How To Eat When You're Sick
Cold and flu season is upon us. Which means we might catch a bug.
If we do catch something- what can we do while we’re sick and after to make sure we recover quickly and don’t miss too many days in the gym?
This post stems from two places. Awhile back I got my ass handed to me from back to back nasty bugs that had me laid up for over two weeks, and when I walked back into the gym my legs acted like they had never even squatted before. Then I’ve had a couple new athletes recently get sick, and it started me thinking about what the most effective protocol for recovery is from a nutrition standpoint.
First, when we get sick most often we end up in a caloric and nutrient deficit.
Between the snot running out of our nose and the lack of an appetite, it can be hard to get in the calories we need to fight off the evil offenders, and even as we replenish, it runs right out of our faces, literally.
So whats the best course of action?
When you’re in the thick of it, stock up on soups, baby food, and high density carbs.
Baby food you ask? Not Gerber- try the squeezie pouches (in the baby foods section at your grocery store). These things can be AMAZING when you’re down for the count. They’re easy to consume, loaded with yummy fruits and vegetables, and you can crush four or five a day easily. I suggest finding the pouches that are fruit and veggie combos, and try to find the ones that are the highest in calories. While this isn’t necessarily the cheapest option, it can help you avoid nutrient deficiencies and they’ll help to keep you hydrated.
Soups have been espoused for eons as a weapon of choice against illness. Between the sodium, protein, and liquid, soups set you up for success while you crush sleep on the couch. I suggest shooting for a minimum of two or three cans a day, or if you’ve got the energy you can make some at home.
For high density carbs- think white rice, bananas, and sweet potatoes/yams. Your body needs lots of energy to fight off the virus/bacteria, and these foods provide exactly that while still being able to breath while you eat! I would also suggest sneaking in some fats with these carbs- grass-fed butter, coconut oil, even almond or peanut butter (on your bananas) to help ensure you are getting enough calories over all.
You can also be crushing the Gatorade and coconut water. This is a time when it’s okay to not worry about the sugar content in your drinks and focus on getting liquids and electrolytes in!
And how about post-sickness recovery?
If you were sick from a cold or the flu, it can take up to two weeks for your symptoms to be gone and for you to be back in the gym.
Now that you can lift again, your nutrition must be on point to help you recover any strength losses. Don’t worry- they will come back pretty quickly.
The first few days of lifting and cardio you may notice you’ve lost some power and endurance. Make sure that you are being very conscious of your hydration and electrolyte intake.
You’ve spent time in a dehydrated state, even if you managed to counteract your illness symptoms- your muscles are tight from lack of movement, low fluid levels, and low sodium. Make sure you spend extra time warming up the next few days, and I highly recommend supplementing with a sports drink (minus the caffeine) for at least two to three days.
Track your protein intake and consider increasing it to 20 to 25 % over what you normally consume (most athletes shoot for a gram per pound in normal training- try going for 1.25 grams per pound for the first few days to a week). Being sick causes a nitrogen deficit as well as putting us in a catabolic state. When returning to fitness you want to set your body up for success. Making sure you are getting adequate protein is very important.
This is also the time when you should be eating as clean as possible. While we might want to eat whatever is in sight to fix the calorie deficit as quickly as we can, eating a bunch of crap when your body is trying to heal is not a very good idea. Find foods that provide high quality nutrition and avoid eating sugar or drinking alcohol, at least for the first week.
Your recovery protocol and how long it takes to get back to feeling awesome is based on how long you were sick and how severe the symptoms were.
While I appreciate how good it feels to be with your friends and moving again, remember to be smart about easing back in. It would suck to get injured or get sick again because you didn’t give your body what it needs!
And don’t forget to keep crushing sleep!
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