December 21, 2021

How To Train Around A COVID-19 Vaccination Or Booster Shot

Here’s what runners and triathletes should do to manage their training before and after a COVID-19 vaccination or booster shot.

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I’ve had my COVID-19 vaccinations, and I recently took my booster shot.

Fortunately, my response to the vaccinations and the booster has been very mild. I know that’s not the case for many people.

With booster shots currently rolling out in Singapore, I have been getting many questions from our athletes about managing their training after a booster.

This article is my attempt to answer that for everyone.

Firstly, I am not a doctor, and you should never take this advice over something a doctor has specifically told you to do – or not do as the case may be.

That said, many doctors, particularly general practitioners, are very conservative regarding their advice to athletes. Most of the generic guidelines are developed for the general population. A population that, sadly, eats junk food and is mainly sedentary.

The general population are not athletes and, I argue, are not as resilient as people who eat cleanly and exercise regularly.

Here’s my advice.

Cut Race Times, Not Corners.

Racing at your potential and enjoying training is easy when you’re following the right programme.

Before Your Vaccination

In the days before vaccination or a booster, I encourage our athletes to focus on recovery. The immunisation will stress your immune system, so you want to avoid compromising your immune strength in the days leading up.

That doesn’t mean you can’t train hard leading in; it just means that you must pay special attention to your recovery and the things outside of training that impact your overall health. 

In the week of your vaccination, focus on your sleep, aiming for eight or more hours each night. Eat minimally processed whole foods and increase your intake of vegetables, particularly green leafy vegetables. Drink water regularly throughout the week to ensure you take your vaccine or booster optimally hydrated. Avoid stress. 

If you feel fatigued, consider stripping the intensity from your training in the last three to four days before your shot and training exclusively aerobically.

You will take your shot in your best condition to recover quickly afterwards if you follow this advice.

After Your Vaccination

Everyone’s response to the shots are different, so it’s hard to offer a fixed protocol that will work for all. You will need to observe your symptoms, listen to your body, and adjust your approach accordingly.

If you suffer significant symptoms, you may need to take some days off training. That’s ok and recommended if you feel awful. If symptoms are mild, I encourage you to adjust your training and continue. Consistency is the ultimate performance enhancer.

You can pull two levers to adjust your overall training load. 

  1. Intensity
  2. Volume

The recommendations in Singapore are to avoid strenuous exercise, although many doctors advise people to completely abstain from exercise for two weeks. Abstinence seems like overkill to me, but I agree that you should avoid strenuous exercise in favour of low-intensity training following your vaccination or booster.

During the first couple of days, I recommend that you pull on both levers and significantly lower the volume and intensity of your training. You don’t want to push anything until the full extent of your symptoms has shown themselves. 

After a couple of days, as symptoms start to disappear, increase your volume back to your pre-immunisation levels keeping intensity low. If you begin to feel worse, cut back again.

Use a heart rate monitor to guide your training during this time, and stay below the middle of zone two. You may notice that your pace is significantly slower at these heart rates than before your shot. That’s quite normal and is feedback that your body is still under stress. 

Monitoring heart rate at rest (resting heart rate or heart rate variability) and during training is excellent in this situation because it will ensure you don’t overdo things and build your training back up at an appropriate level. 

Outside of training, continue to follow the pre-immunisation advice of sleeping a lot, eating clean and hydrating properly. 

You need to listen to your body and apply some common sense at the end of the day. Don’t rush things. Focus on what you can control and do your best with those things. 

I hope that helps, and I wish you a speedy recovery.

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Ben Pulham

Ben Pulham is the founder of Coached, a personalised training programme that helps runners & triathletes optimise, track and enjoy their training.