Training While Sick

I am sitting here typing this with a running nose and a banging headache, struck down by the bug that seems to have gone through everyone I know over the last couple of weeks. So I am being forced to reflect on the conversations I’ve been having with those people about training while poorly.

Should you train while you’re sick?

Come on… you already know the answer to that, don’t you? Of course you shouldn’t. Now, I’m sure there are some serious scholarly research papers that back this up, but you’re in the wrong place for that. Let me just lay this out in really simple terms.

Your body is a machine. You put fuel in it, and it does work. Some of that work is basic maintenance: breathing, heart beating, digestion, etc. Some of that work comprises the exertion we put ourselves through: swim, bike, run, all the rest. There is, though, a finite amount of work that a body can do at any given time.

Within that first group of basic maintenance work, your body is constantly fighting infection. You’ll remember from school that when a bug gets into your bloodstream, your white blood cells attack it with antibodies and attempt to kill it. (Okay, that’s as far as my medical knowledge goes.) Sometimes this works, and your body repels the illness. Sometimes it doesn’t, and you end up sitting at your desk feeling sorry for yourself, lethargic and tired.

Regardless, fighting that infection requires energy, and you need to allow your body to expend that energy in the right way, rather than adding extra stress by going on your turbo trainer for an hour.

Firstly, look at it from the perspective of training while poorly. You don’t train well, and you are performing well below your best. That’s because the energy your body would normally assign to physical training is being diverted to infection control. The session is ineffective and will leave you weaker, not stronger.

Now, let me flip that paragraph around…

Look at it from the perspective of fighting infection while training. You don’t fight the infection well, and you are healing well below your best. That’s because the energy your body would normally assign to infection control is being diverted to your muscles. The white blood cells and antibodies are ineffective and will leave you weaker, not stronger.

So if you try to train and heal at the same time, you will do both of those things badly. The training is, at best, a waste of time. At worst, you are prolonging your illness and opening yourself up for potentially worse infection to swarm in to your poorly defended system.

Sit down. Blow your nose. Watch the telly.