top of page

Dealing with Illness when Training

No matter how careful we are, it feels inevitable that during the winter months we are bound to catch some sort of illness. The most important thing to do during that time is listen to your body and not force training.

A few suggestions from Rise & Reign’s Running Coach, Jillian, on how to reduce training volume but still move your body when not feeling 100%:

Reduce intensity / volume

  • If you have a workout with specific paces (marathon, threshold, interval, etc.), it will probably be in your best interest to change to an easy day. The paces will feel harder than usual and have the potential to further delay recovery. You may also find yourself upset with your workout, and there is no sense beating yourself up even more!

  • If you have a long run scheduled, it may be best to reduce the mileage and run what feels appropriate for how you are feeling that day.

Choose a low impact workout

  • Sometimes even an easy run can take too much out of us when we don’t feel 100%, but low impact movement can make us feel good. Some options include: Biking, Elliptical, Rowing, Swimming, and Yoga.

Get extra sleep

  • Make sure you are getting enough sleep each night, and don’t feel guilty if you need to take a nap, especially when you aren’t feeling 100%! 8-10 hours is always a good target, but especially important when not feeling well.

Opt for a controlled temperature

  • If you live in an extremely cold or warm place, it might be best to take your workout to an indoor gym where you have a more controlled temperature. For example, if the temperature outside is below freezing and you are nursing a cold, it might be best to stay indoors on a treadmill.

Be kind to yourself!

  • If you have to take a few days off, that is okay! Take the time you need to fully recover. You’ll feel much better getting back into training that way.

Another thing you don’t want to totally abandon but may need to modify during illness is your nutrition. When we’re feeling ill we often aren’t as hungry and may not feel like eating, but nutrition is vital for recovery. A few suggestions from Rise & Reign’s Registered Dietitian & Nutrition Coach, Andrea, on things to do from a nutrition perspective when sick:

Stay hydrated

  • Clear soup or broth, 100% juice, herbal tea and water all count for your hydration needs. Bone broth also adds the benefit of being naturally higher in protein than most regular broths or stocks. Drinks with electrolytes can also be beneficial during this time, as they promote hydration and if you are suffering from GI illness, they help replete important minerals you may be losing.

Focus on smaller meals and snacks

  • Big meals are not appetizing when we are sick. Focus on having smaller, more nutrient dense foods to optimize your intake when feeling ill. Whole grain toast with cottage cheese or avocado, scrambled eggs sprinkled with shredded cheese, greek yogurt or oatmeal are all good options and relatively easy to prepare.

Consider a probiotic

  • Probiotics that are present in nutritional supplements as well as fermented foods may help minimize the effects of upper respiratory tract infections. In active individuals, there is some evidence that intake of probiotics may reduce frequency, severity and/or duration of upper respiratory and GI related illnesses (PMID: 25339255, PMID: 31864419). Common probiotic foods include yogurt (1 cup serving), kefir (¾ cup serving), kimchi (⅔ cup serving), sauerkraut (¼ cup) and fermented miso (¼ cup). Bonus: double up your immune supportive foods by making a soup with bone broth and adding in some miso. If you choose to take a supplement instead, talk to your doctor or dietitian first, as they can guide you to look for one with the appropriate number of billion CFUs (colony-forming units) per dose.

Consume foods with Vitamin C & Zinc

  • The intensity and stress that athletes put on their bodies and in turn their immune systems make certain vitamins and minerals that much more important - two of those being Vitamin C and zinc. While the evidence is mixed regarding the benefits of

vitamin C reducing the incidence of illness, there is some supportive evidence that it reduces the length of cold symptoms (PMID: 23440782). Foods that support your vitamin C needs during illness include citrus fruits, bell peppers (all colors!), brussels sprouts and broccoli. Zinc is also important to support a healthy immune system, and unfortunately many of us are guilty of not consuming adequate zinc on a daily basis. Zinc containing foods like oysters and mussels, red meat, beans, nuts and fortified cereals can all increase your zinc intake and support your immunity. If you’re thinking of supplementing instead of consuming these nutrients via foods, be sure to consult with your medical physician or Registered Dietitian to determine the appropriate dose for you.

But what if we're not sure if we should simply pull back or push through? This is a decision we all struggle with when not feeling well, including us coaches. It is hard to take time off, especially when you are in the middle of a training cycle for a goal race. However, sometimes it is the best choice to take the time completely off from training to give your body full rest, rather than pushing through at 50%-70% for a few weeks.

A great graphic by Dr. Bethany Haver, PT, DPT, CSCS, [Owner of Physio330] below shows the breakdown of detraining:

Further explanation from Dr. Haver’s post:

“According to coach Jack Daniels (he’s a legend), up to 5 days away from the sport won’t hurt your running fitness AT ALL. So, if you caught a bug, need to settle extra sassy muscle soreness, or you’re just super busy…then take the time off and do it without guilt!”


“A study in the Journal of Applied Physiology done by Edward Coyle looked at the effects of detraining over 12-weeks. The results show that there’s a steep initial drop-off in fitness: VO2 max dropped by 7 percent in just 12 days. After that, the declines were smaller, with the final VO2 max decrease topping out at 18 percent with no detectable drop in muscle capillary density.” {PMID: 3902770}

See the complete post here:

In summary, a few days off is going to result in little change. Although you might feel like you lost fitness when you start back to training after time off, that is because you haven’t been using the muscles, it has nothing to do with your aerobic fitness capacity/VO2 max. The best thing to do after a few days off so you don’t jump back in too quickly is to match the number of days off with the number of easy days you need to do before returning to full workouts.

All in all, you know your body best, and if you aren't feeling well or suspect you might be coming down with something, communicate with your coach to develop the best course of action. Remember, a few days off won’t diminish your progress. Taking care of yourself and your health is of utmost importance and vital for the long run.

Disclaimer: This blog post is for informational and educational purposes only, and does not substitute for individual medical advice or treatment. Always consult with your medical physician prior to making any changes to your diet, starting a dietary supplement and/or exercise regimen or making significant lifestyle changes.

17 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page