That Time I Got COVID

Mark Sisson sitting in a blue shirtJust before Thanksgiving, I got COVID. Or the novel coronavirus, or SARS-CoV2. Whatever you wish to call it, I had it. Here’s how it all went down…

I was driving in the car with someone for 45 minutes who tested positive the next day. They didn’t appear to be symptomatic, perhaps they were presymptomatic (the positive test was a surprise to them), but at any rate they ended up testing positive for COVID. That was on a Monday.

Immediately after they told me they’d tested positive, I self-isolated. Stayed home, avoided the gym, all of that. Just to be safe. I scrapped my Thanksgiving plans and ate steak alone in my room (which actually worked out, because I never much liked turkey).

How Was It?

I started getting symptoms the Friday following. It started as a single bout of water diarrhea on Friday. One bout, and then it resolved and never returned. No further GI problems. I began getting sniffles and some mild congestion and chest congestion later that day, so before bed I took an antihistamine and slept pretty well.

Next morning, I had an in-home PCR test from a local private company. End of day I had results: positive for COVID. By then, the symptoms had gotten a little stronger or maybe the same. More sniffles, congestion. But again, I managed to sleep well and woke up feeling quite fine. By the end of Sunday, all respiratory symptoms had resolved.

My sense of smell and taste took about a week to come back to normal. But I never had a fever, never felt like I was even close to knocking on death’s door. All in all, it felt like a fairly mild summer cold other than the loss of smell and taste.

Long  Term Effects

I was most worried about that. After all, smell and taste aren’t “tongue” or “nose” senses, they happen in the brain. What was happening to the portions of my brain that manifest those sensations? There are reports of people with altered taste and smell sensations even after their bout with COVID has concluded. As a lover of food (indeed, it’s basically my entire brand), I didn’t want that to happen.

Luckily it didn’t. A week was all it took to return to normal. Everything I knew and loved before COVID tastes and smells the same.

One suggestion I’ve seen is that the virus affects the ability of the brain cells responsible for taste and smell to metabolize glucose. The idea is that this could inhibit their function and make it very difficult to smell and taste. If that’s the case — and I want to reiterate that it’s just a hypothesis and there are other candidate explanations — then I can imagine being fat-adapted and ketone-adapted would be very helpful for staving off the worst of those effects. After all, I have an “alternate” fuel source available and my brain is ready and willing to utilize it. Now, this being true is contingent on those portions of the brain being able to metabolize fatty acids or ketones; some parts of the brain must run on glucose, no matter what.

Again, all speculation.

After all my symptoms had resolved, I still took a week to start working out and another week to resume life as normal. Again, just in case. I didn’t notice anything from my time away from training — breathing was normal, performance the same when I got back to my workouts.

My experience was mild and fairly ideal, from what I can tell. That doesn’t detract from the fact that this is a real virus that’s hitting some people very hard. And I won’t present myself as a refutation of the severity of COVID. I am but a case study, an N=1 experiment. I’ll be watching for any latent symptoms cropping up down the line, but for now I have to say I feel pretty good.

I know people who look really good on paper health-wise, who have had a much worse experience with COVID than I did. Researchers have found a few factors that determine whether you have a mild or severe experience with COVID, but not all of them. Even though I had a relatively easy time with it, I still hold that this isn’t something to mess around with. Take your precautions.

Biomarkers of Note

I did find a few things interesting about some prior bloodwork and how it possibly related to my experience.

A couple weeks prior to my experience, I had bloodwork done. My vitamin D levels were well above normal. My total cholesterol was about 265, with low triglycerides, moderately “elevated” LDL, and high HDL. My fasting insulin level was 2 with a normal range of 3-20. Overall, my metabolic health was pretty good going in.

