An Athletes Recovery from Covid-19: The Importance of Listening to Your Body

It seems like ever since last March, that word “Covid” has impacted all of our lives in one way or another. From shutting down sporting events, training facilities, and restricting access to the resources any athlete needs to improve their performance such as physiotherapists, the path up to this point has definitely been rocky.

Depending on who you talk to, Covid restrictions and their impact vary from person to person. Austin, Bryden and I have all had different experiences due to where we have been living given our admission to different universities across Canada. One thing is common amongst us; things have not been normal but it is any athlete's ability to adapt to uncertain circumstances and to control the controllables to prevent their athletic ability from declining.

On the topic of that very nature, I would like to discuss my experience with having Covid-19 and how I have had to adapt to the given circumstances to maintain my health. It became important for me to listen to my body above anything else in order to go back to the active and busy lifestyle that I live, not only as an athlete, but as a student and employee.

Dealing with Covid-19

So let’s get right into it; how did Covid-19 affect me? Well first and foremost, for the first four days, I was unable to sleep for more than three hours at a time. Any athlete has heard time and time again the importance of sleep for recovery from the day and peak overall performance so being unable to achieve the desired quality and amount of sleep made things very difficult. Thankfully this did not last the full duration of my quarantine.

Right from the beginning, I had a very faint cough and a bit of a runny nose; nothing too drastic but enough to be noticeable at times. Luckily these did not get worse as my quarantine progressed. As day 3 onset, I began feeling very sore in my muscles and joints. It's always rewarding when you feel sore after a workout but this felt different. You can usually reduce muscle soreness with tools like sleep, foam rolling or active recovery (Link to Active Recovery and Foam Roller Guides) but no amount of bodywork would make the discomfort subside.

Diet and Hydration

Covid hindered my desire to eat and drink the amount of water that I do during normal circumstances. My water intake went from 6 litres a day to somewhere around 1-1.5 litres, and my meals were much smaller. Yes, I ate breakfast, lunch and dinner, all composed of quality, healthy food but my meals were much smaller as I simply did not have the appetite to eat the large, calorie dense meals that I am accustomed to.

This decreased intake did result in some noticeable muscle mass reduction and overall weight loss. With a loss of mass like this, loss of strength is almost guaranteed which is far from ideal for an athlete who works to improve their performance every day. This is normal given the circumstances and we know these changes are pretty easily reversible but it is still hard seeing the performance gains I have worked so hard for slip away.

Activity and Exercise

So now that I’ve got my side effects out of the way, I wanted to touch on the stipulations of having Covid and trying to be active. I was advised to refrain from physical activity as Covid is a virus that affects the respiratory and pulmonary systems. I don't know about you, but I wouldn't want to risk any damage to my heart or lungs especially as a young adult.

It was hard to refrain from even dropping and doing a few sets of pushups and situps in my room but I knew that my body needed to rest. A quick chest pump for my ego was not worth the potential risk of pushing my body while it's already fighting the Covid virus.

Any athlete knows the frustrations of being stuck on the sidelines while recovering from an injury, illness, or anything of that nature and this situation was no different. My life is very busy; I am constantly on the go, and a sudden but complete stop to this was very difficult. I am still feeling the effects of this change in lifestyle now, after being completely cleared to return to my regular life.

Returning to Normal Life

Any athlete knows the recovery is just as important as the act, so how does that lesson apply to recovering from Covid-19? I began my road to a full recovery by ensuring I did all that I can to bring my body back to its full strength.

Hydration

I began to raise my water intake from 1.5 litres progressively back to the 6 litres per day that I was used to. This was a relatively quick bounce back as it only took a few days. Getting back into a routine of drinking water as soon as I get up, and progressively throughout the day made this possible.

I recommend finding a water bottle you like and figuring out how much water it holds, then see how many of those bottles you need to drink each day to hit your total water consumption goal. Then plan. See approximately at what times in the day you need to have consumed certain amounts of water. It’s easier than it sounds, I promise.

