Why is it that you always seem to get a cold just when training is going well and you are beginning to feel fit? It always seems to happen.
We’ve made plenty of mistakes when it comes to running with a cold. It's hard to know what to do for the best. If you decide to rest you feel lazy but sometimes if you carry on training you end up feeling far worse.
This year we’ve done our research and the plan is to a) not get a cold at all and b) if we do get a cold be sensible!
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It is frustrating, and the temptation is often to run anyway but we’re now older and wiser we've learned it's not always a good idea. This is going to be the winter of consistent, meaningful training and no cold is going to get in the way of that!
Should you run with a cold?
The simplest answer is ‘no’ but we know how hard that can be to stick to when you are on a good training streak and feeling fit.
So a better answer is ‘yes, maybe, with caution’.
There are times when running will just make you feel worse, prolong your symptoms and potentially lead to other illness, but in some instances if you moderate your training and look after yourself you may be able to continue with a reduced program until it passes.
In general, though, unless you are a professional athlete or have an event coming up in the near future, resting until all symptoms pass is the best way to maintain your health.
Remember it is quicker to rebuild lost fitness than acquire it in the first place — you won’t be as unfit when you start running again as you fear!
'Above the neck' or 'below the neck' symptoms
There's a simple rule of thumb for endurance exercise, which should be your first consideration. The question is: are your symptoms above the neck or below the neck?
Symptoms only above your neck mean you have a head cold and will most likely have a bunged-up nose or runny nose, headache and sneezing.
These symptoms are unlikely to be worsened by running so if you take it steady and follow reduced training sessions you should be safe to run. Keep in mind that training through any kind of illness, even a minor cold, can lead to further complications such as a sinus infection or even pneumonia. If you try running with a cold and your symptoms worsen take a step back and rest until they pass.
- Anything below your neck suggests a more serious illness and the only solution is to rest until symptoms clear.
If you are experiencing below the neck symptoms such as chest congestion, coughing, body aches, fever, vomiting, diarrhoea or severe muscle ache then cancel your running until symptoms improve.
These are common sense rules so you need to apply your own intelligence and monitor your body carefully, even if you have passed the neck check keep an eye on other signs.
If you use a heart rate monitor keep an eye on it during your runs; if your heart rate shoots up and stays above the normal level you would expect for your effort then you are better off resting.
Take care of yourself as ultimately a few days missed with a cold is better than a few weeks missed with something more serious.
When it comes to returning to running try to allow a full 24-28 hours of being fully recovered before you start back. Adjust your training plan to compensate for your time off and build up again slowly.
For a week of missed running allow two weeks of gentle build up before you resume full training. Returning to training too hard or too soon can reignite symptoms and lead to more time off.
Tips for running with a cold
Running can in some instances help a cold, particularly if you have been struggling with a bunged-up nose, as it acts like a natural decongestant.
When we run we release hormones that help us to raise our body temperature and dilate our blood vessels, all of which helps with expelling snot!
However, be considerate to anyone you are running with! No one loves a sweaty, snotty runner spraying them with germs!
If you have passed the neck rule and are intending to run here are a few things to consider.
Lower the intensity — slow down to a pace where you can comfortably talk.
Avoid interval training as it puts your body under too much stress.
Drop the distance — don’t head out for a long run, stay close to home.
Ditch Strava — (just for a bit!) record your session for your own diary but don’t be tempted to compete or compare your times.
Drop down a training group so you are under no pressure to run hard.
Put racing on hold — you won’t perform at your best
Dress appropriately — take extra care to not get cold or very wet during runs. Wear more layers than usual as you will be running slower and may feel the cold more.
- Listen to your body — if your symptoms get worse, if your heart rate is very elevated, if you develop a fever or dizziness stop running and rest until symptoms have gone.
