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Should You Train During Illness?

It’s a new year, it’s a new you.

When 2015 arrived, you made a promise to yourself that you would train relentlessly and consistently to reach your aesthetic goals and improve your health.

But what if you became ill from all of the holiday traveling, feasting, drinking, and stress? You told yourself you would get back to the gym after the holidays and hit it hard to make up for the lost time from all of the holiday festivities.

It all started with the sniffles but you managed to keep it at bay for weeks. All of a sudden it became a full-blown cold or even worse the flu. Does that mean you’re training regimen should take a backseat?

Q: To train or not to train? That is the question.

You may not be feeling 100% which may cause you to second-guess whether or not you should train. Your symptoms along with the severity of illness will determine whether or not you should hit the gym or take some time off.

For example, if you’ve been hit with the common cold and are experiencing minor symptoms such as a runny nose, congestion, mildly sore throat, and a little bit of a cough, then you are likely fine to proceed with the work out.

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) suggests that any mild to moderate symptoms from the neck up are fine to continue exercising with. There is even research that points out that training with mild cold symptoms may even be beneficial to your recovery.

Use common sense and try not to go hard in the paint like Scottie Pippen driving to the basket when you’re not feeling 100%. Scale back on the intensity of your training sessions by gradually increasing the effort until you’re feeling back to normal. A rate of perceived exertion (RPE) of approximately 65% to 75% (both cardio and weight training) should suffice and may prevent exacerbating your current symptoms.

Dealing with fever or flu-like symptoms is an entirely different story. It is not recommended to engage in any exercise when experiencing fever or flu like symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, stomach bug, increased body temperature, fatigue, muscle aches, and swollen lymph glands.

Any flu-like symptoms make you contagious to others in the initial stages not to mention that you’re also putting yourself at risk. If you are experiencing any of those symptoms, take 1-2 weeks off until all symptoms reside and you feel closer to 100%. Generally speaking, symptoms from the neck down should be taken more seriously.

Q: How do I beat the cold or flu so I can return to training?

There are measures you can take to battle the cold and flu to keep your immune system fighting hard and at full potential. Some factors are controllable while others are not.

The things you can control would be to get adequate sleep, decrease mental stress, eat a well-balanced diet, and avoiding chronic fatigue. These are all factors that weaken the immune system which can lead to an increased chance of infection.

ACSM also points out that if you’re restricting calories for dieting purposes or going through a phase of rapid weight loss, then that could also leave you more prone to infection due to a possible lack of nutrients from food restriction.

Utilizing non-prescription medications may help to relieve symptoms to make you more comfortable. While they are no cure, they should aid in the resting and recovery process needed to get you back to normal.

Q: Are there supplements I can take to boost my immune system or help me recover sooner?

Yes, there is.

Most people tend to be deficient in the mineral zinc, which has been proven to help boost the immune system and fight off the common cold.

Oral and lozenge zinc supplements such as Cold-Eeze can help stave off the common cold at the first sight of symptoms and may prevent current symptoms from progressing. Follow the directions on the package of taking lozenges severals times a day and you should be well on your way to quicker recovery and/or preventing the onset of a cold.

Taking 1000mg-12000mg of Vitamin C can help reduce the duration of the common cold in physically active people and is a great daily preventative to prevent the common cold. Inactive individuals may not get as much benefit from Vitamin C supplementation as those that are very active.

Being stuck indoors too often also means you’re not getting enough Vitamin D, which is produced naturally in the skin when exposed to sunlight. Regular supplementation of Vitamin D3 taken in dosages of 2000IU daily with food may provide a laundry list of health benefits. It has been shown in research to help boost immunity by aiding in the formation of T-cells which help to fight off infections.

Take-Home Points and other recommendations:

  •  Don’t train if your symptoms stem from the neck down and are flu-related.
  • If deciding to train with a cold, make sure to bring a towel to the gym and wash hands frequently.
  • Make sure to spray and wipe down all equipment after each use to prevent the spread of germs.
  • Keep exercise intensity scaled back if dealing with mild cold symptoms.
  • Consume a well-balanced diet consisting of plenty of lean proteins to spare muscle wasting and also veggies and fruits for their micronutrient content.
  • Get quality sleep and ample amounts of it along with avoiding stress as much as possible.
  • Consider supplementing with Vitamin C, Vitamin D3, and Zinc to help prevent illness and speed up recovery time






1. Nieman, David C., and Tom Weidner. “Exercise and the Common Cold.” ACSM Current Comment (n.d.): n. pag. American College of Sports Medicine. Web. <>.

2. Nieman, David C. “Upper Respiratory Tract Infection Is Reduced in Physically Fit and Active Adults.” British Journal of Sports Medicine. N.p., 1 Nov. 2010. Web. 06 Jan. 2015. <>.

3. Orwell, Sol, and Kurts Frank. “Vitamin D – Scientific Review on Usage, Dosage, Side Effects.” N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Jan. 2015. <>.

4. Orwell, Sol, and Kurtis Frank. “Vitamin C – Scientific Review on Usage, Dosage, Side Effects.” N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Jan. 2015. <>.

5. Orwell, Sol, and Kurtis Frank. “Zinc – Scientific Review on Usage, Dosage, Side Effects.” N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Jan. 2015. <>.

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