  • Vitamin D: In the early days of COVID, I was uncertain whether vitamin D supplementation would increase or lower your risk due to vitamin D increasing ACE2 receptor expression, the pathway through which the virus infects a person. But subsequent data shows that vitamin D is protective against COVID and COVID severity and I strongly suspect that my vitamin D levels were an important reason why I had such a mild case.1 I can’t say for sure whether one vitamin had a major impact, a minor role, or no effect at all, because hundreds of other factors could be in play.
  • Cholesterol: Cholesterol doesn’t exist in our body to kill us and give us heart disease. It plays many important roles, including roles in the immune system. One reason why some researchers suspect hunter gatherers and other non-industrial people tend to have such low cholesterol levels is that they are fighting off infectious diseases and parasites. Could somewhat elevated cholesterol be protective? Who knows.
  • Good metabolic health: If I were to have elevated cholesterol with low HDL and high triglycerides, I probably would have been at a greater risk, as that profile indicates poor metabolic health — another major risk factor for COVID severity. In fact, one study found that hospitalized COVID patients with high triglycerides and low LDL cholesterol levels were at a higher risk of dying from the disease.2
  • Fasting insulin: Some studies have found links between higher insulin levels and COVID, just like they have with many other diseases and health conditions. Although the most important explanation for the relationship is that low fasting insulin is a strong marker of metabolic health, one paper did find that diabetics who used insulin therapy were at a greater risk of dying from COVID than diabetics who did not use it.3
  • Low stress: Stress inhibits the immune system, especially if it’s chronic. Since I wasn’t very worried about the virus and was quite confident I’d be okay if I did get it, I wasn’t stressed out about how it would affect me personally (I still didn’t want to give it to anyone else, which is why I isolated just to be safe). My baseline stress levels were low, and low cortisol levels could improve immune function. Being wracked with stress (from any cause, including constant digestion of scary pandemic news) would have made me more vulnerable to the virus.

In other words, I could say that I’ve been training for this my entire life – not just this virus, but anything that could present an insult to my biology. Did all the stuff I’ve been talking about and practicing for decades help me stave off this disease? I’ll never know. But I’m going to keep it up.

COVID is a unique virus. It’s not a stressor any of us have ever encountered. But that’s where the power of good metabolic health comes in: it’s a catch all. It helps prepare you for a lot of things that come your way.

There are other factors too, many of them unknown and lurking beneath the surface. Genetics plays a role, as does basic luck of the draw. At the very least, however, being fit and healthy won’t make anything worse. It’s not a cure-all, but it doesn’t hurt. There is no argument for being less healthy, fit, or strong. There’s no argument a person can make that being in good health, staying active, and eating well will leave you more open to diseases.

Am I immune? Of course not. No one is. I got it, didn’t I? Eating and moving well can’t bestow immunity. But it has to be part of everyone’s battle plan to give them their best shot at avoiding and beating this thing.

Thanks for reading, everyone.

If you’re comfortable sharing your experience with COVID, please do so down in the comment section.


About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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24 thoughts on “That Time I Got COVID”

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  1. Oh man. So glad you’re feeling better and that your course was mild and short-lived. No doubt your lifestyle was a major protective factor. I have family members and friends who have had it; their cases were mild and recovered fine. Some patients I work with, however, are in pretty bad shape as many have underlying metabolic, cardiac and/or respiratory problems, which is no doubt contributing to their higher medical needs and length of stay. So I’ve seen different outcomes for different folks. Best thing to do is keep yourself metabolically healthy. Like you said it’s a good battle plan.

    I’m sure it’s a very vulnerable feeling to disclose all this. I think you’re stronger for it. Thanks for sharing this and letting everyone know you’re doing well.

  2. When you were in the car with your friend were you guys wearing masks? Would that have helped?

    1. Something tells me that the Sisson isn’t all that big of a “mask guy.” I could be wrong, but with familiar company and in an isolated environment like a car, I’m guessing that masks weren’t worn by the two. I’m not saying he’s an anti-masker, just that, like many rationally minded people, we pick and choose with reasonable discretion when we wear these respiratory diapers.

  3. My husband and I got it right before Christmas. We had taken a short road trip and along the way saw his father to do a gift exchange. His father (who is a doctor) was coughing the entire time but swore it was his allergies acting up. We believed him because A. He’s a doctor (who had told us awhile ago he was only doing telemedicine visits, but declined to mention at some point he had gone back to the clinic). B. He’s my husband’s father, so he wouldn’t do anything to put us in danger, right? Boy was that a mistake.

    We’re both 40 years old and had somewhat different experiences. I had two very bad days where I felt like I had the worst hangover of my life. My sense of taste and smell seemed to be gone in the mornings (I’d have coffee but it could have been any hot liquid) but would come back in the evenings. My husband – who has a terrible diet and is severely overweight – had a fever and a nasty cough that still persists almost one month later. He had no appetite for a week and subsisted on watered down gatorade and OJ. I was so worried he was going to need to be hospitalized because I know he’s not metabolically healthy, but luckily he stayed out of the hospital.

