light workout and see how you feel. Gradually increase the intensity until you return back to your normal schedule.
If you feel like you are overdoing it, simply lower the intensity until you are feeling better. You may not feel as strong depending on how sick you were. This is normal and you will return back to your normal strength in a few weeks.
Maintaining Muscle While Sick
It takes about a month of not training for the body to go into atrophy. Atrophy is a process where degeneration of muscle or nerve tissue takes place.
This is where the body breaks down protein storage as the muscle is not being used. So, you would have to not train for a month for this to occur. Taking a week or two off due to sickness will not impact any of your muscle in the long term.
Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. Your body is constantly losing fluids while sick, dehydrating your muscles. Decreased levels of water results in cell shrinking, which leads to muscle protein breakdown.
Note that if you are sweating a lot or vomiting, you should be drinking even more water.
Make sure that you are eating. You may not be able to get in all the calories that you usually do while sick, but try to get as many as possible.
If you haven’t been eating at all, then the body will start to rely on protein as a fuel source. Try to eat adequate protein to combat this.
Protein is also important because it helps boost your immune system, increasing the production of white blood cells. You may have to eat easier digesting proteins such as eggs, Greek yogurt, protein powders or bars, or soups with meat in them.
Try making a protein shake with oats, peanut butter, and fruit. It’s a lot easier to get liquids in while sick.
Your body needs sleep and recovery, and so do your muscles! Sleep will boost your immune system, helping fight off the illness quicker.
Cytokines, which are a type of protein in your immune system that target infections are released while we sleep. They will help you recover and get back in the gym sooner.
Make sure you are eating enough fat too so that your body can use it as energy, rather than tapping into your protein stores. Fatty acids also help create new cell membranes to help fight off sickness. Omega-3 fatty acids are also key for this.
How To Prevent Getting Sick
Okay, you’ve figured out how to survive while not training when you are sick. Now you’ve finally beat your sickness and are back in the gym training. But how do you prevent that from happening again?
Eat your vegetables. Green, leafy vegetables in particular are full of vitamins and help build a strong immune system.
Vitamin D also helps strengthen your immune system and is found in eggs, mushrooms, salmon, and beef.
Staying active and exercises is a great way to prevent sickness. It can fight against inflammation and chronic disease, reduce stress, and increase the circulation of white blood cells.
Getting enough sleep increases resistance to viruses. A minimum of 8 hours a night will help increase resistance. Your body produces cytokines during sleep which fight infection and regulate the immune system.
Drinking green tea provides the body with antioxidants called flavonoids. They help lower blood pressure and reduce risk of cardiovascular disease. Getting a yearly flu vaccine will also help fight against getting sick.
Leave your best flu remedies below, as well as any questions or comments and I’ll get back to you!