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What Causes The Nauseous Feeling When Working Out Too Hard?

At times a person may tend to feel nauseous while working out too hard. Sometimes it reaches a point where a person may become so nauseous that they may feel the need to vomit as a result of their upset stomach.

This is an awful predicament to have especially while in the gym! A difficult workout is challenging enough to get through, but add nausea into your workout and it can be no fun to say the least.

So, what causes this nauseas feeling during intense exercise and how can you avoid it?

Factor #1: Over-hydration (drinking too much water prior to exercising)

Interestingly enough, one potential cause of nausea while working out can come from being over-hydrated.

It’s not a good idea to exercise on a full stomach of water, especially when performing intense exercise like burst training or interval training. Too much water in the stomach can cause cramping which in turn leads to nausea.  Drink water sparingly, but just don’t over-do it before, during, and after an intense workout.

If you feel yourself getting nauseous and suspect that over-hydration is the culprit, lower your intensity or take a break. Also be aware that not consuming enough water (dehydration) can cause the same result. Monitoring fluid intake is one way to veer away from a potential feeling of nausea.

Factor #2: Too high or low blood sugar levels

The next factor to consider is your blood sugar levels. How long has it been since you’ve eaten something before your workout? Very low blood sugar levels are a common culprit when performing higher intensity exercise on an empty stomach. Quite frequently the nauseous feeling is accompanied with dizziness, light-headedness, and weakness.

It is best to eat something light prior to a workout, say like a piece of fruit. You want to simply avoid consuming a heavy meal or snack before your workout.  Avoid consuming foods that are harder to digest as well. This includes animal proteins and starch carbohydrates like whole grains.

A small amount of glucose (20-30 grams) is more than sufficient to get through the most challenging burst training workouts. Individuals who are more conditioned and have been working out for a while can experiment with early morning cardio in a fasted state, but for most people I don’t recommend this strategy.

Ideally a small amount of carbohydrate consumed 30 minutes prior to your workout will be your best bet. I don’t recommend consuming fats with your pre-workout snack or drinking protein shakes.

A lot of bodybuilders promote the idea of drinking protein shakes prior to working out, but for the average individual this can be counterproductive. It’s important to remember that protein synthesis comes to a halt during high-intensity exercise so it’s really not that beneficial to focus on protein pre-workout. It’s post-workout when you want to drink that protein shake.

Factor #3: Lack of conditioning necessary for high intensity exercise

Most frequently nausea is often the result from the body not being ready to perform high intensity exercise. Beginner exercisers often become nauseous when throwing themselves right into an advanced routine like P90X, a boot camp, or intense burst training session. You’ve got to progress slowly and give yourself time to adapt to higher intensity exercise.

One of the main reasons for this is your body’s inability to buffer powerful adrenal hormones and lactic acid produced with high intensity effort. The adrenal glands kick into high gear with intense exercise and if you’re not conditioned for it you’ll feel it go straight to your head.

Over time with exercise you’ll see improvements with hormonal balances and your body’s adaptation to higher intensity effort. Scale things down a little and work at your own pace. There’s no need to work so hard you feel like you have to puke while working out. This certainly won’t reinforce a positive association with exercise and decreases your likelihood of sticking with it for the long-term.

Factor #4: Adrenal Fatigue

One last final note on the whole subject of nausea with exercise. I see more and more individuals coming in to start an exercise program with some degree of adrenal fatigue or weakness. It’s becoming more and more prevalent due to a number of factors that extend the scope of this discussion. Being overly stressed, not getting enough sleep, and showing signs of insulin resistance are primary factors associated with adrenal fatigue.

Just know that I’ve seen a strong correlation between adrenal weakness and nausea with exercise. Even moderate intensity burst training can trigger nausea with individuals who are dealing with adrenal issues. If you suspect you may have adrenal weakness or fatigue check with your physician prior to starting an exercise routine.

After having several cases with clients where they experienced nausea and dizziness with relatively low-moderate intensity bursts, I began doing extensive research. As it turned out the majority of these cases the individual showed some sign of adrenal imbalances.

Here’s a possible correlation between adrenal issues and nausea with working out doing burst training. I consulted with my Dr. Craig Koniver an expert on hormonal balances and a physician on my advisory board. Here’s his take on the connection.

If the individual doesn’t have healthy reserve of cortisol, as would be the case with those who are suffering from adrenal fatigue and insulin imbalances, it becomes very difficult to exert at higher intensities without that cortisol. That manifests as an over-abundance of norepinephrine without the cortiosl to balance everything out. This can create blood vessel constriction leading to a cascade of events causing the individual to feel dizzy and nauseated.

A knowledgeable fitness professional who consults with your physician can design you a workout routine to best meet your individual needs. This often involves scaling back the intensity and incorporating more functional exercise in the beginning.

I’ve found success with using low-moderate intensity weight training that allows more complete rest periods in the beginning. This allows the individual to slowly adapt to higher intensity exercise while the adrenal and other hormonal imbalances are corrected.

I strongly believe in the benefit of resistance exercise for individuals with adrenal issues, but adjustments in the intensity, volume, and workload simply have to be made. While aerobic exercise is certainly beneficial there’s a misconception that individual’s with adrenal issues have to limit themselves to walking or things like yoga.

The bottom line is full scale  Burst training is not the ideal starting point for individuals dealing with adrenal issues due to the intensity. The adrenals simply can’t handle the responses to high intensity exercise if cortisol reserves are lacking.

The good news is this is reversible and I’ve seen numerous cases where individuals have been able to use exercise, dietary, and lifestyle changes to heal their body and eventually progress to burst training workouts. Once again it’s all about achieving balance with your body and exercising smartly according to your individual needs at any given point in time.

Next time you exercise and happen to feel nauseous, ask yourself these questions:

“Did I drink too much water?”

“When was the last time I’ve eaten?”

“Did I eat too much prior to the workout?”

“Am I over-exerting myself and pushing too hard for my level of conditioning?”

“Could I possibly have some degree of adrenal weakness or fatigue?”

If you ask yourself these questions you should be able to get a better idea on why you’re nauseous and begin to identify the possible cause. If you address the most common causes with fluid intake, blood sugar levels, and intensity and continue to experience problems consult with your physician.

A little nausea every now and then with a really challenging workout is normal. Having it time and time again with your workouts, even when you scale things down, could be a sign of a deeper issue to be addressed.

Shaping Concepts is the leader in Charleston personal training specializing in weight loss and body transformation for middle age adults. Burst training workouts and supportive nutrition strategies are used in combination with a wide array of hormonal and metabolic testing. Each program is customized to the unique needs of the client and includes hands-on coaching and accountability. Sign up for a free no-obligations consultation and trial today.

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