In Sickness and In Health; When Should Young Athletes Stay Home?

Exerciselifecoach_2268433aIt’s that time of year…nasty colds and the flu can be found in every corner.  A sore throat, runny nose, achy muscles and fever can make you feel awful, but what about when a young athlete still feels like he/she has energy to work out? How do we decide when a young athlete should stay home from training, a practice, or a game? Most young athletes are competitive, committed to their training and sometimes even pressured to be there by coaches and trainers no  matter what. These are the questions I get asked most often by young athletes:

Is it OK to exercise, practice, or play my sport if I have a cold?

As a general rule, it’s OK to do moderate exercise if your symptoms are “above the neck:” runny nose, nasal congestion, sneezing or minor sore throat. Keep in mind that your body will need extra rest to heal and to do its job fighting the bugs, so LISTEN TO YOUR BODY! (not your coach, trainer, parents or maybe even your conscience!)

When should I stay home for sure?

You should NEVER exercise, train or play a sport if you have symptoms “below the neck,” including fever, chest congestion, hacking cough or vomiting/diarrhea. Do NOT exercise if you are fatigued, have muscle aches, or have been diagnosed with mono.

If I am OK to practice or play, do I need to make adjustments?

Yes, and this is very important. Remember you body is busy trying to fight off this disease, so taking too much energy away from this will only prolong the symptoms. Scale back your usual routine; less intensity and shorter amount of time. If you’re lifting weights, decrease the weight load by at least 25% to give your body a break while you’re under the weather.

What about working out at the gym while I’m sick?

VERY important to stay AWAY! Stay away from the team gym, dance studio, or ice rink; it’s just common courtesy. Just as much as you don’t want to get sick when you see teammates coughing away in the middle of practice, the rest of the team will want to stay FAR AWAY from you too! And this may not be possible in close contact sports like football, wrestling, and basketball, so keep that in mind.

What else can I do to get better fast?

Everyone is always anxious to get back to the court, field or rink, but let’s put things in perspective; consider that your overall fitness level will NOT take a nosedive because you missed a few days or even a week of training. A few more things you can do to help your body get over that nasty cold:

  • Focus on rest! Try to go to bed about 30 minutes earlier when you’re sick; your body needs it!
  • Eat more fruits, veggies and lean proteins, and try to cut out the processed foods, sugar and dairy.
  • And yes, wash your hands! (your mom was right!) Wash your hand with soap and warm water and wash for a little longer than usual.

Don’t worry, you’ll be back in no time! Take it easy when you first come back and expect less energy and to feel more short of breath, especially after a respiratory bug. But once you’re 100%, go out there and kick some butt!



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