Severity of COVID19 on endurance athletes

Hi all,

I just listened to Michael Matthews’ instagram update with about his COVID19 tests, apparently he tested negative twice after pulling out of the Giro. Does anyone know if he actually experienced symptoms, is that why he was tested or was it part of a daily protocol? On the same note, does anyone know how Simon Yates is doing?

This event reminded me about a discussion I had with a friend early on in the pandemic. He said endurance athletes will likely experience more severe symptoms with COVID19 because of their training. His opinion, as a physician, was that endurance athletes have a significantly stronger inflammatory response than sedentary people, and that response would result in a more powerful cytokine storm which could translate to worse symptoms than in sedentary folks.

Granted this was early on in the pandemic so I don’t know if things have changed, but I’m curious to know if there’s any scientific weight behind what my friend said. I know athletes are more prone to catching COVID19, but does that also translate to worse symptoms than folks who are not training in an endurance sport?

EDIT: I should note that I’ve heard the opposite too, that because endurance athletes have a stronger cardiovascular system that they’re able to run through the virus quicker and with less symptoms. I know there are people attributing this to Michael Matthews’ negative tests, that the first test was not a false positive.

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I’m hardly in the category of a pro, and a little older (38), but by ‘average’ standards I’m pretty fit, and follow a structured training program. My Covid experience was mild; 2–3 days of flu-like symptoms including a slight fever, and some hints of shortness of breath on exertion on days 3-4. Felt a bit washed out days 4-5; fully recovered by day 7; normal bloods and ecg day 11 (I think). Back to training gently day after tests, back to previous power/perceived effort levels day 19 (ish). I do still have quite limited senses of taste and smell.

My fiancee (generally fit, regular recreational exercise but nothing structured) never developed any symptoms other than a low grade fever, and a slight headache. She recovered fully in 3-4 days.

Of course n=1 (maybe 2), and we should all take it seriously - some people will be unlucky - but the doc who conducted my tests suggested that those who are under 50, slim and take regular exercise typically have a mild or very mild course of illness.

Being as lean as a pro cyclist may not help, but that aside, I think those who are younger, leaner and fitter than the average will most likely have better outcomes, on the whole.


Thanks for sharing your experience!

wife’s a doctor in a hospital. She had several emergency admissions in the last months: relatively young, very active, corona positive in the first wave with mild symptoms. all with lung problems. Each of them reported that exercising properly was not possible. Even months after the infections.

Two of my cycling buddies had it in March. Very fit guys. Moderate to slightly heavy symptoms. It was not pleasant. Both of them haven’t recoverd fully yet. Normal life. Yes. But when exercising they are limited.

A sedentary smoker may not notice a difference in a compromised lung capacity. This may be different for athletes or very active people.

I don’t want to get it. I will do everything not to get it. Sport is too important to me.


In reply to your first question, Yates was tested because he had a slight temperature and mild symptoms at the end of a stage. Matthews had no symptoms but was tested as part of the rest-day testing where every rider and staff member at the Giro was tested.

Yup, I know 2 competitive athletes who have had it (one cyclist, one triathlete, both in their 30s and at the pointy end of the field) who are both still struggling 6 months on with fatigue, shortness of breath, irregular heartbeat, etc. Obviously can’t draw any conclusions from N=2, other than that getting COVID doesn’t have a simple binary outcome of live or die.

Definitely something I would prefer not to get (I have some friends who are of the viewpoint that the sooner we all get it and become immune the sooner we can get back to normal).


For me.
I’d put myself in the extremely fit category (15 years of Ironman)
Early in the year Iit hit me as a violent chest infection , thought I was going to be taken to hospital. I was Ill for a fe days, then sort of improved.
Now, months later, I still have a bad chest, I’m on inhalers, and have just been for a round of xrays, ecg, and blood tests
At the moment all my running needs to be MAF as I need to be able to keep my HR down, swimming is easy pace, and most my cycling are virtual hills rather than fast speed stuff


All this x1,000.

All the people from whom I’ve heard anti-mask/hoaxy/don’t live in fear rhetoric have been unhealthy with at least one form of metabolic disease.

That type of person may not notice a degradation of quality of life from COVID; an athlete, of any level, will mourn the loss of part of themselves.

I’m scared shirtless about getting it and it doesn’t bother me one bit to be obsessive (in an intelligent and cautious way) about avoiding the ‘rona.


While the line of logic may seem reasonable, I think your physician friend is missing the forest for the trees.

A stronger immune system overall may have an ability to produce more cytokines but also is better able to down regulate them. It’s a car with a bigger engine and bigger brakes.

This can be most easily seen in children. Children, overall, have much stronger innate immune systems than adaptive immune systems compared to adults. Cytokines are part of this innate immune response. Children have managed very well with COVID-19 due to their stronger innate immune systems, not in spite of them.

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Matthews tests positive and then negative within days.

Gaviria tests positive, spends a month in hospital, then tests positive again 7 months later.

As with the rest of the population, seems the response of endurance athletes to COVID is varied.

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Yep, I suspect there are likely genetic factors at play that significantly impact outcomes with Covid - just like everything else.

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