Rebooting fitness

Today is Memorial Day. The day we as Crossfitters traditionally perform Murph, the brutal hero workout dedicated to the memory of medal of honor recipient Michael Murphy. This workout has a special place in my life also, as I lost several friends last year from the Raider community in a helicopter crash, one of whom was a friend of Murphy’s and who had offered to do the workout with me in Afghanistan in his memory. Operations got in the way, and I wound up doing it on my own that year, but Tom will always be a part of my Murph story.

But I am sitting this one out this year. And it sucks. I am struggling to get over whatever nasty respiratory bug assaulted me last week. I should have known when I was snuggling my ill little four year old that this would be the outcome. But something manly within me told me that I was stronger than any virus. It is true. I am. But the virus is going to get its licks in before I put it to death.

I could head to the gym, put on the weight vest, and slog through the workout, but all that would do would be to prolong this illness, make it harder for me to get the workouts done this week that I need to do, and put me at risk of further illness or injury. The smarter approach is to take today as an additional rest day, get some extra sleep, eat and drink healthy food, and work back slowly

Today’s topic is how to manage an illness while trying to follow a lifestyle designed to improve fitness. Amanda Allen, a world-champion master’s Crossfit athlete, wrote an excellent article on this topic for the Rx Review. Some insights from this page are as follows:

  • First, from a philosophy standpoint, she recommends that once you recognize that you are sick, you stop training and focus on rest and recovery for the first week. Starting the second week, you should return to training with an emphasis on strength training and very light cardio.
  • She provides a list of agents that she considers useful in maintaining a healthy immune system. I will start with the safest and most commonplace, and then add some of her other suggestions that I had to look up.
    • Sleep. This is completely obvious but it is vital to pay deliberate attention to your sleep patterns. I am finding that despite the intent to get extra sleep, coughing and tossing and turning will degrade the quality of that sleep. When I am not on call, the use of NyQuil really works for me, but the sedating effects make it hard to use when I might be woken up and need to come to the hospital.
    • Stress avoidance or management. While this may seem simple, it can be very hard to do. For me personally, time spent alone with a good book or in front of the computer writing is a big stress-relief. Especially when I have some great music playing, a tasty beverage, and a closed door with no interruptions. This will allow my body to focus the entirety of its leukocyte-mediated rage at the uppity little microbe that had the gall to invade
    • Water. This is a no-brainer. You need to stay well-hydrated at all times, but especially during illness.
    • Herbal tea. While I am not going to go into the research support for tea in this article, suffice it to say that it is a far better option than most other beverages aside from water.
    • Vitamin C. This is considered a must-have supplement for Crossfit athletes by Crossfit Invictus, who encourage at least 4000 – 8000 mg per day, and as much as 16,000 mg a day in active athletes. While the research is very marginal on the anti-viral effects of Vitamin C, it is recognized in the fitness community that this is an essential supplement, and therefore it makes sense to at least ensure that intake is appropriate.
    • Vital Greens. This is a vitamin supplement produced in New Zealand consisting of 76 products extracted from a wide assortment of vegetables. Given the fact that my daily intake of vegetables is somewhat akin to that of a picky toddler, this is a dietary approach which, while less optimal than eating large amounts of rabbit food, is better than total avoidance.
    • Astragalus. This is a traditional Chinese medication known as an adaptogen, or an agent that helps protect the body against a variety of stresses. Of note, some authorities recommend avoiding prolonged use of any one adaptogen but rotating them. Amanda’s page suggests that she uses this agent routinely.
    • Echinacea. This agent seems to be an anti-inflammatory agent. It is generally available at most health food stores. There have been concerns over mislabeling, and in some cases may not even contain the agent, despite false claims on the label. There have also been reports of contamination of the supplement. It is advisable to procure this from a reputable source if you choose this agent.
  • She has a few other suggestions that I will list for your information and to store away for future research and interest. I have not read about any of these agents but may look at them if I have continued immune issues.
    • Olive leaf
    • Mangosteen juice
    • Reishi mushrooms

I am a surgeon. I like things rigorous and protocolized. Therefore, I plan to identify a “sick” protocol for my fitness training. It will be as follows:

  • Optimize nutrition
    • Fluids: water, green tea, black coffee, and citrus juice only. Milk is fine if it is part of the nutrition plan. Absolutely no soda, alcohol, or flavored coffee.
    • Food: focus on small, frequent meals of good quality. Increase the amount of vegetables and fruit. I am willing to take a short-term hit in terms of protein and calorie load in order to optimize my ability to fight the illness.
  • Optimize rest
    • Acute illness. This phase is defined as any time I have a measurable elevated temperature or heart rate, have significant subjective fevers, muscle aches, or malaise, nausea, vomiting, or other symptoms that clearly interfere with fitness training. While getting adequate sleep is always vital, I will increase my focus on sleep during periods of illness. I will attempt to get an additional hour of sleep on average per day. On average, I spend 6 hours and 55 minutes in bed per night. I will increase that to a minimum of 8 hours in bed, ideally 9 hours, per night during illness. I will also eliminate any workouts during the acute phase of the illness.
    • Early recovery. Once I am into the early recovery phase of the illness, workouts will focus on strength training and light aerobic work (e.g. rowing intervals). I will avoid any serious metabolic conditioning work until I am fresh and ready to take it on full-steam.
    • Late recovery. Once my heart rate variability suggests that my nervous system is ready for the challenge, my sleep needs are stable, my appetite is roughly normal, and my energy level has recovered, I will return to full unrestricted training.
  • Supplement strategy
    • Routine supplements: For my regular training needs, I take the following supplements.
      • Morning:
        • Fish oil 3 gm
        • Creatine monohydrate 2.5 gm
        • Vitamin C 2 gm*
        • Astragalus 500 mg*
        • Vital Greens supplement*
      • Night:
    • Sick protocol supplements:
      • GNC Herbal Plus Echinacea & Goldenseal 1 tablet daily

* These supplements are new additions to my regular supplement strategy.

So here we go. I am officially on the “sick protocol, early recovery phase”. I will be talking this over with my coach throughout the day, and if there are modifications, I will post an update.


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