Should Exercise When You're Sick?

EndurElite Chief Endurance Officer Matt Mosman discusses when it is and is not okay to exercise when you're battling the common cold or flu.

Video Transcript:

Should You Run, Bike, Or Do Other Endurance Exercise When You're Sick?

Oh, better. Oh, much... Underpants cleanup in aisle three up. Just kidding, I think. Getting sick sucks, and inevitably as an endurance athlete at some point in your life, you're putting in the miles, you're doing all the hard workouts, and out of nowhere you get hit with a flu bug or a cold, and you're stopped dead in your tracks, because unspeakable fluids are coming out of both ends. And by both ends, I mean your butt and your mouth. But also as an endurance athlete, we're all a little OCD and we want to keep pushing our bodies through when we're either cold or sick. Now, is this the best idea? And this is what we're really going to answer in today's video, is should you continue to exercise when you are sick? We're also going to discuss some supplements that may help you to kind of prevent or lessen the duration of the cold or being sick, and then we'll kind of wrap it up into a neat little package with a few take-home points.

As An Endurance Athlete Chances Are You Will Get Sick

So just to start this off, you know, unless you're Chuck Norris, who at one time gave the flu the flu, it's inevitable and the odds are stacked against you that you're gonna get a cold or you're gonna get a flu. No offense intended, but your echinacea-infused kombucha isn't gonna do jack squat. But back to the point, let's talk about if it's a good idea to exercise or a run, bike, or do another endurance exercise when you're sick, and it's a little not such a straightforward answer, and it really depends on a lot of things. So let's just jump right into it and start with, first, if you have a cold is it okay to continue to exercise?

Should You Run Or Bike When You Have A Cold?

Now the advice you've probably gotten or what you've heard is, you know, if it's above the neck, you're okay to continue to exercise. It's not gonna hurt anything, but it's not gonna help anything. So if you have, like, a sore throat, nasal congestion, sinal congestion, a little sniffle and things like that, more than likely, it's okay to keep on exercising. In fact, light exercise and less intense exercise, or a shorter-duration exercise, can actually provide a temporary spike in immunity, so it may actually help you recover from the cold a little bit faster. But the key here is if you have the above-the-neck symptoms you want to keep the duration, intensity low. That's because your immune system is already suppressed, and intense exercise will only worsen those symptoms. So if you have a cold or just symptoms and above the neck, it's not gonna hurt or help to keep on exercising as long as you keep everything in check.

Should You Run Or Bike When You Have A Fever Or The Flu?

Now, as we get to the below the neck, things change a little bit differently if we want to keep on exercising. So below the neck, you're thinking like the GI bug, or the flu, or the fever, where, again, things might be coming out of both ends, your body temperature may already be elevated, your immune system's even more suppressed than when you have, like, a cold or upper respiratory syndrome or symptoms, excuse me, so in general if you have the fever or the flu and your immune system is suppressed even more, it's just a good idea to stop exercise completely. Anything you're gonna do is probably gonna make symptoms worse, and that flu, fever, GI bug is gonna hold on a little bit longer, which we don't want to do. Look, I get it. Like I said, endurance athletes are a little bit OCD and we want to keep on pushing, but the worst piece of advice anybody's ever gave me is, "Keep on sweating it out when you're sick." That's a bunch of baloney. Don't do that. Fever, flu, GI bug, don't keep exercising. It is not gonna do you any good, and at the end of the day, it's probably just gonna lengthen how long you're gonna be sick.

So to sum those two things up, light cold, anything above the neck, for the most part, you're okay to continue to exercise as long as it's short duration and light intensity. Anything below the neck, fever, flu, GI bug, stop exercising completely.

Are There Any Supplements Endurance Athletes Can Take To Avoid Getting Sick?

Now, are there certain supplements that can help you maybe prevent colds or prevent you from getting sick? And the answer is no, not really, but there are a few supplements you can take on a daily basis that will shorten the duration of the cold or a sickness, maybe the severity and the number of times you might get sick throughout a year. So we'll just briefly discuss these. The first one would be vitamin C. You want to do 1 gram a day. The second would be vitamin D, where you'd want to do 400 international units a day, and then the last one would be zinc, which you want to do 5 to 10 milligrams a day, or if you feel a cold coming on, you can load up to 100 milligrams a day, but you don't want to stay at that point for too long, because that's kind of the safe upper tolerable limit for that.

What's also interesting is increasing protein intake when your immune system is suppressed can actually boost immunity a little bit, too. So if you're sick, you can stomach it, you don't have the flu, you're feeling a little down in the dumps because of the cold, you can up your protein intake to 3 grams per kilogram body weight daily, and this may give you a temporary spike in immunity. This was actually a study run by a guy named Asker Jeukendrup, who did this in cyclists who found that, you know, when they did that much protein, it helped athletes recover quickly and actually provided that spike in immunity. Now, like I said, these supplements aren't gonna completely stop, you know, from you getting sick, but they may be able to shorten the duration, the severity, or number of colds or flus you get throughout the year, which, you know, that's what we want to do. We want to keep healthy, we want to keep on training so we can get better as an endurance athlete.

So let's wrap this all up in a nice little package, and I'm gonna end like this. Let experience be your guide when it comes to deciding whether to exercise when you have a cold or a flu. Like, for me, personally, if I have a cold and I have some of those symptoms of the nasal congestion and sinus, I'm more than likely just gonna take those days off, because I'm gonna recover a lot quicker and I'm at a point where, you know, I know taking a couple days off isn't gonna kill me. So you know your own body the best and what it can handle and what it can't when you are sick. I would just highly recommend if you have the fever or the flu, or if you decide to go out and exercise, and within that first mile you're just not happening, energy levels are low, and you know it's not going to be a productive workout, just stop right there, go back inside, drink some orange juice, get some chicken noodle soup, put on the latest documentary on Netflix, and just chill out for a while. Which, again, I know that's super hard as an endurance athlete, but your body will thank you, and you're gonna come back stronger, and you're not gonna have to have that cold or flu just keep on holding onto you, because you try to keep on pushing it.

So that is all for today, my endurance friends. If you have a friend that you think would like this video, please share it with them. Subscribe to our EndureElite YouTube channel if you want to see other videos like this or head over to the EndureElite website at and check out our blog over there. And until next time, my endurance friends, stay fueled, stay focused, stay fast, and stay informed.