When you’re running a three-mile race, intense Pilates class, or halfway through your weight circuit – all of a sudden – you’re nauseous.
Despite having the best intentions to continue your workout, you are forced to fight to stop, sit, and take a deep breath.
In a moment, your body loses energy. The little energy you leave behind is used to fight a gag reflex.
Exercise-induced nausea, or nausea after a workout, is a common occurrence that most people – fitness experts and newcomers alike – have experienced at times.
Why do I feel nauseous when I work?
Kirin Dunston, MD, says that nausea or vomiting during or after exercise is usually related to one or more of the following factors:
- Hydration (too little or too much)
- Nutrition (whether you ate, or what you ate)
- Workout intensity vs. baseline fitness level
- Specific exercises
- Gastrointestinal dysfunction
- A serious medical condition
The cause of your exercise-induced nausea may not be obvious at first, but one thing is for sure: it’s not fun to throw up when you’re trying to break a sweat.
Not only does this derail your workout, but it also makes it harder for your body to feel motivated and excited to continue challenging.
Good news? With the right precautions, you can avoid that feeling in your stomach.
1. Eat properly and hydrate
To prevent nausea, be smart about when and how to give your body fuel before a workout.
Give yourself at least an hour to digest food before you start walking, recommends Christine McGee, an ACE-certified personal trainer based in New York City.
Keep pre-workout meals light, and be sure to include both protein and carbohydrates if possible.
If you are hungry and can’t wait an hour for work, choose a banana, a handful of raisins or an energy gel, all of which can be digested quickly.
For liquids, make sure you are hydrated, but do not overdo it.
You don’t have to throw away all the water in your 24-ounce bottle 10 minutes before you start your race – an eight-ounce glass or two will do the trick.
And while sports drinks can help replenish lost minerals, the high sugar content of many of them can ruin your hydration efforts.
Dunston says it’s important to have a sports drink according to the duration and intensity of your workout.
The good old fashioned H20 is enough in most situations, but for those looking for an edge especially during hard or long workouts try a low sugar sports drink that maximizes fluid absorption and replenishes lost electrolytes.
Potential risk of too much or too little food and water
Dunston says dehydration – when your body doesn’t have enough water to function optimally – is a significant cause of nausea after a workout.
Another possibility? You sniff too much H2O, and your stomach fills up extra.
“How much you ate recently and what you ate before your workout can be a problem,” said Dunston. “Low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, is a problem especially if you work out in the morning and don’t eat anything beforehand.”
If this is the case, Dunston says you will usually experience both nausea and dizziness.
Overeating before exercise also hits your stomach against your muscles.
Dunston says the body removes blood to the gastrointestinal system to help digestion.
But if you exercise on a full stomach, your body also needs to send blood to your muscles to support their movements.
When your body tries to handle both digestion and strenuous exercise at the same time, there is not enough blood flow to aid digestion, Dunston says. May cause nausea.
“A precursor to nausea and vomiting,” Dunston said. “Throwing food in the stomach is a way to eliminate the problem of blood supply to the body.”
2. The intensity is low
If you are not preparing your body for a certain type of exercise or intensity (such as running five miles at a speed of seven minutes, or swimming non-stop for 30 minutes), do not go into it at full strength.
When you are not accustomed to a certain speed, distance or movement, it is essential to be easy on it and adjust your expectations accordingly.
“Keep the intensity level within your tolerable range,” Dunston said.
In other words, don’t assume that if you ever jog on the relatively flat road around you, you can run a hilly six-mile trail.
Try to approach new workouts and movements with equal share of enthusiasm and caution.
When you feel ready to increase your speed, distance, or repetition, do it slowly, and don’t forget to notice when your body begins to overwork so that you can retreat. Before You hit your breaking point.
The potential risk of overwork
The line between pushing yourself for another two minutes of running and pushing yourself to the point of nausea can be blurred.
Exercise is not supposed to be easy (it is meant to challenge you), but it will not make you so sick that you will not be able to complete a workout.
McGee says overwork can cause nausea.
“If you exercise at an intense level or push yourself to your limit, your body responds by increasing blood flow to your muscles, heart, lungs and brain so that your body can process energy and continue working.” He says
“When this happens, the blood drains from your stomach and it can make you feel sick.”
3. Warm up properly and avoid exercising in extreme conditions
If you sit at your desk and run at full speed without adequate transition periods, you are going to overwork yourself before getting down to your workout.
To prevent nausea from overwork, McGee says it’s important to warm up your muscles before you start working out.
Depending on your workout, you can jog lightly for five to 10 minutes, walk briskly for a few minutes, or do some dynamic stretching to increase blood flow, activate your central nervous system, and optimize strength, energy, and range of motion.
Another tip? Avoid working in extreme situations, McGee says.
Exercising in excessively humid or hot environments can cause heat exhaustion, nausea and dizziness if you are not careful.
If you like hot yoga or outdoor running in the summer, don’t stress – stay hydrated enough and start slowly to adjust your body to higher temperatures.
Other possible causes of nausea while exercising
1. Confusing movement
“Specific exercises, especially those that compress the abdominal wall muscles and require twisting of the head, can also cause nausea,” Dunston said.
Moving like a crunch puts extra strain on the abdomen, Dunston said, while twisting motions can confuse the inner-ear vestibular system – the network of sensory components responsible for our sense of balance.
Anyone who closes their eyes during a sit-up or tries to pose a camel at the end of a yoga class knows what happens when your body feels unbalanced: you feel nauseous.
2. Performance concerns
If you are involved in a competitive event where there is a lot of pressure to succeed – such as a race, sports match, or weightlifting competition – you may experience occasional or constant performance anxiety, which can make you feel extra nervous and nauseous.
You don’t have to take the starting line of 10K or Tough Moder to feel anxious though.
Dunston says any exercise under stress can cause serious nervous breakdowns.
“It simply came to our notice then [workout] Classes where you are concerned about maintaining and looking good, ”Dunston said.
3. Greater health concerns
Dunston says exercise can sometimes exacerbate symptoms of gastrointestinal disorders and other health conditions, leading to nausea and other problems.
“If nausea persists after all of the above concerns have been addressed, it’s best to see a doctor to evaluate the underlying potential health issues that need to be addressed,” Dunston said.
What to do if your workout makes you feel nauseous
Even when you feel that you have done everything right, sometimes there is nausea.
When that horrible, sickly-your-stomach sensation starts to crawl over you, Dunston says it’s best to rest for a few minutes.
Stop what you are doing and find something hard to sit on or lean on.
If nausea does not subside, “it may be best to call it a day off or reduce the intensity of activity,” Dunston said.