Saturday, May 19, 2012

Cycling Fever?

I had this question when I first began doing strenuous rides and recently someone asked me the same thing: Is it normal to run a fever after cycling?

The short answer is: Yes. It happens to some people. Not to all, but to some. I am one of them, and I now know a few others who experience this with regularity - always have. The evening after a strenuous ride, I will often run a fever and might even develop a sore throat. While it's happening it can feel very much like the flu. But the next morning all symptoms will be gone, so it is not a case of actually getting sick.

My understanding is that this is a normal reaction that some people simply have to certain types of exertion. It may have to do with how our bodies engage in muscle repair. Or it may have to do with circulation issues. No one seems certain, but it does happen.

Regardless of how or why it happens, I have noticed there are things I can do to alleviate it. For instance: taking a hot shower or bath after a ride, taking an NSAID or acetaminophen concoction, eating warm "comfort food" such as soup or scrambled eggs, drinking lots of fluids, and trying to get as much physical rest as possible. Basically treating it like the flu works for me. It dulls the symptoms while they are happening, so that I can still be productive with the rest of my evening. And the next day I feel good as new - only the muscle soreness remains.

If you experience fever or flu-like symptoms after strenuous cycling, how do you deal with it?

46 comments:

  1. I try not to push myself while cycling. If I break a sweat, I think I am doing it wrong. If the weather gets cold enough, I ride faster to keep warm. I ride fast enough to have fun, not so fast to be uncomfortable.

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  2. I have never run a fever or felt flu-like symptoms, but I have on occasion developed hives, usually on my forehead after a particularly strenuous ride. At first I thought it was a reaction to some sort of pollen or something, but it has happened in the winter as well. Apparently, exercise can cause a histamine reaction in some people. So it really is possible to be allergic to exercise

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    1. could it also be sweat build up on the forehead where it's in contact with the helmet? maybe try changing the pads that line the helmet or get a new helmet all together to see if the hives persist.

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  3. Oh, that must be so distressing. Typically, after a long ride (well, let's just say over 15 - 20 miles or after a leisurely pace over 2 hours) I will tend to get very very chilled. I must take a hot shower or bath afterwards, and this seems to eliminate my symptoms. . .. This happened to me even when cycling in Florida! Even after the hot bath or shower, I need to wear a sweater or something warm.

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    1. Could be dehydration.

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  4. Wow, I've never heard of this happening to anyone. Very interesting...

    To me, it sounds like slightly-more-than-mild dehydration. Sore throat and a fever are some of the medium symptoms of dehdration, and at that stage it can take your body a couple of hours to re-hydrate especially if it is still working hard to repair itself.

    Do you think it is any chance of being dehydration with you? On a bicycle it is really easy to lose a lot of water without knowing because it all evaporates so quickly.

    Next time it happens, just I would try drinking a small 8 oz cup of Gatorade over 5 or 10 minutes followed by a liter of water over the next hour. Small, paced sips it he proper delivery method for dehyrdated folks.

    I am really interested to see if it could be exhibited effects of dehydration.

    Jay

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  5. I've seen discussions that it's common but that also one should be sure to hydrate adequately. Jim Duncan

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  6. I'd be careful about taking Ibuprofen and especially acetaminophen. Instead, make sure you are drinking plenty of water while you are biking (may have to consider a water pack - or what ever they are called... can't think of the name at the moment) and drinking plenty of water afterward as well. This is likely due to muscle breakdown which is normal to a certain degree, but can get to the level of a condition called Rhabdomyolysis and lead to kidney damage. This is more common in warm weather when people need more water than normal, but can occur after any strenuous activity involving the muscles. I've seen it develop into kidney failure and coma in unsuspecting (and of course rare cases - but I tended to see those rarer cases when working in ER and ICU) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001505/

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    1. Yes yes yes. Very important. If there's any chance you are actually dehydrated, be very careful with NSAIDs and acetaminophen. Drink lots of water just in case.

      Camelbaks are probably the water packs Susurrus is thinking of. They're quite nice: could make it much easier to sip frequently without fishing for a bottle, and would have lots more capacity to carry as much water as you need.

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    2. Yes, SK, a camelbak is what I was thinking of, thank you. It seems like it is more common for mountain bikers and back packers to wear these in my experience. They are not too glamorous looking, but for long rides would be an easy way to assure adequate hydration which will flush the muscle break down products (myoglobin) out of the system. If Velouria, is not drinking sips of water frequently, she might want to experiment with some form of more frequent hydration during her long strenuous rides. In my opinion it is smart to pay attention to physical symptoms that are outside of normal(and Veloria seems to be very attuned to hers) When people disregard such symptoms they are risking irreversible damage. And, for those recommending alcohol this is an instance when it is not really a very good idea, since it just adds to the work load of the bodies filtering systems similarly to the anti-inflam meds.

