Exercise After COVID-Our top tips
Excercise after COVID can be tricky, even for fit people. Team CES thought it was time to revisit this subject. Back in January 2021, we spoke with professional Triathlete and Commonwealth games competitor Chris Silver, himself recovering from Glandular fever and COVID.
A year on, and we were keen to get an update from Chris. We set up a Zoom chat, and as the conversation unfolded, it became clear that the recovery had not gone as smoothly as Chris had hoped. In an honest and revealing discussion, Chris shares some profound insights into what COVID recovery can be like for athletes. Whether you are a professional athlete, weekend warrior, or simply recovering from COVID, this conversation has some critical takeaways.
You can listen to the conversation with Chris in our very first CES Sport Podcast, which is posted below. For the rest of this article, we will share some top tips that we have found for recovery. Some of these tips are based on Chris’ experience, and some are from our research.
Always consult your doctor before engaging in any exercise post-COVID, especially after a long period of sedentary living.
Although COVID has taken a while for many of us to get our heads around, there is no doubt that we are starting to see a clear picture of the recovery path. We must take care when returning to exercise and training. At the same time, we must try to avoid falling into the mental state of lethargy. So, how we can begin to rebuild our routines?
The battle we face is two-fold. First, we have to get around the physical effects of the virus and second, we need to reframe our mental perceptions of what we can achieve. Chris was very open about his challenges. We know of many other athletes and cyclists who are finding difficulty getting back in the saddle, metaphorically and literally.
Some have found recovery times have extended when returning to training or even light exercise. But, conversely, others have found that physical activity causes a return of more severe symptoms. Why is this?
There is some evidence suggesting the body can retain parts of the virus in the body’s cell structure and that exercise promotes virus regrowth and a return of symptoms. Therefore, understanding where you are in the recovery process is of primary importance. If you are experiencing a return of more severe symptoms such as breathlessness, flu-like aches, dizziness or chest pains, stop your exercise routine and consult a physician. You likely need to rest up for longer. Read an important article here.
A change is as good as a rest.
Your body is a finely tuned, organic system. If you are reading this, you have undoubtedly been participating in some regular activity such as cycling or triathlon. However, the effects of lockdowns and other disruptions may have led to a significant change in your diet and your ability to exercise regularly. Listen to your body. If it is complaining, try to understand what it is saying. Post-exercise malaise is not just a symptom, it is your body telling you something needs to change.
Now would be an excellent time to consider what you are putting into your body. Even Chris acknowledged that his diet was not the best pre-COVID. To build your immune system, you should consider increasing the level of good stuff that you consume.
Building a balanced diet
A healthy diet should include consuming vitamins and superfoods. You can have these in your daily meals or make smoothies and health drinks in addition to everyday meals. Make sure you are getting enough of the following in your diet:
Zinc – (75mg daily is a good level)
Vitamin C – (1000 to 2000 mg a day is recommended)
Vitamin D – (Natural sunlight. Twenty minutes a day minimum + Supplement)
Omega 3 – (Oily fish, Nuts, Seeds and Flaxseed)
Vitamin A – (A natural carotenoid that can reduce the risk of infections)
The best way to get these goodies into your body is via organic fruit and vegetables and non-processed meats. Try to live by the rule of only eating things that look like they do in their natural state. For example, eating an avocado is far better for you than eating a processed guacamole dip with crisps. Also, a fresh chicken will deliver more benefits than a portion of deep-fried chicken nuggets.
Be wary of brown foods like pies, pastries and heavily processed snacks. Sandwiches and baked goods often contain high quantities of harmful oils and sugar. While we are on the subject of sugar, reduce your intake to a minimum. We all need sugars when competing, of course, but there are good and bad sugars. Read an important article here.
As food is processed in your body, it becomes a part of the cell structure of your overall system. You literally are what you eat. A sobering thought for many of us! Good food does not need to cost the earth. Those with specific dietary needs may have to be a bit more creative, but all of the above nutrients are available without the need to eat meat or consume gluten.
The main tip for physical recovery is to take it slowly. It is better to return to exercise slowly and enjoy what you are doing than to return full pelt and end up back in bed for months. Before resuming your physical activity, consult your doctor. This is especially the case if you have experienced breathlessness, chest pains and numbness down your left side. Some symptoms of COVID do imply an increased risk of Myocarditis, pulmonary embolism or circulatory diseases. You must not engage in hard training if you are at risk of any of these conditions.
Depression is common among those who have experienced long COVID and those non-COVID athletes who have found it challenging to cope with lockdowns and isolation. Depression is a complex issue, and we are not qualified to speak about treatment. We can, however, acknowledge that depression among athletes is a genuine concern. If you are experiencing an increase in depression or anxiety, you must talk with someone.
Mind is a mental health charity that we are happy to signpost. Mental health is a part of everyday life. Like our physical health, we are the total of the time we invest in training and what we put into our bodies. Perhaps if we are honest, we tend to take less time over our mental health. We may feel a stigma attached to being open about our feelings and what we are thinking. In the same way, as we train physically, we must train mentally. Mental training may include setting realistic goals, accepting our situation, and reframing how we see ourselves.
You can visit MIND here for some excellent tools and resources.
Lethargy and Recovery
Lethargy is another issue that we hear about a lot at CES HQ. What can you do if you struggle to get motivated and even find everyday life admin too much of a burden? Again, there are many experts in the public domain. Lethargy can be linked to both physical and mental health issues. Identifying which applies is the starting point. We found a great article on lethargy here.
Many of us have had to undergo a significant change in how we live our lives. The process of lockdowns, Furlow and working from home has increased stress levels to an unprecedented level. This increased stress can often project onto our sport. We may find that we are getting unnaturally irritated or angry with ourselves about our reduced fitness levels. We might see that we are being overly hard on ourselves regarding goals and expectations.
Finding the Joy again
We must retain joy in our sporting activities. Reducing the stress associated with training will help us regularly engage with our sport at whatever level we can, rather than adding to an already stressful situation. Sport is important, but it is not the be-all of life for most. Sure, professional athletes may have to treat triathlon or cycling with a more serious approach. However, professional athletes have resources that weekend warriors don’t have. Sports physicians, dieticians and wellness coaches are part of the team for a professional athlete.
If you are finding yourself robbed of the joy of participating in your chosen sport, maybe it is time to re-evaluate the place it holds in your life? So, to finish up, here are some positive practices to help you find your joy again.
Meditate regularly. The practise of meditation is vastly underrated and often overlooked. Taking some time out of your day to simply “be” is crucial to recovery and entirely positive in its effects.
Turn Strava off! Who are you trying to beat? Take a month off from data analysis. Ride for riding’s sake, run because you want to and swim for fun. We fully endorse continuing to use a heart rate monitor and cadence meter. However, leave the PB’s KOMs, QOMs for when you are feeling better.
Try not to look at social media accounts for a month. Instead, spend time on self-improvement. Read up on healthy diets and meditation and start programming simple exercises and Yoga into your day. You may be surprised by how much better you feel.
There is no quick fix to Long COVID or the mental effects of the virus. However, you can be assured that the recovery process is not impossible. There is joy to be had on the road to recovery. Much of that joy will come from opening our minds to new ways of thinking, changing daily habits and being kinder to ourselves.
Team CES Sport