By now many of you have either received your COVID-19 vaccination or have started to get your appointment(s) planned.
That should bring a huge relief, relative to the coronavirus anxiousness of the past year, but that doesn’t mean you should jump right back into hard workouts right away.
Daily running, trail running and triathlon training is important to all of us, but it’s important to take a few precautions relative to the timing of your vaccination shots, according to Boulder, Colorado, running coaches David Roche and Megan Roche, M.D. They recommend avoiding hard workouts, long runs and especially difficult training weeks just before and for three or four days after receiving a vaccination.
The only real risk of exercising after a COVID-19 vaccine is that some of the side effects may reduce the quality of your workout and make it less enjoyable overall. There is no evidence that exercising right before or right after the vaccine would impact the effectiveness of the vaccine, says Dr. Humberto Choi, M.D., a pulmonologist at Cleveland Clinic who has treated hundreds of COVID-19 patients in the intensive care unit. However, exercise could increase the intensity of some of the known side effects.
While the side effects of the first dose of the Pfizer and Moderna shots have generally been reported as mild, those side effects have been more prevalent after the second dose of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Common side effects, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) include pain, redness, and swelling on the arm where you got the shot as well as tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, fever, and nausea.
“We also try to avoid having athletes do very hard workouts or long runs just before receiving the vaccine,” the Roches said in an article in Trail Runner on April 12. “And assuming no severe reactogenicity, we still try to avoid very hard workouts or races in the three full days after the first dose, and four full days after the second dose.”
They’ve also seen some of the athletes they coach return to normal training and express increased fatigue or soreness three to seven days after a vaccine dose. They believe that delayed response could be due to the interaction of the immune response with other life and training stresses and suggest taking more rest as needed.
Furthermore, the Roches reported they have also seen anecdotes of a minor amount of short-term changes to the menstrual cycle in some athletes, including increased premenstrual symptoms, shorter cycles, heavier cycles or missed cycles, but that could also be a random association. If you have any unusual symptoms, they recommend consulting your doctor.
Keep in mind, that vaccinations take two or three weeks for full efficacy and you should still practice social distancing and wear a mask to avoid the chance of spreading the disease to others. Whether you feel well enough to run, bike or swim after your COVID-19 vaccine depends on which side effects, if any, you experience.
As a rule of thumb, Dr. David Wyles, an infectious disease specialist at Denver Health recommends listening to your body. If, post-vaccination, you don’t feel well enough to exercise or just feel a little “blah” and don’t feel like it, take a rest day. Missing a track workout, long run, group run or even an online class might be a disappointment, but it will benefit you in the long run to rest or take it easier for a few days.
Depending on the type and intensity of your side effects, you may consider doing a gentler version of your standard workout. For instance, if your arm is achy but the rest of your body feels fine, you may modify an interval workout on the track to a more moderate fartlek run with fewer bouts of speed. If you have a 12-mile long run planned, consider cutting it in half and making up the mileage later in the month. If you have a strength session or a HIIT workout on your schedule, do a milder version or just put it off for a few days.
If there is a bright spot to not having many races to run, it’s that it gives us plenty of time to take a break from our training. There will be plenty of time to get back to your hard training and racing.
Mike Wardian, an ultrarunner and marathoner from Arlington, Va., says he had a bit of nausea and fatigue after getting his second Moderna shot in early April, but that didn’t stop him from running a 17-mile run the same day. Still, most elite athletes have reported taking it easy to not risk any lingering fatigue.
Simon Grannetia, an elite-level distance runner training in Colorado for the 2021 Olympics, received the Pfizer vaccination shots in April and decided back off his training a bit and wait a week before his next hard workout on the track. He said he didn’t feel a thing after his first injection, but he had a sore arm at the point of the injection and a bit of fatigue after his second.
“I just ran easy and got more rest after my second shot,” Grannetia says. “I didn’t want to risk any disruption of my training so I figured a few extra days of moderate running and getting more rest and sleep would be good for me anyway and benefit me down the road.”