When we train, we intentionally breakdown muscle tissue which causes inflammation in the body. The healing process (and subsequently building and toning) then occurs during our rest periods, where our body relies on nutrients to repair itself. So, you can see why clean nutrition, rest, and sleep play such a role in getting in shape. The same is true when we are ill. Sickness causes inflammation in the body by way of our immune system. Again, this process requires rest and nutrients in order to recover. So, if you are already ill or even injured and fighting inflammation in your body, you are only stressing it more when you add the demands that training creates.
How long before you start to lose the gains you've worked so hard for? According to one study in Medicine and Science in Sports Exercise, "strength performance in general is readily maintained for up to 4 weeks of inactivity" in elite athletes; that time frame will be shorter for beginning exercisers (Mujika & Padilla, 2001). Unless you are planning on taking weeks off from working out, you're not going to lose any significant ground. Even if you need to go at a lower intensity for a while, this will still help to maintain your previous gains.
So, do not fret about taking a few days off from training to let yourself bounce back from the common cold---it's likely just what the doctor (and your trainer) would order for a speedy recovery!
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