There’s no doubt you’ve earned every ounce of sweat and every sore muscle after that especially tough workout. But while these might feel like wonderful badges of honor to a fitness fan, there’s another common, more unwelcome side effect that can also join a tough workout: nausea.
For runners, a lot of times this feeling can come at the end of a race when they’re pushing their bodies to the max to meet that finish line. For HIIT athletes, it can come after an intense circuit. Feeling like you’re going to throw up after a workout is uncomfortable and can even be demotivating So, we decided to chat with some experts to find out what exactly causes the queasy feeling.
Read on to get to the heart—or stomach, rather—of the issue.
It could be something you ate—or didn’t eat.
With stomach issues, the first culprit is usually something you ate or even when you ate. Kelly Chase, Aaptiv trainer and Certified Holistic Health Coach, explains that nausea can occur if you’ve eaten high-fat, processed junk food or if you’ve eaten too soon before a workout.
“Fatty foods digest slower, explains Chase. Because of this, she says you should focus on consuming protein and carbs at least an hour before a workout. “If meal planning is difficult, then a small pre-workout snack or meal is suggested 30 minutes before a workout.” She suggests a protein shake or three ounces of grilled chicken.
Of course, be sure to avoid big meals right before an intense workout. “Heavy meals that are difficult to digest are more taxing on the intestines,” explains Dr. David Greuner, Surgical Director and Co-founder of NYC Surgical Associates. “This can make your intestines more susceptible to this problem by increasing the amount of oxygen they need.”
But sometimes it’s what you don’t consume that’s causing some gastro issues. If you have hypoglycemia or low blood sugar from lack of nutrients, you might feel nauseous when participating in a super hard workout. “When your blood sugar is too low, your body sends out signals to tell you so,” explains Dr. Gruener. One of these signals is, sadly, nausea. Another is an increase in your “fight or flight” hormones such as adrenaline, explains Dr. Gruener. While this helps to raise your blood sugar, it does so with some unwelcome side effects of feeling jittery and tense.
You might be dehydrated.
You might just need some good old fashioned H2O. “We all know a hangover feels terrible, says Dr. Greuner, “but did you know that most of that feeling is due to dehydration?” He explains that same uneasy, sick-to-your-stomach feeling happens if you exercise intensely without being prepared. So be sure to properly fuel up before and during your workout if you know it’s going to be an intense one.
Your body is working overtime.
Naturally, during a really tough workout, you’re putting strain on your body that is above and beyond its norm. Because of these blood pressure and heart rate fluctuations, Dr. Greuner explains there can be irregular and inconsistent blood flow to the brain, which results in dizziness and weakness.
“Your body has pressure receptors on some areas of the body, such as the neck, which help regulate pressure when it senses that blood pressure is too high or too low,” he explains. “This system can malfunction or react too slowly when you are undergoing intense changes in intensity or positions quickly during a workout.”
A change in blood flow can cause you to feel ill. “Your body diverts blood to where it’s needed the most during exercise,” says Dr. Gruener. “This means it moved during intense exercise from your organs, such as the intestines, kidneys, and liver, to the muscles that are working very hard in order to deliver oxygen where it is needed most. During a longer workout, the organs not getting as much blood as normal can suffer a minor injury due to the lack of oxygen. In most cases, this is completely reversible. But it can be painful, and result in diarrhea and abdominal pain.” Translation: you feel sick.
It’s totally normal.
Feeling like you might throw up after a workout is a completely common side effect for athletes. According to Dr. Greuner, nausea is very common after a longer or more intense workout, and can have many physiological causes. Bottom line: it’s normal!
If you experience regular nausea, simply scale back your intensity and gradually work up to that level to avoid getting ill. Of course, if you find yourself in a race setting where stopping isn’t an option, Chase suggests you walk it out and sip (no chugging!) fluids to ease your stomach.