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The best foods to eat during a cold to feel better sooner
Water & herbal teas: Staying hydrated is good for helping to flush out your system and keep the extra mucus you are producing fluid so you don’t get a stuffed-up nose. Hot drinks can help as they naturally loosen the snot build up in your nose and sinuses. Our natural hydration powders can be made into a warming and restorative drink, full of natural fruit extracts and hydration-boosting electrolytes. Just mix one sachet into 500ml of hot water. (Don't be tempted to use less water, as the mix will be too concentrated.)
- Vitamin C: Extra Vitamin C in your diet has been shown to reduce the incidence of upper respiratory infections and reduce their length so make sure you are loading up with lots of extra fresh fruit and veg.
Throat lozenges: Throat lozenges have been shown to shorten the duration and reduce the symptoms of colds so start sucking these at the first sign of a sore throat.
- Hot chilli: Adding hot peppers and warming spices to your food can help clear your nose and stimulate your body.
Warming spices: Spices have long been used as a way to reduce cold symptoms. Our Zenzero bar is a great source of anti-inflammatory ginger. Forza bars contain nutrient dense fennel and coriander, and Avanti is spiced with warming cinnamon.
Feed a cold: It's not just an old wives tale — when you have a cold your appetite goes through the roof.
Yes you need extra energy to fight the infection but comfort also plays a part. We find that reaching for our favourite Veloforte bar helps stem the craving for biscuits and other less nutritious (and less delicious) foods. We know that the food we are putting in — in all its delicious, 100% natural glory — has everything we need to help us feel well again without the empty calories of comfort food.
Can running in the cold give you a cold?
It’s not running in the cold that gives you a cold. The only way to get a cold is contact with the cold virus. If the cold virus is already lurking in your system then running may be speeding up how quickly you get symptoms and drain your body of the energy you need to fight it off.
The virus enters your body through mucus membranes around your nose, eyes and mouth so warming up your airways and breathing deeply may encourage it to develop faster.
If your cold-weather run leaves you feeling tired, particularly if you have depleted glycogen in your body, this may suppress your immune system. This means you are more likely to succumb to a cold virus if you come in contact with one.
How running can help you avoid colds
On the plus side, running can help you avoid colds in the first place:
- Runners are generally healthier with better diets so they're stronger to fight off the cold virus.
- Regular moderate exercise actually boosts your immune system.
(Though very heavy endurance training may reduce it.)
- Being outside running means less time exercising in places where people congregate such as gyms, exercise classes or swimming pools.
- You can run to work and avoid public transport — a hotbed of cold viruses.
- As a runner you are likely to be more in tune with your body so will notice symptoms quicker and be able to take action to reduce the length or severity of your cold.
What to eat to avoid a cold
Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet throughout the winter and avoiding training that encourages glycogen depletion is a good way to keep your body in top condition so it is able to resist the cold virus, should you come in contact with it.
Always stay hydrated. The virus enters your body through mucus membranes, so dry, cracked lips or a dry inside of your nose makes a much easier entrance system for it as your natural defences are reduced.
Eat the rainbow. Make sure you are enjoying a wide range of fruit and vegetables of all colours as this will ensure you are getting the full spectrum of vitamins and minerals.
Top up your vitamin D. We don’t often advocate supplements but in winter it can be hard to get enough vitamin D from natural sunlight so you could use a D3 supplement to ensure you are getting an adequate amount.
Maintain your carbohydrate stores. There is a clear link between glycogen depletion and a weakened immune system so in winter consider dropping your ‘bonk’ or fasted runs. If you are going out for a long run make sure you have some high quality fuel with you (we can help you there!) as cold weather can increase your carbohydrate needs, especially if you get very cold and start to shiver.
Recovery foods. After your run make sure you are giving your body the building blocks it needs to recover and fight off any potential virus. A mix of protein and carbohydrate is best, as in our totally natural recovery shakes, so make sure there is always one handy when you finish your run.
- Hot foods. A tasty warming meal is good for the soul as well as the body and the steam will help flush out congestion. Now is the time to get making your own soup and pack it full of nutritious veggies, herbs and spices.
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