    1. I would suggest you use a humidifier at night if you live in a dry climate and it “might” help your husband’s cough. You could always borrow one. If you use distilled water it will stay cleaner easier. We live in the Reno NV area, and it is very dry here. We use a humidifier every night and it prevents me from being jolted awake in the middle of the night with a very dry throat.

  4. Thanks for sharing your experience with covid. It is important in these times. I think it is also important to remember that healthy diet and lifestyle doesn’t make us immune but helps mitigate the impact of the infection.

  5. Oh my goodness! Glad to hear you’re all right, Mark.
    And thank you for sharing your experience with your usual calm and sensible demeanor. No sensationalizing, no false claims or hyperbole. It appears that a baseline of good health is a huge factor in COVID susceptibility and outcomes, but we all have to take this very seriously. None of us can predict whether we will get it, and how we will fare, regardless of our health status. I see rhetoric coming out of the keto world where people I otherwise like and trust are making it sound like keto and vitamin D make you immune, and there’s so much very ugly judging going on — with connotations of, “If you’re overweight, out of shape, or have a metabolic illness, you *deserve* to get sick.” It’s truly disappointing and disheartening.

    I value your rational voice so much.

  6. Great article. I got the start of my nutrition education from Atkins, and found it greatly improved my lipid readings, more so than a statin. Taking a good probiotic formula also had significant improvement in lipids per lab tests.
    Thanks Mark, for your very important work.

  7. So happy that your case was mild, Mark.

    I developed COVID on Thanksgiving (spent alone, fortunately! My husband was in India, my siblings were having large-ish gatherings (!), and I’ll be forever grateful that my mom and I decided not to get together). For two days, I felt run-down and congested and assumed it was the start of a cold. The weekend was awful with intense fatigue, fever, chills, muscle and joint aches, and nausea but hardly any respiratory symptoms. Never lost my sense of taste or smell. I tested positive the next day. By Monday, I felt back to normal. Good energy level, no fever; the only symptoms that lingered for a couple weeks were the constant need to clear my throat and a slightly hoarse voice.

    The likely source of infection was my manager, who was asymptomatic when we had last worked together, 5 days prior to my symptom onset. We are vigilant about masks at work and no clients enter our spay/neuter clinic. The manager and I have minimal contact, since I work at one end of a long room, and she usually pops her head in to say hi and then goes to her office. Of course, I could have been infected by some random encounter elsewhere, but 4 out of our 6 employees tested positive (3 sick, 1 asymptomatic).

    I do believe that my healthy diet and Crossfit 3-4 times a week helped, but like you said, COVID should not be minimized and there are plenty of healthy younger people who have died of it. I’m 53 with no medical conditions and my vitamin D levels are low (thanks for the reminder to take my supplement!); cholesterol is around 200 mg/dl.

    Thanks for sharing your story, Mark.

  8. My husband and I both got it around Thanksgiving, too. We suspect that he got it at work where his company and co-workers are extremely careless. Otherwise we’ve been isolating since March and I work from home.

    He started having a funny feeling in his throat Thursday which we attributed to allergies. Then on Saturday overnight he had what we thought at the time was food poisoning, which was better by morning.

    That day (Sunday) I also started to feel a tickle in my throat and a strange taste in my mouth. I had an important work project due that week and started to feel pressure to get it done in case I came down with something worse, so I worked a very long day Sunday feeling good and energetic (at home/isolated). I woke up Monday feeling really weird in a way I can’t even describe, which gave me a sense of dread more than any other symptom. That’s when I started to suspect I had more than a cold. I was really worried about getting this project finished since it was behind already so I crawled out of bed, and by the time I had a cup of coffee and was dressed I felt completely normal with plenty of energy.

    Later that day after a few hours of work (and finishing the damn project, yay!) I felt tired like I would with a common cold. I took a nap and woke up feeling good.

    By this time my husband’s COVID test had come back positive, so I went to be tested the next day and was also positive. After those first few days both of us were just a little extra tired, we both had a tickle in our noses and some congestion, and we both had a slight dry upper chest cough (the cough did last a few weeks). Neither one of us had a fever or loss of taste/smell, though we did both have a strange metallic taste in our mouths. Neither one of us had much of an appetite but other than my husband’s first GI symptoms but we didn’t have anything further.

