A Proper Cold-Prevention Strategy for Athletes

Peter Glassford
by Peter Glassford
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A Proper Cold-Prevention Strategy for Athletes

The word ‘cold’ is synonymous with winter for two reasons. First, temperature: Any cyclist who has bundled up and dealt with frozen fingers and toes will tell you winter is cold. The second reason is winter is also cold and flu season. On top of that, the cold weather keeps people inside, which helps spread illnesses. But there’s a way to decrease the chances a winter illness will derail your training, and, if you do get sick, you can reduce the number of training days you miss.


Since the cold virus is transmitted through the air and by touch, exposure occurs frequently in public places and in the home. Mitigate this by washing your hands when you arrive at the local pool, gym or spin studio, then again when you leave and once more when you get home. Reducing how often you touch your face also helps decrease your exposure. I have had clients add frequent hand washing to their training strategy and, without any other major changes in training, they have had much better results due to more consistent training.

Maintaining a strong base of health is a good way to support your training and also avoid getting sick when you are exposed. Quality, regular sleep is a great way to reduce your chance of infection. Building up our immunity with a healthy diet of veggies, protein and healthy fats helps make sure we consume the nutrients that keep us healthy.

Finally, it’s important to manage stress. Cyclists often talk about their big workouts and training stress, but they often overlook the stress from work deadlines, traffic jams, late-night concerts and other ‘normal’ stressors. These disruptions to your body’s regular routine, environment, fuel and mental state require energy from your body.

If you ‘go deep’ on a hard ride (or three) and stack a lot of life stress on top, then your body will be more susceptible to illness. If you plan your training and recovery to optimize the quality of the session and avoid overstressing yourself — even if that means missing a session or putting in fewer hours — that’s a good strategy for staying healthy and consist in your training.



As a coach, I generally look at a few things to determine if an athlete should take it easy to enhance their immunity, do a slightly modified session or continue with training as planned. This three-pronged strategy requires long-term thinking, discipline and openness to changing your training plan to enhance your prospects for more consistency in training (i.e., fewer sick days). A few good measures include: resting heart rate, heart-rate variability and ‘metrics’ like motivation help guide this process of “should I train?”

  • If you have no symptoms and are motivated then proceed as planned. This might apply on a day you woke up with a dry throat or stuffy nose that went away after breakfast and where motivation/energy is normal.
  • If your motivation, energy, sleep quality or irritability are different than normal, decrease the day’s volume, intensity and/or total load. This is for anytime you wonder if you ‘should train’ or say something like ‘I might be coming down with something.’ In this case, reducing training to 50–75% of the day’s load is a good rule of thumb. Take extra precautions around sleep, handwashing, de-stressing and good nutrition.
  • If you are sick or you quite sore, fatigued, unmotivated, stuffed up or coughing, it is time to go into recovery mode and avoid making it worse or prolonging the downtime. There are not many well supported medications/therapies for colds aside from taking it easy and focusing on rest and hydration. During this period, spend extra energy on recovery strategies like foam rolling, goal-setting, mapping out new training routes, tuning up your bike and watching movies about goal events or dream races.

About the Author

Peter Glassford
Peter Glassford

Peter is a cycling coach and registered kinesiologist from Ontario, Canada. He travels frequently to work with athletes at races, camps and clinics. He also races mountain bikes for Trek Canada and pursues adventure in all types of movement. Follow @peterglassford on Twitter, or check out his online and in-person coaching at www.smartathlete.ca.


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