Tips for Building Muscle and Staying Healthy During Cold and Flu Season

STACK Expert Jim Carpentier offers seven tips to keep you strong and help you ward off cold and flu germs this season.


A nasty cold or flu can delay the progress of an off-season strength and conditioning program—or even worse, force you to miss valuable in-season practices and big games. A strong defense can make the difference between a win or a loss in competition, and that same rule applies when you're feeling under the weather. Here's an optimal defensive strategy, not only to fight off cold and flu germs, but also to make you stronger in the weight room and field. (Don't get sidelined by a cold; read Tips for Boosting Immunity in Athletes.)

Stay Hydrated

Adequate water consumption—as well as decaffeinated black or green tea and water-based fruits and vegetables—will keep your throat moist throughout the day. This prevents cold and flu germs from sticking to the throat. Did you know that tea, fruits and veggies also contain anti-inflammatory compounds that help your muscles recover faster after exercise? And drinking ample amounts of water also transports nutrient-dense foods to the muscles for growth between workouts. (Read Ruth Taylor on Foods That Keep You Hydrated.)

Need another reason to increase water intake? Since muscles are 70-percent water, your muscles will appear fuller with sufficient water consumption.

Wash Your Hands Often

Frequently washing your hands—and rubbing them vigorously under running water for at least 15 to 20 seconds—rids your hands of germs they may have picked up from doorknobs, school desks, computers and weight room exercise equipment.

Avoid Touching Your Face, Nose and Eyes

Germs can enter the body through the nose and eyes, so avoid touching those areas, especially if your hands have not been washed.

Work Out Outdoors

The weight room is great for training, but unfortunately it's also a haven for cold/flu germs on exercise equipment. Performing exercises outside can be a refreshing change from ordinary indoor exercise routines. Try to spend at least 30 to 60 minutes every day outside, away from overheated, dry classrooms where germs thrive. (See Prepare for an Outdoor Training Session With Winter Workout Tips.)

Get Plenty of Rest and Sleep

Try to get at least seven to nine hours of sleep every night. This will not only help you recover from intense exercise, it will also bolster your immune system. Don't wait until you get sick and the doctor tells you to get plenty of rest and sleep. Be well rested in advance to defend yourself against flu and cold germs.

Another benefit: regularly getting seven to nine hours of nightly sleep releases natural growth hormones for building muscle.

Avoid Overtraining

Exercise is terrific, but taking it to extremes compromises your immune system, making you more vulnerable to illness. Intense weight training requires at least 24 to 48 hours of recovery between sessions. Performing high-intensity workouts on consecutive days is not only counterproductive for building muscle, it also makes you more susceptible to chronic joint/muscle soreness and catching colds. Between hard workout days, do low intensity exercise like brisk walking or light jogging (known as "active recovery") to minimize overtraining.

Focus on Nutrition

Fortify your body against illness by consuming nutritious protein foods and beverages. Stick with energy-rich complex carbohydrates, which contain anti-inflammatory substances that promote recovery and protect against disease. Also, include beneficial fats for muscle repair and recovery each day. Eat a small meal every two to three hours for a constant supply of disease-fighting vitamins and minerals, to enhance fat-burning metabolism and optimize muscle growth and mental and physical energy. (See also Foods to Boost Your Immune System.)

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