The common cold & exercise...should you train?

At some point during the year the common cold comes round to ruin everyone’s training schedule.

Let’s talk about the differences between the common cold and the flu. Both share similar symptoms however the flu (influenza) is far more severe and can cause serious complications in otherwise healthy persons.

The common cold can also cause severe symptoms in persons with previous medical ailments such as asthma and those who are immune deficient.

We have compiled a table of different symptoms that occur in colds and flus. We hope this helps you decide which you have.

The cold and flu both have differing life cycles, this is a good way to judge whether you have the cold or flu.


  • Initial Contact
  • Symptom free (12 – 48 hours)
  • Initial symptoms (2-7 days)
  • After Effect (2-7 days)
  • From the point of initial symptoms even the worst cold should have gone within 14 days, 5 – 8 days would be more common. Complications may arise which may cause a cold to last longer.


  • Initial Contact
  • Symptom free (4 – 48 hours)
  • Initial symptoms (7-21 days)
  • After Effect (7 days – 12 months)

From the point of initial symptoms the flu will take at least 2 to weeks die down, in worst case scenarios it may take up to a year to recover, this may leave lasting effects. The flu is known to cause psychological problems which may persist even after the virus has vanished.

From this we can see that cold’s and flu’s do share certain symptoms they are very different in severity. For this reason if you believe you have the flu we would recommend that you DO NOT carry out any strenuous exercise.

  • What about the cold?
  • Can you exercise?
  • How can you shake it fast?

Exercising with the cold is a subject of much debate amongst all those in the fitness world. Everyone has their own way of doing things, however have a look at our tips and use them as a guideline to measure your ability to hit the gym.

This is only a guide, we would recommend listening to your own body before venturing to the gym. Remember to be responsible to yourselves and others, there is nothing worse than the guy next to you coughing and sneezing all over equipment that you want to use next. If you can resist the gym, try to for at least 3 days post initial symptoms, this is when your contagious period begins to weaken.

Preventing the cold is difficult if you are in direct contact with someone who has it, it is almost inevitable to get a cold from a partner or housemate/family if you are not immune to that particular one. However there are methods that will help:

  1. Washing hands
  2. Good nutrition
  3. Not overtraining
  4. Try not to touch your face
  5. Keep Zinc, Vit C, and B vitamins to the RDA.
  6. Washing hands is such an important tip that many people forget to do regularly, take a look at this diagram to help keep your mits clean of pesky bugs.

Following these tips will help you stop the cold before it can ever get into your body, it is so important that you wash your hands on a regular basis as this really will make the difference between you getting a cold or not. The majority of colds are caused by touch rather than through airborne particles. If you do succumb to the cold there are a few things you can do to help defeat it.

  1. Rest as much as possible, let your body have as much energy to fight the cold.
  2. Drink plenty of water, we recommend 2.5-3l a day, this will help wash out toxins from the body and keep you hydrated.
  3. Blow your nose with the tissue slightly away from the nose. If you blow your nose with a tissue that is too close you create pressure that may cause infection in the tubes and possible ear infections.
  4. Try and stay away from painkillers, anti-cough medicine etc. Suppressing symptoms will only suppress your body’s ability to fight the cold. Save the medicines for night time to help you sleep.
  5. SLEEP
  6. If you do decide to workout, try and lighten the load and only train to 40-60% of your normal intensity.


Echinacea – Many studies have been done to see the effects of this herb, some have been very positive, some not so. However it may be one of the best choices due to the amount of research that has been conducted. There are many different species of this herb used in studies (E. purpurea, E.pallida and E. angustifolia), with many parts and compositions also used. A 2007 study carried out In Connecticut found that Echinacea could half the chance of catching the cold and may take up to 2 days off a colds symptom length. However many other researchers in the field found that this may not be the case as every study used differing parts of the herb or differing species. It is widely believed that the all three aspects of Echinacea must be taken in order for it to have immunological effects. Besides all the uncertainty behind this, there is evidence to suggest it does work and many will swear by Echinacea’s immune stimulation effects. We recommend a good quality product that is pharmaceutical grade.

  • Cold prevention – 7/10
  • Cold Fighting – 4/10

Vitamin C & Zinc – Keeping these two up to the RDA levels will help keep the immune system running well. Vitamin C RDA has been set by many different organisations, and all vary in their amounts, upper limits are normally put at around 250mg, however as vitamin C is a water soluble vitamin it is very difficult to overdose, we would recommend 1g (1000mg) of vitamin C when you have a cold, this should be taken for a maximum of 8 days, remember that vitamin C is in almost all the food we eat and it can act as a laxative so be warned about jumping into a massive dose, try to slowly increase the amount you take. There is some evidence suggesting that high dose Zinc can help reduce the duration of the cold, it is more likely that those who are deficient in zinc are more susceptible to catching a cold. The dosages for zinc vary greatly 15mg per day is the common given dosage, however in times of a cold we would say that increasing the dosage to 50-65mg a day this dosage is normally well tolerated however we would not recommend taking this dosage for more than 5 weeks. Excess zinc may interfere with the absorption of copper and other minerals, so keep the dose high through the cold and then taper to a lower dose.

  • Cold Prevention – 8/10
  • Cold Fighting – 3/10

Green tea – Antioxidants in green tea have been shown to help reduce colds, they contain more infection fighting ingredients than other teas and it has been used for hundreds of years as a traditional medicine. Traditionally the tea should be heated then cooled, to get the most benefit which may take time. A good tip would be to brew 8-12 tea bags cool the water and drink from a flask throughout the day. Most research had used a large amount of green tea to try and bring out any results, 10+ tea bags is the average amount used, and brand names are rarely mentioned, some research has shown positive benefits, but these will probably cause more cold prevention properties rather than cold fighting. However more research is needed to back up these claims.

  • Cold Prevention – 6/10
  • Cold Fighting – 3/10

Christopher Collins