      And, these symptoms are not mysterious to medical professionals working with athletes and people with muscle trauma. As the article I linked to above mentions, "Severe exertion, such as marathon running or calisthenics" is one cause of the symptoms she mentions and prevention is always better than treatment after damage. The article also describes how to prevent this: "Drink plenty of fluids after strenuous exercise (during, if it is prolonged) to dilute your urine and flush any myoglobin that is released from your muscles out of your kidneys. Also drink a lot of fluids after any condition or event that may have damaged skeletal muscle."

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  7. Disclaimer: I am no expert.

    It seems like this is partly an issue of inflammation / muscle repair, and/or maybe the mysterious situation with circulation issues or other factors. Part of that is that exercise "damages" muscles, causing inflammation (gets mast cells all excited, histamines get released, etc.). Some people actually have exercise-induced anaphylaxis — in other words, could basically be said to be "allergic to exercise" — so it seems logical enough that some people could experience symptoms like fever and sore throat as their body's reaction to strenuous exercise, lots of histamine release, etc...

    But at the same time, I think there might be a simpler explanation for at least part of your cycling fever. Maybe not, but if so, this is something you have more control over. Since you say that eating and fluid replacement help to curb these symptoms, it sounds like part of your problem is plain old dehydration and electrolyte loss. Dehydration can obviously cause fatigue and other nasty feelings, and it can also sometimes cause symptoms like body temperature increases and flushing (i.e., fever-y feelings). Are you sure you're getting enough fluids during and after your rides? And are you replacing electrolytes somehow during rides that are long/strenuous/sweaty enough for that to be necessary?

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    1. I don't think it's dehydration. Aside from myself it happens even to experienced cyclists with elaborate hydration and electrolyte replacement regimens.

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    2. Elaborate doesn't necessarily mean effective - or fully effective if you will. Elite athletes, especially marathoner, often get fevers as a result of their efforts on the road and it is not unknown for them to end up on drips after a race. They've taken precautions, sure, but often their efforts exceed their precautions.

      I think the fact that liquids and nourishment tend to alleviate your symptoms speaks for itself.

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    3. I'm not necessarily taking either side (dehydration vs. other) here, and I imagine it may be a combination of things in any case, but Roff has a point. What is your usual fluid/electrolyte/etc. regimen during big rides? As in, how much stuff, how often, etc.? If you're craving, for example, salty fluids like soup, and consuming them helps, that's a pretty big clue that you're losing more salt and water than you're replacing during your rides, and that problem can be solved.

      One more wild idea: I used to handle heat and dehydration and other physical stresses especially badly because I was really anemic and didn't know it. Lots and lots of women are, and lots of them don't realize it until it gets really bad (e.g., fainting & collapsing with no warning, super fun). Never hurts to get things like that checked out if other explanations don't seem sufficient—well, okay, getting blood drawn actually does hurt, but you know what I mean :)

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    4. (I may have chosen a different "reply as" setting with my last post—oops—but "SK" = the same Sarah from above)

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    5. Sure, it could be dehydration in some cases. It is pointless to speculate without knowing individual circumstances. In my case, I have good reason to believe it is unrelated. YMMV.

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    6. Fair enough. You did solicit advice in your post, so it seems odd that you then say it's "pointless to speculate without knowing individual circumstances," but if you've already tried changing what and how much you eat and drink before and during your rides and that had no effect on these symptoms, then it very well may be a more complicated issue, or it may just be how your body handles strenuous activity and inflammation and may be something you can't change beyond what you're already doing.

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    7. You're right, I didn't mean "pointless to speculate" exactly- sorry!

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  8. I recently did a 200k and noticed, just as you say, a bit of a sore throat towards the last miles of the ride. I was a little puzzled by it, but it didn't linger much beyond the end of the ride.

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  9. Pretty much the same as you-I take a hot shower after every ride that breaks a sweat or gets my HR up,and always pop a prescription-strngth Motrin to nip the bud of aches and fever (which I've only noticed a few times the day after over the years).

