You get hit by a stomach bug and the flu. Suddenly your egg whites and oats in the morning followed by chicken breast does not seem so appealing, what should you do?
Firstly, the course of action depends on the level of sickness. If you cannot move or are rushing to the bathroom, the last thing that is on your mind is food. As doctors will direct you, you should maintain fluid levels and get some rest. So ‘drink plenty of water’ is the advice and medicine that will most likely be prescribed to you. Perhaps some painkillers as well, but what effects to your body should you expect from your illness?
You will most likely have water retention, not only from your reduced movement (so less blood flow, but also due to increased cortisol levels (caused by increased bodily stress). An easy water retention check is seeing if you have sock lines around your ankles. Water retention will most likely also increase from over-the counter medicine so perhaps expect some weight gain, but this is nothing that cannot be easily lost. In addition, you will most likely not be able to eat the same volume of meals as you are used to. This is due to having a decreased appetite and also your body will not be able to absorb all of the nutrients from the food due to the body being stressed.
So what can I do if I think I am getting sick?
You will most likely fall ill during strenuous dieting as you will be eating under maintenance and stress levels will be at their highest. You may be more tired than usual. The first signs of flu will be a lack of recovery and fatigue of the muscles. Most commonly viewed as muscle soreness. This will be due to the lack of glutamine in the body. Glutamine is an amino acid that helps with recovery, so you should expect to be a little bit more sore than on an average day. During this period, it is advised to consume glutamine supplements (try 10g morning, noon and night), or if not available try to eat foods rich in the amino acid such as spinach. This can help curb your muscular pain as fast as possible. If your not a fan of spinach like many, try blending it in a morning shake with some chocolate whey and you will not even notice the taste!
The other option is to try to take some vitamin C supplements, 1g morning, noon and night is a good dosage level to help combat your illness. If not try to consume some high quality orange juice or some fruits high in vitamin C such as oranges and kiwis. However the studies upon glutamine supplementation as well as Vitamin C to fight illness is limited, if anything carbohydrate drinks have been more thoroughly scientifically proven to help. They reduce cortisol, are anti-inflammatory and are linked to lower levels of infections in the blood (Nieman and Pederson, 1999). Again, please do not get too caught up in taking supplements, they will only provide you a helping hand in getting better. To put this in an easier perspective taking vitamin C has been proven to reduce the common cold by only 8% in Adults (Hemilä and Chalker, 2013).
Other supplements such as probiotic supplements may also aid your gut and absorption of the nutrients. If you are not a fan of supplements (like myself) and prefer to get the nutrients from whole food. Try to eat probiotic yoghurts or eat foods rich in digestive enzymes such as pineapple, papaya and kiwi. These may help your digestive system break down the food and in effect prepare your body for battle. The more food assimilated by your body, the better chance you have of fighting of your illness. Again, this does seem like ‘bro-science’, but give it a try.
So basically for us guys who don’t understand science – probiotics help block bacteria etc. being absorbed into your body (stops you from feeling unwell)
What about training?
This all depends on whether you are competing or not. If you are trying to grow (gain muscular size) or are just dieting as a lifestyle choice, it is highly advisable to reduce training and give your body a rest. The faster you recover the faster you can get back into the gym. Remember try to think about your body as a performance machine, if you are unwell in the gym do you realistically think you will have a good workout? In the gym, lifting weights is where you break down muscle tissue. By breaking down muscle tissue you are further stressing the body, requiring additional nutrients to be delivered to the muscle and use up more amino acids to repair the body. These amino acids and nutrient levels are already compromised from being sick, so as common-sense dictates, you will most likely be looking at on overall net worth of muscle loss than muscular gain. However, if you are competing, if possible try to cover your cardio, however this depends on every situation. If you are sick attempt to do some light walking or light exercise which may help with recovery (Nieman and Pederson, 1999). Walking can help promote blood flow around the body to aid with nutrients being supplied across the body. This may help with promoting toxins to be removed from the body and a faster recovery process. However, this exercise should not be strenuous.
Regarding your diet, if you are competing try to stick to your meal plan as much as possible. However again if we use common-sense, if you are eating under maintenance, do you really think your body has all the tools necessary to recover faster?
It may seem counter-intuitive to your diet, but we want to get back into the gym as fast as possible to work at the highest level of performance possible. If you fall short on this you will likely appear flat (reduced glycogen energy stores in the muscle), due to higher stress and your workouts will then suffer, strength will be depleted and any damage occurred to the body will not be recoverable quickly. In a depleted state your body may break-down the muscle tissue to use as energy (which is something you do not want happen in pre-contest prep). So you want to recover first! Also no-one likes the sick guy at the gym. If your dieting your chance of infection is higher, so if there any sick people at your office I recommend this:
But in all seriousness, where can we buy these? (sarcasm…….
So overall, try these steps: (Bro-science alert!)
- Evaluate level of sickness
- Try to take glutamine (or glutamine rich foods)
- Take probiotics (or probiotic rich foods)
- Try not to stress your digestive tract (reduce volume of foods containing lactose or cruciferous vegetables that produce intro-intestinal gas)
- Try to do light exercise (such as walking or use of light dumbbells)
- Sleep more
- Increase levels of Vitamin C (this cannot be stored in the body, so take doses throughout the day)
- Take a high-quality multivitamin
- Focus on drinking water (most advantageous is warm or hot water)
- Gurgle salt water a couple of times throughout the day
- Maintain a higher core-body temperature (wear thicker clothing)
- D. Nieman and B. Pederson, Exercise and Immune Function, Sports Medicine (1999)
- H. Hemilä and E. Chalker, Vitamin C for Preventing and Treating the Common Cold, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2013