Sickness and Fitness

By Dale Barr


Recently we had a nasty stomach bug roll through our house. As these things go it started with one of the little people, then to me and then to our other little guy. It was a tough four-to-five-day span full of high fevers, vomit and, shall we say, digestion issues. Along with the boys I was extremely lethargic and unable to move around much. It’s times like these that make me thankful for our overall good health, which quickens our body’s ability to fight off and recover from such things.

The human body is amazing and extremely resilient. However, we have to let it do its thing. When I was sick, there was no way I could eat my usual diet, and get to the gym for my normal workout routine. Far from it. Although there is debate in the medical field about the nutritional value of the B.R.A.T diet (Banana, Rice, Apple, Toast—I’ll also add crackers), these bland foods were the only thing the three of us boys could keep down.

When our body is stressed, we need to make sure it’s getting three essentials: water, food and sleep. Water/fluids are paramount as it’s incredibly easy to become dehydrated when we’re sick. We had pedialyte and even pedialyte popsicles to make sure the boys were getting enough. Almost any calories we can get in and keep down are good calories.

Getting plenty of sleep is also essential. I think we were sleeping 15 hours a day easily—long 10 to 12 hour nights and naps during the days. This is our body’s time to heal and recover so the more the better. After four or five days of that I’m usually dying to get back in the gym. However, it’s important to ease back into your routine. Do not charge back in at 100%. I usually stick to a 70% rule my first day or two back from an illness. My effort level is 70% and the weight or amount of reps I do is 70%. If you’re unsure, be conservative. Keep it at a conversational pace when doing any conditioning and use bodyweight and mobility exercises that hit large muscle groups.

Here’s a sample recovery day workout for someone who is reasonably fit: Do three rounds at a conversational pace: 500m easy row on a rowing machine, five pull-ups or TRX rows, 10 push-ups, 15 air squats, 20 sit-ups, five forearm-to-instep lunges with rotation, and five inchworms.

The goal here is to get a good sweat going but not to impair our body’s ability to fight the illness. We want to leave the gym feeling better than when we came in.

Having said all the above, the most important point is that we shouldn’t wait until we’re sick to make sure we’re getting the three essentials—water and sleep and a healthy diet. They are what keep us alive! Yet most of us don’t drink enough water, we don’t eat enough calories, or the calories we do take in are not healthy, and we don’t get enough quality sleep. Whether we’re training with weights, or returning to work after an illness, those three essentials help us recover from the stress we put on our body. This is how change occurs: Stress=>Recovery=>Adaptation. We stress the body, and then we have to let it recover using nutrition, stress management and sleep, which then allows the adaptation we desire, be it muscle gain, fat loss or fighting off a virus.


Dale Barr is a devoted father of two young boys and has committed himself to staying active and fit, while helping others do the same. For more information on Dale Barr’s fitness program, visit