    Basically we were really surprised that we tested positive. This felt like a mild but lingering cold for us, which as Mark said is not a reason to dismiss the seriousness of it for others. If anything my takeaway is to take any and all symptoms seriously and don’t assume that because they’re not bad that it’s “just allergies” or a bout with a normal stomach bug or cold.

  9. Mark, could you please post the Vitamin D level? I would like to compare to what my last one was (in the 70’s). Thank you.

  10. Thank you for sharing your experience. My family contracted it in March of last year. I was 3 months postpartum at the time and I got it bad. I never had a fever but I had severe respiratory symptoms. My bronchial tubes were inflamed and on fire, my chest was heavy and I was very short of breath. I also lost my sense of taste and smell for a while. It took me over 45 days to feel better and then I was left with heart palpitations. My husband experienced cold like sypmtoms for a few days and was better. Two of my children had mild symptoms but then went on to have kawasaki-like sypmtoms 6 weeks later. Im hoping if we contract it again, our bodies can fight it a little better.

  11. Hi Mark,

    So glad you had a relatively mild experience with the virus!

    I believe I had it last January before the world called it Covid. In fact, Christmas time we were at a family gathering and we suspect it began there. Some fell quite ill within the week between Christmas and New Years , mine hit the week after spending time with my niece.

    It seemed to circulate throughout everyone who was at Christmas except very few ironically, my 94 year old grandmother didn’t get it!

    I was completely clogged with a light fever for a few days, and a heavy feeling in my
    Chest, definitely no taste or smell

    This lasted about a week until it began to subside but I did feel very sick. In hindsight, I’m glad that the virus was not really confirmed and publicized at that time, because my anxiety would have made it worse and at that time, I assumed it was a virus ! Since then I have upped my vitamin d and have just been extra cautious.

    Glad to hear you are ok , meditation, exercise , faith and prayer ??

  12. Yep, I experienced it too. For me, pretty much lasted a week. No lung/breathing problems, no fever. My biggest symptom was flu-like body aches, which seemed pretty intense. Several days later, I still feel off. Being age 69, pretty happy my body was able to effectively deal with it though.

  13. I’m a 45 year old female and metabolically healthy with slightly elevated LDL. My symptomatic boyfriend (ten years younger) tested positive in June, and I tested negative. I isolated anyway, assuming I had it but was too recently infected to test positive. Four days later I had a slightly stuffy nose that was gone by the morning, and so was all taste and smell. That loss was my only symptom and lasted a little over two weeks.
    The BF doesn’t have a spleen, and had a significantly harder time. He was in bed for about 7 days and doesn’t remember much of it. He said brushing his teeth took as much out of him as an 8 mile mountain hike. About three weeks after infection, he was back to normal.
    Like Mark, despite feeling great, I eased back into working out just to be safe. There are so many unknowns, better to be patient and safe.

  14. I became symptomatic in March, on my 41st birthday. Mild headache behind my eyes, like I was wearing the wrong prescription glasses, a teeny tiny dry cough and my heart would race at weird, random times. I may have had a fever for a night or two. Notably, my sense of smell vanished.

    The symptoms started on a Monday and by Thursday I felt fine. My wife convinced me to get tested because I have asthma, even though I felt ridiculous and a little guilty using up what was then a precious test. Sure enough, the positive result came back on Monday – 5 days after I started feeling better.

    The next day my body went into full-blown freak out mode: hands shaking uncontrollably and a feeling of ice spreading through my veins even though I wasn’t cold. Anything I did would trigger an attack: reading the news, watching a movie, or playing cards with myself would get me going and I’d have to immediately stop what I was doing to lay down. It was like my body was panicking and leaving my mind to wonder what the heck was going on. It was honestly one of the scariest days of my life.

    A day later I woke up feeling like a million bucks and haven’t looked back. My sense of smell still isn’t what it was 10 months ago, but it’s returning. Even with that, I know I’m fortunate to have gotten off as lightly as I did.

