A frustrating part of cycling through the winter is the seemingly inevitable colds, stomach bugs or bouts of flu. This year especially, with the current COVID crisis, staying healthy is even more paramount than ever. Follow our top tips to minimise your chance of picking up a bug and, if you do succumb, how to enhance your recovery.
We’ve got much better with hand washing and should all continue to be really diligent and thorough with it as it’s the single best defence against bugs and viruses. This particularly applies to hand washing after using the toilet and don’t assume, if you are using a public toilet, that everyone else will do the same. Flushes, door handles and taps can all carry germs. Carrying and using some alcohol gel is the best belt and braces approach and you should get into the habit of using it regularly, especially before eating.
If you cough or sneeze, do so into a tissue, bin it and then use alcohol gel to disinfect your hands.
Get into the habit of taking a mask out with you when cycling so, if you do have to make an unforeseen stop, you can do so safely and inline with current guidance.
Although no substitute for hygiene in the war against bugs, there are some supplements that are worth considering during the winter.
In the northern hemisphere, during the winter months, it can be difficult to obtain enough sunlight to synthesis sufficient vitamin D. Vitamin D plays an important role in supporting immune function, musculoskeletal health and could also be involved in Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). A daily 400iu (10mcg) supplement is recommended.
There’s some good evidence that on the first signs of a cold, sucking zinc lozenges can help speed recovery.
Maintaining a healthy gut fauna has also been shown to enhance immune function so, you might also want to consider a probiotic.
Structure your training
Up to a certain point, training will boost your immune system but, once you go beyond that point, it will compromise it. Knowing that tipping point is key but it is a highly individual thing. If you are repeatedly pushing your body and not factoring in enough recovery, it’s likely it will have a negative effect on your immune system. Following a structured training plan is the best way to prevent this.
It’s also important to remember that long rides in poor weather, especially if you don’t get your fuelling 100% right, are particularly stressful for the body and detrimental to the immune system. If you goals are primarily spring/summer sportives, do you really need to be putting in epic endurance rides right now?
Listen to your body
If you wake up not feeling 100% and question whether you should ride, chances are your intuition is correct and you shouldn’t.
However, if you want to be a bit more sophisticated and objective about it, heart rate and temperature are your best simple guides. Track your resting heart rate in the morning. If it is normally in the mid 60’s but you wake up not feeling 100% and it’s 80 - that would suggest that your immune system is under stress.
Similarly, use an infrared thermometer to check your temperature. Normal body temperature is 37°C but does vary slightly. Your temperature may be 0.6°C above or below this and can vary throughout the day. Find what your typical healthy normal temperature is in the morning and, like heart rate, if you wake up not feeling right and it is up by 0.5°C or more, that is a strong sign not to train.
What can I do to speed my recovery?
Whether it is recovering from hard training or illness, the most important two factors are sleep and nutrition. Sleep is your body’s natural way of recovering from physical and psychological stress so, if you are ill, make sure you get plenty of good quality sleep. Eat well and keep well hydrated.
When can I start riding again?
Although people are really keen to minimise lost training time, by getting back on your bike too early, you will probably just prolong the illness. A good rule of thumb is 24 hours free of any symptoms and then 24 hours of having a normal temperature and resting heart rate so, effectively, 2 days clear. Check current guidelines regarding suspected COVID and required self-isolation measures.
How much fitness you will lose depends on a number of factors including how fit you were before you got ill and genetics. Anything less than 2-3 weeks is not going to be hugely significant though.