128. Working Out While Sick: Should You Rest Or Sweat It Out?

woman in gray tank top lying on bed

Woke up feeling under the weather?

Wondering if you should still workout?

…Is it okay to eat that grilled cheese & tomato soup?

In this solo episode, I talk about my 3 pro tips for eating & exercising when you’re sick.

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Hello and welcome back to The Funsized Podcast. If you are new here, My name is Kierstin Cifelli and I am a nutrition and fitness coach for women under 5’3”. This podcast will be your favorite place to find practical short-girl-friendly health, beauty, and general life tips from me and my petite guests. So make sure you hit the subscribe button to get your weekly dose of petite empowerment. Now onto the episode…

It’s that time of year where we’re all going to wake up with runny noses and Scratchy throats at some point. Two years ago I shared an episode with you titled 3 Tips for Eating and Exercising While Sick. While that information is great and will be the exact same message I share with you again today, there were 2 things that were not so great about that episode: first, I recorded that while I was sick. At the time I didn’t know it, but I actually had covid. I know you’re probably thinking how could I not know but my symptoms were very much like sinus infection. I think it was a week later that I lost taste and smell so I figured I’d test andddddd yeah, it was covid. Anyway, I was sniffly and stuffy in that episode among a little loopy thanks to whatever drugs I was taking – and by drugs I mean cold medicine. And The other thing that wasn’t so great about it was that I dropped the F bomb way too many times. The episode itself was all of 11 minutes maybe and I think I cussed like 20 times. Profanity is nothing new for me but I have to admit, it was a little excessive, even for me. So if you’ve listened to that episode, I apologize. Obviously my head wasn’t right that day but that’s no excuse. So I’m gonna make it up to you today and I promise to keep it clean this time. 

So Working out while sick? Should you rest or should you sweat it out?

My number one tip and the one thing that you should absolutely take away from this episode is this: when you’re feeling sick, or even feeling like you’re on the verge of getting just a minor cold, the very best thing that you can do is R-E-S-T. Rest. I know it might seem somewhat logical to sweat out the virus and get it out of your system but Working out is the absolute worst thing that you could possibly do for yourself. And that’s because when you’re exercising -like actually in the moment exercising- your immune system weakens. And you might be thinking Wait what? I thought one of the benefits of exercising is a stronger immune system gets, and that’s true. But it actually only gets stronger in the recovery period, it doesn’t actually get stronger while you’re doing the activity itself. It’s kinda like how when you lift heavy weights, you’re actually breaking down and damaging your muscles but after the lets say 1 hour workout what happens is in your 23 hours of recovery, your muscles are repairing and rebuilding and that’s what actually makes you stronger for the next workout. 

Same thing goes for your immune system, it gets weaker before it gets stronger. 

So when you’re sick or getting sick, exercise could put you in a vulnerable state to receive a cold OR exacerbate an existing one. and that’s why you’ll want to refrain from exercising. 

And I know, I know, it’s. hard. Just last week, my boyfriend was sick as a dog. So much so that I made him sleep in our guest room because I didn’t want to get sick. But there were a couple mornings where I woke up with just the slightest headache and pre-sniffles that I was like NOPE not exercising, I’m not going to induce a cold because I literally felt like I one workout away from getting on his level. So I rested -even though I wasn’t technically even sick yet- and I’m so glad I did because I never did get sick and resumed my normal routine this week and so far so good. 

While we’re on the topic of things that weaken the immune system, another thing that is likely to do that is alcohol. Drinking alcohol can weaken your body’s ability to fight off infection. That weakened immune system can not only make your body more susceptible to getting sick, but it will slow down recovery. Prime example, Justin woke up sick on a Saturday and mid-afternoon on Sunday he made himself a drink and I was just like “broooo, you know that’s like the worst thing you can do for yourself right now, right”. And he was all “oh it’s just one drink and the alcohol will kill the virus” and I get where his head is at because we all know that rubbing alcohol is a great disinfectant but drinking alcohol doesn’t have the same outcome. Needless to say, Monday was just awful for him. I would say “poor thing” but I did warned him. 

