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When can you safely train after a cold or flu?

Updated: Feb 17, 2023

This week online physio Maryke discussed how you should adapt your training when you have cold or flu symptoms and what you can do to speed up your recovery.

Can I train with a cold?

In this article:

  • What’s the difference between a cold and flu?

  • Why you should respect flu symptoms

  • How to decide when to train and when to rest.

  • How to speed up your recovery

If you prefer to watch rather than read, here's the recording from the livestream that I did on this topic.

What’s the difference between a cold and flu?

Flu and the common cold are both caused by viruses, but completely different ones. The flu’s symptoms are usually a lot more severe than a cold’s and people often have to spend several days in bed.

A cold tends to develop gradually over a period of a few days, but the flu usually has a very quick onset. Their symptoms are very similar but the intensity is much worse when you have the flu.

Cold symptoms include sore throats, runny or blocked noses, sneezing and coughing. People with a common cold can have mild fevers and body aches.

With the flu people usually develop a sudden fever, chills, severe tiredness, headaches and muscle aches, a dry cough and to a lesser extent runny or blocked noses and sore throats.

Symptoms of the common cold and flu

Why you should respect flu symptoms

The Flu viruses are much more likely to cause other complications and land you in hospital. This can include inflammation of the heart, brain, muscles and even sepsis which can lead to multi-organ failure.

Studies performed on animals also suggest that you are more likely to become ill and that your symptoms may be more severe if you exercise when you’re infected with a virus.

How to decide when to train and when to rest

Currently the medical advice is to AVOID all training if you’re experiencing any flu like symptoms e.g. muscle/joint pain, headache, fever, congested chest or cough and generalised feeling of tiredness. (Bases)

You could do light training (heart rate < 120 beats per minute) if you’re experiencing mild symptoms of the common cold e.g. sore throat and a runny or congested nose. I would suggest that you weight up the benefits to the risks. Remember that some research has suggested that you could make a cold worse by exercising with it – so would you be better off if you skipped a day and gave your body time to recover?

All the articles that I’ve read advised that you should not do any hard training sessions or competitions if you have any cold or flu-like symptoms.

How to speed up your recovery

As mentioned above, some studies have shown that you’re more likely to develop a full blown cold if you exercise while infected. So it may be worth your while to make sure that you get enough sleep and rest when you feel under the weather.

Currently the research shows that you don’t have to take any extra vitamins if you’re eating a healthy diet full of fruit and vegetables.

The one thing that has been shown to help people fight off the common cold more quickly is Zink Lozenges. But you have to start sucking the sweets within 24 hours of when you first start feeling your cold symptoms. Make sure you check with your GP or pharmacist that you are safe to use these.

Taking zink lozenges when you've got a cold can speed up your recovery.

To show you an example of what I’m talking about, here’s an affiliate link to Zink Lozenges on Amazon.

Need more help with your injury? You’re welcome to consult one of the team at SIP online via video call for an assessment of your injury and a tailored treatment plan.

About the Author

Maryke Louw is a chartered physiotherapist with more than 15 years' experience and a Masters Degree in Sports Injury Management. Follow her on LinkedIn or ReasearchGate.


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