Unfortunately, exercise-induced nausea is a real thing—here's why (and how to deal). In this age of tough bootcamp workouts and high-intensity interval training, feeling like you want to vomit has become an increasingly common aspect of a serious sweat session. If you ever (or often) find yourself dealing with queasiness as the result of a challenging workout, know this: You're not alone; exercise-induced nausea is a real thing—and it can really get in the way of the post-sweat pride you should be feeling.
There are a few reasons for that puke-y feeling towards the end of or after a difficult workout. Here's what you need to know about feeling sick (or even vomiting) after you sweat—and how to know if you might need to back off a bit for your body’s sake.
When you get your blood pumping during a hard workout, your digestive tract gets the short shrift. Because of the intensity [of a hard workout] and the significant workload, blood is distributed to the muscles to promote nutrient and oxygen transport. Unfortunately, this leaves little blood left to circulate to the stomach and intestines, and as a result oftentimes triggers a nausea or vomiting response.
Basically, your gastrointestinal system isn't getting adequate support when your body is moving blood to where it's needed most. Some workouts are worse than others when it comes to commanding tons of blood flow—for example, leg day can leave you more prone to nausea. This is due to the size of the muscles as well as the overall volume of work that the legs are capable of handling.
In addition, intense full-body workouts can further exaggerate this response, as every muscle in the body will be competing for blood flow. To counteract this affect, we suggest balancing out a full-body workout by only focusing on intensity for one area. If you're doing a crazy-hard upper-body workout, take it easy on your lower body that day.
Working out at a higher intensity than you're used to can make you feel ill.
While it's great to challenge yourself in the gym, if you choose a workout that you're not conditioned enough for, you could be setting yourself up for sickness. This is because your body can’t handle the metabolite accumulation that happens when you push extra hard.
The harder your muscles work, the more oxygen they need, but after certain point your body is unable to match the oxygen demand with the intensity of the exercise, so you begin to build up metabolic wastes in your body such as hydrogen ions, carbon dioxide, and lactic acid. This is also what causes that burning feeling in your muscles during a workout. This build-up can also create a toxic environment and increase the acidity of your body, which can cause an individual to experience a temporary state of nausea and sickness.
You can experience this no matter what your fitness level is, but you're more likely to be affected when your body isn't used to the work you’re putting it through. If you find yourself feeling nauseated after a workout often, try scaling back your workout intensity. Consistently feeling nauseous after a workout can be a sign that you're overdoing it. Even for metabolic conditioning purposes, the goal is to provide an intense stimulus without destroying the body in the process. You can also take longer rest periods in between exercises.
The good news is once the exercise is complete, these metabolites start to clear out of your body, so that sick feeling fades away.
What (and when) you eat before exercise also plays a role.
Going into a workout hydrated and fuelled is important, but you can have too much of a good thing. Having an excess of food and liquids in the stomach before workouts can trigger exercise-induced nausea simply because there won’t be adequate blood circulating in the stomach to promote optimal digestion.
To avoid that sluggish, ate-too-much, going to vomit feeling during a workout, plan your workout about one-and-a-half to three hours after a regular meal. Also, even though healthy fats are hailed for their ability to keep you full for longer, that's not a great thing when you're getting ready for a tough workout. Minimize high-fat foods in the meal leading up to an intense workout, because fats sit longer in the stomach and take more time to digest. Focus on protein and carbs instead, which will fuel your workout.
If you can't plan your workout around a meal, you can have a small pre-workout snack—just try not to eat within an hour of starting your workout if you're nausea prone. And try not to chug water immediately before a workout—focus on sipping consistently. Slow and steady wins the race, and in this case, literally.
There are a few other things you can do to minimize exercise-induced nausea once it’s set in.
And all hope is not lost if you're already feeling a little sick. Walking around at a slow to moderate pace after training is one of the best things you can do to keep exercise-induced nausea to a minimum, even if it has already set in. You can also try laying down with your feet higher than your stomach, which helps redirect blood back to your heart and digestive system.
And even though sports drinks aren't that necessary most of the time, they can be a great recovery drink if you feel ill. Fluids with quick-digesting carbohydrates cause quicker fluid delivery and further assist in gastric emptying, which can help alleviate and prevent nausea symptoms.
At the end of the day, exercise-induced nausea is unpleasant, but it's probably not going to hurt you. If it's a mild to moderate response immediately following training, it's most likely nothing to be concerned with, particularly if it subsides within 60 minutes. If it happens all the time or continues to linger, you might want to get checked out by a doctor to make sure there's nothing else going on, because the last thing you want is for your fitness grind to be derailed by feeling sick every single time.