So you’ll want to avoid both exercise and alcohol when you’re sick or feel like you might be getting sick. And when I say exercise, I mean moderate to high intensity. Depending on your symptoms Walking and light stretching could be good to get you breathing and clearing out those sinuses but if you’re nauseous you probably need to sit still and that’s okay. Those are the signs you have to read from your own body. And if rest is what it’s telling you, then rest you must do so that you can recover as quickly as possible. Because if you don’t, if you just keep pushing through, you’re probably going to end up even sicker. Speaking from experience here because it’s happen to me quite a few times. I always thought “oh I’m tough, I’ll just push past it.” But truth is, it always got worse. So if you’re working out through a cold and it’s not getting any better, that’s also a sign that you’re not getting enough rest to recover.

Now let’s say you gave yourself 3-4 rest and you’re starting to feel better and you’re anxious to get back into your routine because you missed quite a few days and you wanna make up for it. I get, I been there too. But trust me, you want to ease back into it – even if you were squatting 180 just last week. GO SLOW. 

Because you’re body is likely to still be recovering. Don’t just assume that because you woke up feeling better on day four or five that you can go back to working out 100%. You might wanna go 50% and see how your body responds after that. If you feel great, go on an jump it up to 80% – if not, take a step back and make the appropriate decision.

I feel like there are two kinds of being sick. There’s the, I can’t stomach anything kind of sick. And there’s the I feel awful and bored and I want more snacks kind of sick. And sometimes you can feel both ways. Like sometimes it comes on real strong the first day you and eat one meal. And then by day 3 or 4 you’re like omg I’m craving a big messy plate of nachos. But I’d say 9 times out of 10, the food you crave and want to eat when you’re sick is likely to be comfort foods. Like soup, saltines, grilled cheese, toast with cinnamon sugar, ginger ale, for me it’s typically a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It’s all those things that you got when you were sick in your childhood and they give you the warm and fuzzies. They make you feel better which is what you want to feel when you’re sick. So eating those comfort foods is nothing to feel bad about. Unless you have an intolerance to a specific food, or you know that you’re going to react badly to it, just go for it, because at that point, you are feeling pretty crummy. And if food can make you feel good for just a moment, especially when you’re sick, then I’m all for it. And especially when you don’t have the full appetite that you would for that day. Because you’re probably not going to eat your normal amount of calories anyway. So sometimes you just gotta get some calories in, however you can. Bottom line is, your body needs fuel to recover. And just because you’re not working out, doesn’t mean that you need to limit your carbs. In fact, you might actually require less protein and more carbs and fat during this time so that your body can recover. So it’s okay to have those comfort foods. But of course, like any other time in your life, moderation is key. This is no permission to go on an all out binge, or anything like that. And do your best to balance those comfort foods out with nutrients from wholesome foods. And you know, when you really think about it, like a chicken noodle soup, that’s really not bad for you. I know, most people are like, Oh, the sodium but if that’s what you’re worried about, then make your own instead of getting out of a can. Put some chicken in a crockpot so it gets extra tender, add bone broth or chicken stock with less sodium, put some fresh veggies in there higher quality noodles – and then you’ve got yourself a bougie adult soup.

So yeah, if you’re in that, ‘I’m bored and I need more snacks’ kind of sickness, just be mindful about what you’re having. And I know that’s hard to do even when you’re sick. And I personally don’t track my food when I’m sick like this, because I just allow myself that rest and that break. Because I know that when I do start feeling better again, I’ll get right back on it, and hit the gym and do all that stuff because it’s a habit and the lifestyle I live. 

Moral of the story is I know that those couple of days where I’m just feeling kind of crummy is temporary. All in all, having a cold or being sick is only a very, very small fraction of the total picture. Even if you don’t workout for 2 weeks, It’s still a very small bit when you look at the entire year as a whole. 

Getting sick is no reason to be hard on yourself. So why make yourself feel even worse, by beating yourself up about falling off track? In fact, it’s actually more reason to love yourself and take care of yourself. Treat yourself like you would treat a loved one who is sick. And remember, it will eventually pass and you’ll be back to normal before you know it. 

I hope you enjoyed this short and sweet episode. If you have any questions about this topic reach out to me on instagram. If you enjoyed this episode, I would so appreciate if you could take the time to leave a positive rating and review on apple podcast. Every 5 episodes, I do a Funsized Tank top giveaway to the person with the best review and I’ll be announcing the next winner in episode 130! Thanks so much for listening and as always, I’ll catch you in the next episode!

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