  15. When I started having symptoms I thought it was cedar allergies and then I started my period so I figured I just felt tired due to that. I had been under a ton of stress with trying to get closed on my house and sleeping on my daughters daybed with three dogs while we waited with delay after delay. Put into the mix I’m also a nurse who is taking care of covid patients every day. I worked three days thinking it was allergies and woke up on the fourth day at home with full body aches and fatigue. Thankfully off work so stayed home. The next day or so I started noticing my taste and smell was off. That only lasted a few days. What was most intense for me was the bottomless pit of fatigue that lasted another week. I had bad body pain for several days that would wake me out of sleep. My hair follicles hurt my toenails hurt! Lol I never was shob but did have the bronchial tightness with a reactive cough. The cough lingers a little here and there still a month later just cedar is still high here. My symptoms resolved by day 13 and I enjoyed increased energy and focus for approximately two weeks after. Wish that would have stayed! So my overall health isn’t bad, I’m 50 and on no medications. I do carry 50 lbs more than I should am premenopausal and I drank a lot of wine leading up to! I don’t eat out much and almost never touch fast food. I cook my own I eat primal I guess. I’m allergic to grains mostly so low carb is my game. One thing I had allowed in my life during the whole process of home buying was sugar. I am a no sugar gal mostly but it had snuck in and I’m sure that contributed. Covid is real for sure however what we are eating and putting in our mouths makes all the difference. I see time and again the people coming in to the hospital the sickest are the ones that are diabetic or ore diabetic. I’ll be paying attention to cholesterol as well now.

  16. Sorry you went through that. I’m glad to hear of your complete recovery.

  17. I am working in a retirement community in MN. And while we have done pretty good so far (I personally have tested negative 22 times so far) I have seen in really kick some people’s butts. Yes most of the residents are over 80 and it has killed 16 plus people in our little community. However, several of our staff have had a really hard time when they have gotten it. The biggest complaint I have seen is fatigue for weeks and weeks after. I have noticed the staff while most of them are young that have gotten sick tend not to be the healthiest. I consider myself quite healthy and think that has helped immensely. I also received my first dose of the vaccine a few weeks ago and will get the second shot next week.

    COVID is very real, it has kicked a lot of peoples butts, but working on the front lines so to speak it really does seem to pick on the elderly and those who are not very healthy to begin with. Just more reason to take care of your health the best you can.

  18. My husband and I play the “if I were president” game. He decided he would have partner with a multi vitamin company and roll out a subsidized multi of vitamin D, zinc, and vitamin c. Anyone who wants it, gets it. Because popping a pill is easier than making people change behavior…we are also fairly certain we had Covid last feb or March based on symptoms. Glad you came through it just fine.

  19. Thank you for sharing your COVID story.
    I also had COVID in November. I have been following the Primal lifestyle for about 4 years and consider myself healthy with a strong immune system.
    COVID kicked my ass. Luckily I had a mild/moderate case but I was in bed for weeks with a fatigue I can not put to words. The recovery lasted longer than I would have anticipated. I even started to doubt my Primal ways. There are some people in the “Paleo” world that have the opinion if you are metabolicy healthy you are immune to COVID or will have minor symptoms. I was feeling that it was my fault I was sick.
    Now that I’m on the other side I realize perhaps my illness could have been much worse and my primal ways helped me through.
    I appreciate that you shared your story and I am glad you are well.

  20. I am also in peak health (albeit I am a whole plant foods only high carb/low fat vegan…but no processed foods at all in my diet; no added sugar, oil, or salt…so I eat differently than you do). I had COVID recently….very mild for me. 1 day of a 100.5 fever and a couple days of a light cough. Lost sense of smell for about 4 days (started returning after 2 days gradually). I was working out at full capacity (1-3 hours of exercise) (isolated in my apt) by day 4 of my illness because I had full energy and the only remaining symptom was an occasional cough. I agree with you completely that being in excellent health seems to indicate a mild experience. I would also add that I still have NO idea where I got it. No one I know with whom interacted had it as far as I know.

  21. Similar experience about two weeks after your timeline (headaches, fatigue, sore throat, cramps/aches but no fever, cough, or loss of senses)- I know you’re not much of a device fan but I’ve seen elevated resting heart rate and lower heart rate variability. Potentially confounded with other factors (less cardio in cold weather, elevated stress, holidays, etc) but notable nonetheless. Glad you’re doing well, sir!