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Diet and Food Intake

I generally like to refrain from junk food in my diet because I never feel good after eating it. I feel sluggish and tired because it lacks the vitamin and mineral-dense calories needed to sustain the body through the day. Well, after Covid this was different. My body craved junk food more than normal. Yes, I did opt for more burgers and pizza than I normally do but that is all part of the process.

This is not something that continued for longer than the first few days after I was cleared. Discipline, especially with dieting, is vital to performance so I had to ensure I returned to eating vitamin-and-mineral-dense, healthy foods and limiting the junk food to almost none as I did pre-Covid.

Vitamin Supplementation

I did start taking Vitamin C and Vitamin D supplements daily. Stay tuned for a full breakdown of vitamins and their importance in your diet.

Long story short, there is a laundry list of benefits for taking Vitamin D, and Vitamin C is essential in the immune response so I wanted to ensure my body had what it needed to recover and to ensure that my immunity is as heightened as possible after the hard work it just went through.

Return to Activity

Now onto the big one, working out. What has my return to activity been like? I want to give some insight into what my level of activity was before Covid. My morning began with a 7:30 weight training session which moved outside into body weight circuits and sprint training, followed by an 8-hour shift at work in retail where I am on my feet all day, then I come home and do my school work. I normally work 5 days a week so my days off are supplemented with greater amounts of school work.

Return to activity has placed an emphasis on moving my body and activating muscles that haven’t been used extensively since getting Covid. With the gyms currently closed, I’ve been doing outdoor workouts that are circuit-based. I also like to walk or jog for some interval after each round of my circuit. This is a very different style of exercise than I am used to as I enjoy pushing myself every time I lift weights or run. I want to feel as if I have challenged myself with each workout and this is definitely a change of pace from that.

The moral of the story is… this is not permanent. It may not be the same time of lifting or cardio I love to do but it's still activity. It still helps me improve my athletic abilities and I think we can all agree that that is what we aim to do with each workout. We get better each day. If being an athlete and performing at your best, putting in all the work and chasing your goals was easy and without challenges, everyone would be doing it.

Importance of listening to your body

So what’s the lesson in all of this? Listen to your body over anything else. In my recovery process there have been many times where I feel frustrated or I’m favouring my ego over what will benefit me in the long run. From being on the go constantly to the more slowed down day-to-day schedule has been a challenge for sure but that's where the beauty of the whole thing is.

I think what makes any athlete great is their ability to adapt and overcome. The important thing to note is in the recovery process, your body wants to get back to normal as much as your own desire too does, so listen to it. When you feel tired you need to rest, when you are hungry, fuel your body with the healthy food it needs to perform and recover.

Also remember the importance of drinking water, taking your vitamins, meditating to reduce stress and anything else you can do to strengthen the body you have. You do not get another one. It's the only one you've got so you might as well make it as strong and healthy as possible.

Recovery

Recovery is something any athlete will have to undergo at some point in their career; it's almost inevitable. There are so many things that one may have to overcome but there is a common theme in any circumstance; Listen to your body. Do what your body needs to be strong and perform at its best. That's what any top athlete is striving towards anyways. We want to be our best in each game, practice, competition, etc.

Effectively

To recover effectively, consider your circumstances and understand the steps you should take to get back to where you were. Understand that this is a process that shouldn't be rushed; your body wants to recover as fast as you do.

To recover effectively, give your body what it is asking for (sleep, diet, vitamins and supplements) and remember that the mental aspect of recovery is just as important as the physical. Keep a positive mindset and look for improvements each day.

Efficiently

Take it from me, I am still recovering weeks later but I feel good. I understand that this is all a process and I know I will come back stronger than I did. I am using this as motivation because it is just a bump in the road; it does not change a thing.

I look forward to becoming bigger, faster, and stronger than I was. I look forward to pushing myself to be better than I was. I think that’s what these unexpected road bumps are for. Extra motivation and a means to perform better than I have been able to before. Don’t be scared of the process; embrace it.

Conclusion

Though getting Covid was never in my plans, it is a reality I have had to face and am still learning to manage long after being cleared. It's come with its frustrations but I am focusing on recognizing that it’s an obstacle and nothing more. Life is rarely without its obstacles. It has somehow made me even more eager to get back into the gym when they open and challenge myself to become a better athlete.