Here’s why you might feel nauseous after a workout — and what you can do to prevent it

  • Do you often feel nauseous after exercising? While it’s common and doesn’t last long, it can still be uncomfortable.
  • There are a few reasons why this can happen — so if it happens to you, there’s probably no reason to panic.
  • There are also things you can do to reduce or prevent this feeling, including when you eat.

Many of us exercise to feel better. While some of us get a “runner’s high” after a workout, unfortunately, some of us leave the gym feeling sick. While this is usually only temporary, it can still be uncomfortable.

Luckily, there are some good explanations for why this happens — so you probably have no reason to panic if it happens to you.

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When we exercise, blood flow to working muscles, brain, lungs and heart increases. This increase in blood flow is driven by the sympathetic portion of the autonomic nervous system (which helps regulate all of our involuntary bodily responses such as heart rate, blood pressure, and digestion).

It does this by widening the arteries so they can carry more blood to these tissues.

But the sympathetic nervous system, which normally drives our “fight or flight” mechanisms, simultaneously constricts blood vessels entering the gastrointestinal system, such as the stomach, by as much as 80% during intense exercise.

This is done because there is a finite amount of blood in the body, and the increased oxygen demand of some tissues can only be met by changing the amount of blood flow to other tissues.

This means that blood supply may be reduced in areas that don’t need as much oxygen at the time. This may be true whether or not you’ve eaten recently.

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But let’s say you recently ate a meal before hitting the gym or going for a run. When we eat, the food stretches our stomach, causing the release of the acids and enzymes needed to digest the food.

Stomach muscles also become more active during digestion, leading to an increased demand for oxygen and blood from the stomach and other GI tract tissues. Different parts of the autonomic nervous system increase blood flow when the structures of the gastrointestinal tract need to be active.

The apparent conflict of different tissues in the body all needing oxygen can be one of the causes of nausea during or after a workout. As needs change, the body must direct blood flow to tissues.

So when we exercise, blood needs to flow to the muscles, heart, lungs and brain, which means less blood in less active tissues, such as the gastrointestinal tract – even if it’s currently digesting our dinner.

When blood flow to this area is reduced, it triggers our gut nerves, which subsequently cause a feeling of nausea.

On top of that, the stomach and other abdominal organs are also squeezed during exercise, which can further exacerbate nausea. This is especially a problem during squats, where the body draws more air into the lungs as the heart rate and oxygen demand in the tissues increase.

This then causes the diaphragm (under your rib cage) to press down harder on the abdominal organs. Other muscles — such as those in the abdominal wall — also help, squeezing the abdominal organs further with each breath. This can lead to severe nausea and even vomiting – even on an empty stomach.

Some evidence even suggests that exercise, especially long-distance running and other endurance events, may damage the stomach lining—perhaps by reducing blood flow and oxygen available to the organ.

This can also cause nausea. In extreme cases, this can lead to bleeding from the gastric mucosa, especially in endurance and long-distance athletes.

when to eat

If you exercise immediately or within up to an hour of eating, you’re more likely to feel nauseous, regardless of the level or intensity of your exercise. It takes about two hours for solid food to be broken down by the stomach and enter the small intestine, so if you feel nauseous after a workout, it’s best to wait at least two hours after eating.

What you eat before a workout may also determine whether you feel nauseous. Foods high in fiber, fat, and even high protein have all been linked to an increased likelihood of post-workout nausea. Supplemental protein, especially whey protein or shakes, is also slower to digest.

This can lead to nausea during exercise as the stomach tries to digest it.

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Certain fats, especially saturated fats, may cause nausea in different ways—animal models have shown that they irritate and damage the lining of the gastrointestinal tract, thereby activating the neurobrain in the lining of the stomach that connects to the vomiting center (located in the medulla oblongata).

Consuming sports drinks or other high-carb beverages (such as juices, energy drinks, and sodas) has also been linked to nausea during and after workouts. This may be because these drinks digest very slowly and stay in the stomach longer than other drinks.

If you often feel nauseous after working out, there are a few things you can do. To start, vary or reduce your usual workouts and slowly increase the intensity.

This is because the longer the workout, the more blood is pumped from the stomach. Make sure to drink enough water before and after your workout, as too little and too much can cause nausea for different reasons.

When it comes to your diet, avoid eating up to two hours beforehand and choose the right foods—such as high-quality carbohydrates (such as bananas or sweet potatoes) and protein, as well as unsaturated fats (such as nuts).

Not only do these foods provide your body with energy, but if you plan on exercising, they won’t be as hard to digest as other foods.

adam taylorProfessor and Director of the Clinical Anatomy Learning Center, Lancaster University

This article is reproduced from conversation Licensed under Creative source article.


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