What Athletes (Young and Old) Should do About Coronavirus COVID-19

With the ongoing COVID-19 (formerly known as the Coronavirus) outbreak, do not take anything lightly.  COVID-19 will continue to affect athletic events in the US and abroad; and there’s a real chance that the virus could spread into our communities, impacting day to day life and your training.

So what should we athletes do? Pack up and head home? Run on a sanitized treadmill or ride the indoor trainer for the next 9 months? Build a fortress, dig a moat, pull up the drawbridge and live off of canned beans and MREs for the next 12 months? I am not a doctor or epidemiologist, but from a coaching standpoint I have got some sane, rational and at times boring advice for you to stay healthy and sane during this outbreak.

Rule #1- (as always) don’t panic

Outbreaks like this tend to bring out the worst of our fears. It’s difficult to count how many cases there are, the future spread of the virus is unknown and tuning into more than a few minutes of the 24-hour cable news cycle will make you think the COVID-19 outbreak is going to be next level apocalyptic. Be careful about where you are getting your information. If you want reasonable, rational information about the virus and up to date advice on travel and precautions go to the World Health Organization or the Center for Disease Control. This is not a time for ‘news by Facebook’.

Also, I would be willing to bet the vast majority of people reading this article are not in one of the high risk categories, such as the elderly or people with compromised immune systems. This being the case, realize that if you do get sick, your job is to not infect other people who may be more vulnerable. Your life will likely be miserable for a period of time, and you should take the illness seriously, but recognize that it is likely more dangerous for others. Although we have already seen deaths in the US from COVID-19, consequences are unlikely to be that extreme among this readership.

Don’t forget to train

You’d be surprised how many people are looking at this situation and saying “Is it smart to train”?  This is a fool’s guessing game and a surefire way to get caught behind the eight ball with your training.

Be Smart, Safe and Sannitized!

So what can I do to prevent getting sick?

This is the best question to ask. The COVID-19 virus is just that, a virus. Meaning, protecting yourself from contracting the virus is similar to preventing yourself from getting sick from similar viruses. Fortunately, we have good blueprints for that from the common cold and flu.

Take Standard Precautions 

What were the last 5 objects or surfaces you touched? When was the last time you touched your face or put something in your mouth? How long has it been since you washed your hands? See where we’re going with this? If you’re like a lot of people, you don’t spend a lot of time thinking about what you’re touching from moment to moment, but during cold and flu season these habits can make a big difference in your ability to stay healthy.

You have an immune system for a reason, and it generally works well. That said, COVID-19 will still attack your immune system, so a bit more vigilance is a good idea. As an athlete, training sessions can suppress your immune system, making you more susceptible to infection for a day after training or up to 3 days following harder, more stressful training sessions. Hard training blocks can have the same impact, even if the individual workouts are relatively short (1-2hrs each).

Here’s a list of day-to-day precautions you should take

  • Wash your hands frequently, especially before eating. Regular soap and water work wonders.
  • Use hand sanitizer if you can’t wash with soap and water.
  • Minimize time spent in crowds, especially indoors and in small spaces.
  • Try not to touch your face or put your fingers in your mouth or nose.
  • Don’t share food or drinks with friends, and avoid communal foods (chips, dips, nuts, candy, etc.)
  • Stay hydrated. Mucus membranes in the nose and throat don’t work as well when they’re dry, so staying hydrated helps your natural defenses work better.
  • Sleep more! Even if you can add one more hour of sleep to your normal routine, the added recovery makes you less susceptible to infection.
  • Reduce lifestyle stress. All stress (training, lifestyle, nutrition, etc.) takes a toll on immune function, so if you’re training hard make an extra effort to reduce stress in other areas.

K2 “Pro-Level” precautions

  • Don’t shake hands, bump fists and get to close.  We are asking all clients and members to aviod contact.  better safe than sorry
  • Don’t share equipment.  We are having each client use the same equipment for the entire session.  After each session we thoroughly wipe down everything and sanitize it before the next person touches it
  • Get plenty of fresh air.  We are keeping the windows open and moving part of each workout outdoors.
  • Drink bottled beverages you can open yourself, which can include a reusable bottle of your own. Drink straight from the bottle to minimize contact with reusable glassware.

What about nutrition?

Nutrition plays a role in protecting you from getting sick, but mostly from the standpoint of supporting your activity level so that you’re not energy deficient. Athletes who are proactively trying to lose weight can be at particular risk because they are often training hard and restricting calories, which can negatively impact immune system function.

How about supplementation?

So, should you supplement with mega-doses of Vitamin C and Vitamin D? In principal (and for the reasons discussed below) I would rather athletes increase their intake of vitamin-rich foods. Consuming more foods rich in Vitamin C – including citrus, peppers, kiwi, strawberries, and dark green leafy vegetables like kale – also mean an increase in your fruit and vegetable intake. Vitamin D is primarily found in seafood, particularly salmon, sardines, cod liver oil, and oysters. Eggs and fortified dairy products are a good source for lacto-ovo vegetarians, and vegans can consume Vitamin D in fortified foods as well as mushrooms. A 2018 review study showed exposing mushrooms to UV-B radiation – including sunlight – can generate a nutritionally useful amount of Vitamin D. Some brands of store-bought mushrooms may also be irradiated to increase Vitamin D content.

If you do get sick

In light of the warnings above, the best things an athlete can do to combat the common cold and COVID-19 are get more rest, stay well hydrated, avoid contact with other people, and wait it out. In light of the COVID-19 outbreak, the CDC recommends calling ahead before going to see your doctor or hospital. If you have a fever or are ill enough to consider taking cold medication, rest is going to do you more good than training. Return to light training once you’re asymptomatic for at least a full day, and in the days following that don’t try to make up for lost time by piling on extra training volume or intensity. Too much workload too soon after an illness puts stress on an already overworked immune system and you’re more likely to get sick again.

Author: K2 Strength and Conditioning

Kevin owns K2 Strength and Conditioning in Summit, NJ. K2 focuses on athletic performance training for athletes of all ages

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