A Bodybuilders guide to working out while sick

My introduction to the Norovirus

I live in the beautiful Charleston, SC.  If you don’t know where that is, I’m not going to tell you and let you spoil this amazing spot (Google it).  However, if you are familiar, you’ll know that I am right on the beach and thus the east coast of South Carolina.  Charleston is known for beach weather almost all year around.  I contend that it’s not all sunshine and peaches here from a weather perspective though.  This place is more bi-polar than the peak of Everest.  I’ve had days this winter where I was able to walk to the gym in shorts and a tank top and then later in the day chipping frost off my car so I could drive home.

If you couldn’t guess, this weather leads to a extremely taxed immune system.  Virus’s and other sicknesses thrive here and even people with self-proclaimed beastly white blood cells can get sick seemingly overnight. I was one such victim, catching the well-known “Norovirus” after an encounter with family during Christmas. Vomiting and an upset stomach were all in the mix within 24 hours and I could barely get down more than a few ginger ale’s to calm my stomach.

For a bodybuilder trying to hit 4000 calories a day routinely, this doesn’t bode well.  Combine the horrible nutrition with the fact that I was almost too weak to stand up, I felt like I was losing almost all my precious gains.  I decided that I was still going to make it to the gym no matter what.  I basically fought my urge to stay in bed and hit the gym for a light hypertrophy workout.  About halfway through the workout I felt noticeably better.  The effects didn’t leave me even after I had left the gym and resumed my extended stay on the couch.  You can imagine my confusion.  Working out had always made me feel better, but did it really have an effect at the cellular level in combating a virus?A gasmask

The Science – Current perspective of Exercise Immunology.  Offering a 2013 consensus on activity levels and sickness. – A much bigger study from the year 2000 on Exercise Immunology as it pertains to different types of people. – How to apply exercise to illnesses.

These are the best resources I found on exercise as it relates to my virus and other health concerns.  I’ll summarize these for you so you don’t have to scroll through the entire research papers.  Essentially exercise in acute doses is actually beneficial for a number of different things.  It’s well understood that individuals who workout are overall better protected against disease/illness, but it’s interesting to note that single bouts of exercise can be beneficial to your current stomach groveling.  Basically, exercise is medicine if used properly!

Some other issues that exercise can fight besides the common flu::

  • Reducing upper respiratory tract infection
  • Inflammation
  • Cancer

Read through these papers in depth if you want to understand the science behind HOW this occurs.  One thing to note is that heavy acute or chronic exercise may increase the risk of the illness getting worse, while regular moderate physical activity may reduce symptomatology. By moderate physical activity we mean not over training or going to “failure” and keeping your workout below 60 minutes in duration.  In other words, don’t go into the gym and do you heavy leg day + cardio while sick.  Keep your workouts to a deload style day: 1 set short and 80% of your usual weights.

For bodybuilders like myself, this research proves that you can go the gym, avoid missing an important workout day, and still recover at the same time.  Hey…it seems Mom’s advice to lay around on the couch and get rest isn’t the only way to beat a cold.




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