Should You Train Through a Cold?

Sick Person

This question often results in as many theories as, ‘which running shoes are best?’ Some of the most common responses to ‘the training through a cold question’ are:

  • Yes, but not if it’s a chest cold
  • Yes, because if it’s not bad, the exercise will make you feel better
  • Yes, but not if you have a fever
  • Yes, but not if it ‘becomes’ the flu

See the trend?

To determine if one should train through a cold, the starting place should be to identify what physiological effects occur to the body during a cold. Aside from feeling like crap, which isn’t exactly a science-based physiological effect, below are three main effects.

  1. The body breaks down (catabolism) muscle. Studies have shown that individuals with fevers show microscopic damage to muscles. Additionally, muscle strength decreases and it can take up to three weeks to regain full strength from a three-day cold
  2. Fat metabolism is decreased. During a cold, the body primarily uses muscle protein for fuel, not fat.
  3. Aerobic metabolism is diminished. Aerobic capacity and lactate threshold decreases.

For most endurance athletes, training days lost to sickness are perceived as exactly that… lost. As a coach, it is important to inform the client that training done while sick will have little to no benefit from a physiological standpoint and may make them sicker and therefore keep them out of commission for a longer period of time. When sick, one’s energy should be directed to getting better, not training.

Therefore, the advice on your part should be to rest until they feel at or near 100% recovered and even at that time, they should look to gradually build back up to their prior training intensity/volume. It should also be advised to inform a client that they should see their doctor.

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