    More often for myself,if it was a very long and/or strenuous ride the previous day,I may actually get a soar throat and head cold within a couple days...I figure when that happens,it must have been from sucking cold (relatively speaking in Summer,of course) air through the mouth lots during hard exertion of riding (hills mainly)...I HATE when that happens,LOL! :)

    The DC

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  10. i quite often get a sore throat and feel quite congested. This seems to happen after quite hard training rides. It is usally clear by the next morning. A glass or two of red wine possibly helps :) .I also easily contract any ailments others i come in contact with are carrying.

    KS.

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  11. When I used to exercise intensely I found similar things happened to me, like getting really cold after a heavy training session or race. I also found once that a slight cough I had at the start of a 10k race developed into pretty bad bronchitis a few days later even though at the end of the run I felt fantastic and was thinking that a good run was the best way to get rid of a slight cough! Famous last words really.

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  12. It happens to me too after intense workouts, not only cycling, especially the sore throat.
    I have always considered it as ringing bell from our immune system asking for some rest. Fact is that after some rest, the symphtoms disappear.
    Not sure if it's related in any way, but I tend to have the after-workout sore throat especially when the weather is hot and humid.

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  13. I get at least seemingly hotter (got to check my temp next time) after long distance rides. I thought it was normal.

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  14. What a timely post! I had not experienced these symptoms until yesterday, after completing my first metric century on the Blue Ridge Parkway. I think the 6700 feet of climbing did me in. Glad to know cycling fever is normal.

    Mona

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  15. My 2 cents is your problem is that u havent replenished the salt you have lost. You must eat salt after sweating, ppl often forget this on hot days.

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  16. This sounds like "overtraining" which I used to have chronically a number of years ago when regularly commuting 16 miles each way across town (10 miles along Central Ave./Route 66, with 7 miles of climbing inbound) on a 70" fixed gear with load, generally taking about 60 minutes clock stopped. I got so many sinus infections that I saw an allergist. It went away when I stopped trying to go so fast.

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  17. Years ago I got curious about just this and consistently took my temperature at 103 to 105 after hard rides. Same readings generated by going out for a run. Once after a hot weather race I took temperatures that were "impossible". It's possible and it's normal.

    If anything sending your temperature up will suppress the bugs that give you cold and flu.

    Probably you don't need the NSAID. Shower, hydration, food, a minute or two of self-massage, a short nap. Even two minutes horizontal and composed is good for the inflammation that comes from a hard ride.

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  18. Not sure if this fits in this category but my husband gets burning hot legs the night after a ride. To the point that I can't even touch him they're so hot. If it's a super hard ride and he needs to ride the following day (usually a recovery ride) he'll sit in a freezing cold bath (sometimes he'll throw ice cubes in). I don't think he's ever had a sore throat of complained of running a fever post rides though with the hotness he gets I do wonder about that now. As for me I get sore throats sometimes but I just drink lots of water and usually feel better the next day.

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  19. @.Pammie. I too get chilled after a long ride - more precisely, I feel chilled - and a little feverish too. A glass of red and a sleep seems to do the trick.

    Anon Sch

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    1. Ha. If I drink a glass of red after a ride I feel like hell! But cider is nice.

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  20. Anonymous 12:18, chill symptoms are a sign of dehydration.

    The healthy adaptive process to stress which results in muscle growth involves inflammation. An anti-inflammatory med is counter productive if the goal is to improve strength. Ice has its place when treating overuse & injury especially for joints and tendons, but that's different.

    The saying "feed a fever" has merit. Bring on the calories to augment elevated fuel needs. Food will stop the cannibalizing of muscle fuel stores.

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  21. Yummy yummy Lemsip! Oh how I miss the UK

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  22. Anon 12:18 - That's a great tip re: a glass of red - and, Werkin - I do hydrate quite a bit during the ride but maybe need to keep drinking water for some time afterward. It's a strange effect. It even happens after long half day hikes, strenous hikes, etc. . I can't remember if this happened when I was younger - seemingly not (high school and twenties) . . .

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  23. If it's not somatoform (the mere suggestion might upset, sorry), then I tend to think it's an autoimmune or hydration problem. Does this show up in other intense sports such as professional/semi-pro basketball, soccer, distance running, cycling? Or have those people been selected out, so to speak?

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  24. Hydration should beging a day or two before a strenuous event. Or better yet, stay hydrated all the time by taking many small sips of water throughout the day. Drinking during or after exertion is too little and too late of you are dehydrated at the start.

