Road Bike Action Rx – Fighting the Flu

Influenza, aka the “flu” affects all cyclists, and with the flu/cold season here early, it often predicts a severe season. Even more, bacterial resistance to antibiotics are on the rise, so controlling the flu is even more important. Common questions are to ride or not ride if you have phlegm in the lungs versus a head cold? What cure do pro riders use to avoid and/or beat it? Are there medications we can take to prevent the flu?

This is a very timely question, since this flu season is projected to be one of the worst in years. Flu prevention is a complex topic, here are some tips to prevent the flu.


Get the Flu vaccine. A flu vaccine decreases your chance of getting the flu and may decrease the severity of the flu if you do get it. It’s not perfect, even with the vaccine, you still have a 25% of getting the flu for various reasons.

Vitamins. Some studies have shown that taking zinc right at the onset of the flu may help. Most studies suggest a highly absorbable zinc such as zinc picinolate. Foods high in zinc include oysters, meat, tofu, seafood, beans, and zinc fortified foods. Vitamin C may also help but achieving a high dose can be difficult.

Rest and Recover and Nutrition. The moment you think that you have the flu, consider taking the day off and recover. Eat well, don’t stress, and most of all get a good night’s sleep. Go to bed with the sun and rise with sun. Consider cutting alcohol as well, which increases quality sleep. Eat a well balanced diet and cut out the processed foods.

Getting the Flu

Once you have the flu, knowing when to ride or not is difficult to answer and of course it depends. When you are obviously sick, coughing up phlegm and have sinus pain, this is not the time to train hard. I have seen pro riders train while they are deathly sick, and it wound up costing them months of their season. The key is good timing. The flu affects the human body in 3 stages. In the initial stage, you usually feel alright, but you know something is different and you are showing some flu like symptoms. This means that you were recently exposed (1-2 days). The second stage is where you feel like a train hit you. Energy is zero, you are using Kleenex every day, your chest may feel tight, like a bronchitis or pneumonia. The third stage is when you are making a turnaround from the peak of the illness.

Regarding when you should ride or not, it is probably fine to ride and train in the first stage, providing you have excellent recovery. By recovery, I mean letting your body go to sleep when the sun goes down and not waking up till the sun comes up – a good 10 hours or so. It is also important that you have very good nutrition. By nutrition I mean bone broth, bone marrow, liver, meats, vegetables, salts, whole foods, nothing processed, soups, etc. It would seem obvious that you should not train during the second stage of the flu, but we all know cyclists who cannot go a single day without turning the pedals.

I often find that just letting the body fast (not eating) and just drinking bone broth with a lot of good salt really helps. Get into the sauna and let your body sweat it out (be careful not to expose others). Using a nebulizer helps a lot. A nebulizer is a machine that aerosolizes saltwater and medications. Most pharmacies carry them, and you need a prescription from your doctor is you are going to use a medication like albuterol in it. But just using nebulized saltwater helps a ton. If you need a nasal decongestant, remember it helps the symptoms, not the disease process. If you need it to stop drooling snot from your nose to ride or a social event, then use it strategically, but not every day. And if you are really sick, go see your physician. Sometimes a flu turns into a bronchitis and then a pneumonia. Remember, the Spanish flu killed over 30 million people before the advent of antibiotics.

When you arrive at the third stage of the flu, things are getting better and this is the time to start thinking about throwing your leg over the bike and going for a spin. Let your body sweat a little and again, hit the sauna. I cannot over emphasize the letting your body recover part. Pro riders often heal faster from colds and illnesses simply because they are pros. Think about it, when a pro gets sick, they can go to bed early, wake up late, and sleep in between if needed. Their only job is to get better so they can start real training again. They also have access to massages and very good nutrition in most cases. Working stiffs don’t have those luxuries. Most of us go to work at all costs for that almighty dollar. There is no magic herbs or vitamins the pros take that really beats the flu, the remedy is in the dose, and the pros dose themselves with a ton more recovery than we do.

Some simple tips you can use to combat the spread of the flu virus are to avoid close contact, stay at home when you are sick, cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze, clean your hands, and eat good nutrition by eating real foods and cutting out processed junk.

To your health, Doc Edwards