Put the dumbbell down. That’s the advice from Australia doctor Brad McKay who says that gym junkies who continue to push through when they’re under the weather could potentially do some serious self harm.
The crux of this issue isn’t so much the common sense aspect that tells us to rest when we’ve got a flu, but more so the dedication of gym junkies who attempt to push through their fitness routines at any cost.
Whether you’re about to get sick, are sick or on the way to recovery, there’s important details to know when it comes to balancing your workouts with recovery.
How Sick Is Too Sick To Workout
It’s just a minor cold so suck it up, be a man and don’t skip leg day. This is a common enough mentality and Dr. McKay says that taking this advice on board comes with its risks.
“It depends on why you’re sick. If you’ve got a head cold with sinuses and a stuffy nose you’re unlikely to run into any problems.”
The real issue according to the doctor is what you could spread to everyone else with mucous on your hands and dripping all over shared equipment.
“If you have influenza however, then that causes inflammation in the entire body. This will lead to mild issues like feeling weak and not being able to lift weights you used to,” warns Dr. McKay.
“You can also have low blood pressure and when you get dehydrated from working out, your blood pressure can drop even more, making you more prone to injuries when feeling light headed.”
In other words, you definitely don’t want to be bench lifting when you’re sick.
What’s Happening To Your Body
The severe extreme is cases of inflammation in the body. Dr. McKay explains that this involves all the ‘itis’ conditions which can cause the lining around the outside of the heart to become inflamed. The heart muscle itself can also be inflamed along with the brain.
“These cases are rare but if people do push it then they can end up in hospital pretty quickly,” he says.
Exercising To Fight Off Colds
It’s an old myth that’s been kicking around for a while. ‘Run off your cold’ or just ‘sweat it out and you’ll be fine’.
“I did not learn that in medical school and there’s no medical evidence to back it,” says McKay.
“There’s this myth perpetuated that if you’re just a little bit sick, just sweat out your cold or flu. As doctors we really don’t recommend it.”
Just as the dangers we mentioned above, McKay explains that getting dehydrated and light-headed can make you clumsier in the gym. Misjudge your footing on a serious overhead lift and you could be in trouble.
“Most health professionals will say take it easy and then when you’re fully back on board, get back to your exercise regime.”
The Right Time To Start Working Out Again
The guidelines are vague depending on the type of illness but McKay says that the common cold or influenza should last for around 5-7 days before you’re on the mend.
“Some people are sick for weeks, some people with types of influenza can be sick 3-4 weeks in a row. For a main guide, take 5-7 days away from your regular schedule to recover.”
Working Out When You’re On Medication
Dedication is a unique kind of beast often demonstrated by gym junkies. You’re kind of sick, but you’re on meds. That’s a green light to a HIT class, right? Not quite.
Taking cold and flu tablets can make you feel a little better and you may feel good enough to work or gym, but it’s really not making you heal more quickly from the illness you’ve got.
“It’s a false sense of security in that regard. You can still be infectious, you might feel great and okay but someone else can get the virus. It’s more about community responsibility as well.”
Drinking Protein Shakes When You’re Sick
Protein shakes may be the building blocks to muscles but they’re useless when you’re sick. Whilst it’s unlikely to hurt you if you do drink these energy and protein supplements when you have a cold, the effects of the sugar could lead to excess calories that aren’t burnt. In other words you could be wasting your money and putting on weight says Dr. McKay.
What To Eat Or Drink To Help Speed Up Recovery
According to research from Heinz, men are the worst culprits when it comes to showing up at work when they’re sick, so it’s little surprise they have the same attitude towards the gym.
To avoid dehydration when you’re sick, Dr. McKay recommends drinking fluids with electrolytes which will stay in your system for longer when compared to plain water which tends to pass through quickly. If you’ve lost your appetite, soups are also a good option as they provide plenty of nutrients and vitamins.
And what shouldn’t you drink when you’re sick? Alcohol. “Some people recommend having a hot whisky with honey, but we don’t advocate that as medical practitioners, says Dr. McKay.