My Experience with COVID-19: A Dietitian's Perspective
By Erik Bustillo
Viruses do not discriminate and Coronavirus (COVID-19) is no different. Statistically speaking, majority of folks who get it survive; however, this does not mean it should be taken lightly. It also means the virus is very real and not a hoax as some individuals may hint. That being said, the importance of health and awareness of health are rightfully at the forefront of many people’s minds.
Seeing that there is now a 3rd wave of increasing cases, I figured it was time for me to stop putting off writing this article. I am someone who is not overweight nor has excess body fat. I have a very well-balanced diet and train 4-6 days a week. I get good sleep regularly (this has not always been the case) and I rarely get sick (maybe once a year). All this being said… I GOT COVID-19.
I first learned I had COVID-19 back in early July after being symptomatic 4 days after being exposed to someone who ended up testing positive for the virus. These symptoms consisted of:
- Night sweats
- Slight congestion
- Body aches (mostly lower back pain)
- Extreme fatigue, I felt tired taking a shower
- Body temperature regulation issues
- Temperature of 101.5°F, not VERY high and it was also short lived, perhaps 2 days
- Eventually, I lost my sense of taste & smell. This loss of taste and smell was not like when you have a common cold… it felt different. Almost as if I lost sensation in my tongue; more of a neurological manifestation as opposed to something physical (stuffed nose blocking my sense of smell and therefore blocking taste).
- Loss of appetite for 1-2 days (thankfully only 1-2 days)
Fortunately, I no longer have lingering symptoms. Some symptoms lasted longer than others. The upper respiratory issues lingered (cough, slight congestion) and loss of taste and smell also lingered for some time, perhaps a 1-1.5 weeks, 2 weeks maximum. One of the toughest parts for me was not being able to exercise because of the extreme fatigue, but I also had to be smart about my return to physical activity because I did not want to regress (meaning, I did not want to go backwards from the progress I had made).
As far as exposure was concerned, I know exactly where I became exposed. At a small gathering at a friend’s house. It goes without saying that no one there was symptomatic, but this was a Friday evening. The Sunday that followed (2 days later), someone who was at the small gathering was symptomatic and alerted us (the people at the gathering) that Tuesday that they had tested positive. That Tuesday just so happened to be the first day I felt symptoms and that Tuesday night through Thursday night were the days I felt the worst.
Once I was symptomatic and then tested positive, my biggest fear was my family (parents and brothers) because we all currently live under the same roof. My main concern was making sure I was isolated and making sure my parents were ok. Unfortunately, the entire household ended up testing positive for COVID-19 and my father had a near-death experience. He was extremely short of breath and his oxygen saturation was at 75%.... once that number goes below 94%, healthcare professionals get very concerned (just some perspective for ya). Fortunately, we ALL made a 100% recovery and I can safely say we have a greater appreciation for life and for each other.
When I was sick, I did not see a doctor. I simply stayed home, hydrated as best as possible, made sure my nutrition was on-point, and supplemented with a few things to help support my body and immune system. This is not medical advice, I am simply going to share the supplements I took:
- Vitamin D (which I’ve been taking for 8 years consistently)
- Omega 3 fish oil
- Zinc w/ copper
- Vitamin C
- Glutathione and then stopped because I began only taking NAC (a glutathione precursor)
Some advice I’d recommend to the HYLETE community to help prevent exposure would be what the scientific experts like Dr. Fauci have been saying:
- Wear a mask when around people
- Wash hands thoroughly
- Do not touch your face
In addition to those things, I’d also suggest:
- Exercising regularly
- Being diligent about taking care of your nutrition
These final 2 points are very important for overall health & wellness as especially longevity (aging as well as we can for as long as we can)! During my battle with COVID-19, my nutrition was not greatly affected, only for the 1-2 days I lost appetite. My exercise, however, was definitely impacted. I could/did not train at a higher intensity for 2.5 weeks. Fortunately, on my 3rd day of being symptomatic, I was able to walk a half mile before feeling very tired, but I continued to walk daily/almost daily until I felt well enough to pick up a kettlebell and try something at a higher intensity… which was 2.5 weeks since my last high intensity training session. Getting back to my training routine felt great! From a nutritional standpoint I would recommend the following to someone who may have contracted the virus:
- HYDRATE! We lose fluids in sweat, breathing, coughing… we must replenish fluids
- Consume adequate protein to preserve muscle mass (use protein shakes if you must)
- Consider using an electrolyte solution if sweating a lot
- You may lose appetite... try your best to eat/drink calories anyway!
Overcoming COVID-19 was something that helped remind me how real this virus is. I have always known it was real, but when it hits home… that strikes a bit differently. This was a reminder for me to continue to encourage individuals to take care of themselves. I also feel it is important for folks to know that science is not a belief system and medicine & nutrition are sciences, not belief systems. We should absolutely trust the experts and not random internet groups.
One very important component to the pandemic and individuals who get COVID-19 is mental health. Mental health is not something to take lightly. These are strange and challenging times and unfortunately, we may not have handled this the best way possible. Lives have been lost. Jobs have been lost. Relationships have been torn apart. And a pandemic has become politicized. These are all factors that can affect mental health. Ways I took care of my mental health were:
- Maintaining an optimistic mindset, which may be a challenge for some, and easier for others as circumstances certainly play a role in that.
- I have a great support system from my family (parents, brother) to friends who brought me orange juice to my door (thank you Matt) and checked up on me via text and phone calls. I even became closer to a friend of mine who recently relocated across the country. All of those factors help(ed).
- Finding good things to watch on TV or books to read.
- Lastly, I really can’t stress enough about our mindset. Having a positive outlook and taking action to do something for ourselves is SO IMPORTANT… as is a good support system. That’s the winning combination right there.
There are definitely silver linings to my getting COVID-19. I think the biggest take away is gratitude. Being grateful for health, family, friends, and science. I have also seen my family value exercise more than before (I’m happy to report regular physical activity being a “new normal” in our household). Lastly, pursuing joy and health are two things I will NEVER take for granted again. Remember this, COVID-19 doesn't care if You're young, old, fit, healthy, lean, excess fat... ANYONE CAN GET IT AND WE DON'T KNOW IF THEY'LL HAVE SYMPTOMS. I do believe my health and fitness level helped me bounce back. Wear your mask, wash your hands, social distance as best as possible, eat well, and exercise often. Much love, y'all.
Erik Bustillo is a Registered Dietitian. Erik is also a Certified Sports Nutritionist through the International Society of Sports Nutrition- ISSN, a Certified Strength Coach through the National Council on Strength & Fitness, and a Certified Personal Trainer through the National Strength and Conditioning Association - NSCA. He also specializes in reading and understanding blood/lab values that have a direct effect on the human physiology and one’s ability to perform. Several fields of expertise are energy improvement, performance recovery, weight loss, working with professional/elite athletes, stress management, inspirational communication.
Erik has studied the science of nutrition for many years because he understands that nutrition is an elemental factor with the state of well-being. His mission is to make this world a better place and he strives to accomplish this by helping others achieve their health and life goals. He believes that with hard work and determination, everyone is capable of accomplishing what they set their mind to. Erik is passionate about making his patients/clients push themselves harder and further than they ever imagined. His practical approach puts exercise and nutritional science into easy to follow steps for action. Keep up with Erik by following @erikbustillo on Instagram.
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