Managing COVID-19, Adjusting to training, and Returning to Sport
Updated: Aug 9, 2022
Many athletes have asked me to share some tips around COVID, eating, and returning to sport, so here you go!
While many athletes have had Covid over the past two years, it’s becoming more and more the norm…Then add in the yearly flu season, and chances are you’ve been quite sick lately, or know someone who has.
I’ve had a few athletes over the past couple of months ask if I would write a blog about managing eating and nutrition at home for 7 days of isolation with Covid… but I thought I couldn’t really do that as I’d never experienced it. BUT, now I can. I recently had Covid-19, and while it was mild and I’m grateful that it wasn’t worse, I’ve still had to make adjustments to training, eating and upcoming sporting goals. So, I thought it was time I share some tips and what the research tells us.
Adjusting to exercise changes (aka. REST)
The British Journal of Sports Medicine has developed a Graduated Return to Sport protocol that is helpful to use to plan your exercise around Covid and returning back to full capacity.
They initially suggested 10 days complete rest, and then not returning to light loads of exercise until you’re at least 7 days symptom free. But earlier this year (2022), they’ve adjusted this depending on the severity of your symptoms.
They suggest if you don’t have any symptoms below the neck, and it is mild, you can return to sport within 7 days. Read more here.
Why do we need to take careful rest and return? Because we want to protect the heart from myocarditis. There hasn’t been enough long term research to know the full effects of Covid on the heart, so it’s really a good idea to be cautious and take this time to recover.
It can be hard as active people, or if you’re hard at work training for an upcoming event, to rest completely for 7, 10, or 17 days, but in my opinion, it’s worth it! Many athletes I know who have rushed back to training or events, are struggling with fatigue or other symptoms months on. While I was recovering, it was hard at first, but I was able to gradually return back to full training three to four weeks later…and four months later, I’m feeling great (*touch wood*).
So, I highly recommend talking with your GP, coach, dietitian, and other support team about returning to sport if you’re unsure.
How to eat while recovering
We don’t have enough evidence to say there is a particular style of eating or certain foods to eat to reduce or manage Covid-19, but what we do know, is that there are some foods that help reduce inflammation and support a healthy body and immune system.
Foods to reduce inflammation:
Extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, macadamia oil
Nuts and seeds
Oily fish like salmon, sardine and mackerel
Vegetables - mix up the colours
Legumes like black beans, kidney beans, lentils and chickpeas
These are rich in antioxidants, anti-inflammatory properties, plus provide a range of micronutrients to support a healthy body.
Eating quality protein and carbohydrate foods regularly throughout the day is also important. This helps keep energy levels up, helps get in smaller, more frequent meals/snacks - especially if you have a little or no appetite, feel nauseous or fatigued. Try to eat every 3 to 4 hours with foods like:
Nuts/ nut bars
Toast/bread with nut butter, eggs, cheese and avocado
Homemade muffins/ loaf/slice
Boiled egg or tuna on crackers
Crackers and hummus
Limit foods like:
Deep fried and oily foods
Excessive pastries, baked goods - some is ok!
Keeping up your hydration is key as well - especially if you can’t stomach much or are coughing lots that you lose a lot of fluid. Try sipping on water, sparkling water, teas, warm water and also eating hydrating foods, such as: leafy greens, fruits, veggies, yoghurt, milk and smoothies. Electrolyte tablets/sachets and sports drinks can also be helpful - particularly sports drinks if you’re lacking energy or not eating much.
Now is not the time to reduce your intake because you’re not training or moving as much. Your body needs to repair, heal and strengthen - and food helps this! So take some time to give yourself permission, enjoy food, and look at this time as a preparation week or two - just like you would in the lead up to an event!
In regards to food preparation, this will change depending on your situation - if you’re home alone, in a couple, if you’ve got a family to isolate from, if you’re quite symptomatic and lethargic, or if you feel fairly energetic.
If you’re up to it, cooking can be a good distraction and good use of time. Whereas, if you’re fatigued, or trying to look after sick kids too, preparing food may be the last thing on your mind!
Here’s some ideas that you can add to a grocery delivery to your door, or ask others to drop around:
BBQ chicken + bagged salad + bread rolls - makes a quick meal
Tinned fish and microwavable rice cups
Some fruit/ frozen fruit
Ready made meals - get ones that have some protein/meat, a carbohydrate and some veggies (or get some extra frozen veg)
Plain corn chips + hummus
Avocado + corn chips or grain crackers
Baked beans + toast
Eggs - can make omelette or have eggs on toast
Energy balls - made with nuts, dates and coconut for example
Meal delivery services can also be handy in these times - whether it’s ready made meals like Dineamic, Lite n Easy, YouFoodz etc; or meal boxes with the ingredients such as HelloFresh, Marley Spoon etc.
Stay well everyone,
Elliott N, et al. Br J Sports Med October 2020 Vol 54 No 19
This is not medical advice, and only intended to provide guidance on seeking individualised medical advice and support. If you are struggling, please call:
Lifeline - 13 11 14
Beyond Blue - 1300 22 4636