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  25. If the sore throat is accompanied by a slight dry cough this could be a mild case of exercise asthma. You would feel tightness and a little irritation taking a deep breath. It was a hot ride today and I'm feeling it myself right now. Could be described as flu-like as the bronchi calm down.

    It's not serious. Take care of yourself as everyone is suggesting and let it take its' course. Eddy Merckx had exercise asthma. Lots of us do.

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  26. I can get this viral feeling when I haven't had enough to eat. A big bowl of cereal usually fixes it. Must be glycogen depletion.

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  27. The symptoms that V describes and her recommendations make sense as I have had similar reactions after strenuous rides. The true sign of dehydration and electrolyte depletion - occurs with me personally - when I develop severe leg cramps, which I have experienced during and after strenuous rides. This can be very painful. The pain is enough to always remind me to reach for that water bottle and take sips, or nourishment - if I'm out riding for several hours, especially on a hot day.

    This is an excellent and important topic for discussion.

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  28. I don't experience the symptoms you're describing from cycling but I do from strenuous tasks like cutting/dragging firewood and other long heavy lifting jobs. It seems to be worse when the weather is warm and humid but in my case I don't think it's from not drinking enough.

    My current favorite cure for feeling whipped after riding is to wander out to the garden with Sandwich and Daffy (the superior to cats in every way Border Collie's) and pick a lunch sack full of mint. We then go into the kitchen and pick the grass, caterpillars and spiderwebs out of the mint while we listen to a little Miles Davis (Sketches of Spain) or Segovia as the pot heats up. When the water boils one of us turns it off and throws the mint in the pot with a pinch of sugar and somebody else sets the timer for 15 minutes. I go sit down on the couch, close my eyes and try to ignore the fact that the dogs are on the forbidden furniture. When the timer rings we pad back into the kitchen and empty the pot into a pitcher of ice. I fill a glass with ice/tea and then we go sit on the back porch and hang out for half an hour, tell lies about how fast we are and what we'd do if that stupid Dachshund ever shows up again. We usually share some gingersnaps and Milkbones. I always feel better but in the event that someday I find I still feel bad I think I'll be in a better frame of mind to know what to do next.

    While I understand the desire to know precisely what goes on with our bodies and make good choices about what to do when things are a bit out of sorts, I think it can quickly escalate into a scary feedback loop of symptoms and treatments. If you get a bit used up riding your bike sometimes but you get better after a little Bratwurst and Bach than you probably don't need to worry, Right?

    Spindizzy

    Mona, while yesterday on the Parkway was GU-LORIOUS, the pollen was drifting in clouds. I did a bit of it around Waynesboro and I'm still wheezing and snorting like it was my job.

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  29. To me this sounds like a simple case of a dodgy immune system. No one should get a fever from physical activity. Rather physical activity can put demands on your immune system and make you less able to fight off the bugs that otherwise wouldn't cause us a problem.
    The answer? boost your immune system, probably by paying attention to your diet.

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  30. I always get a fever if I have been outside all day or like you, when cycling for long periods or any heavy activity. I work on a market stall every week in all kinds of weather and as soon as I go home and sit down it flares up. Often other stall holders complain of this problem as well, but it always goes away after a few hours of rest. I've just come to accept it, but would love to know the cause!

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    1. I wouldn't say I ever get to fever or flu like symptoms, but the day after I do generally feel run down after an exhaustive ride.
      I just try and make sure I eat enough good food, so plenty of veg and decent meat, drink plenty of water, and then in the evening make sure I enjoy a pint of ale or cider. The sedative effect of the alcohol helps relax thing, and the sheer enjoyment of the pint lifts my mood.

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  31. For me it's fever the next day, even after drinking plenty of fluids and eating salty foods. I will have a mild temperature for about 24 hours afterwards.

    It has gotten better the second year of biking daily. It used to happen at any ride over 20 kilometers and now it generally happens at any ride over 40. I tend to agree with the comments about histamines and muscle damage.

    Thanks for the post and the following comments. I'm really glad to hear I'm not the only one out there who gets fevery and sick after long rides.

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  32. Glad to spot this thread as i am currently experiencing a sore throat after a 30mile cycle yesterday. This is the 2nd time this has happened but figured it was related to what i have been breathing in as i wooshed along (fumes, pollen etc). I dont experience this after running, just cycling. I also feel my core temp has risen a notch as i get a bit shivvery about an hour after completing my ride. After reading your other posts i am going to increase fluid intake during ride and try the 'salt' things aswell. I am reasonably new to cycling so still experimenting with how far i can push myself without sustaining injury or having it affect my immune system.

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