Exercise-Induced Nausea

Nausea during a strength training workout

Many weight lifters experience nausea during exercise. In fact, it’s surprisingly common for weight lifters and other strength training devotees to vomit during a workout. There are several factors which contribute to this sort of workout nausea.

stomach

  • Too much food or water in the stomach. Stomach volume is limited, and stomach emptying rates are lower during exercise than at other times. As the old saw says, “Don’t swim (or squat) until an hour after eating.”
  • High or maximum heart rate and uncontrolled breathing. Sustained heavy lifting elevates the heart rate and blood pressure. This brings on a “sick to the stomach” feeling.
  • Bending over during a period of maximum heart rate, especially while inhaling. The esophageal sphincter is a band of muscle that closes off the top of the stomach. It prevents stomach contents from re-entering the esophagus. Unfortunately, it’s notoriously weak and can open due to an overfull stomach, bending over while drawing a heavy breath, or a highly elevated heart rate.

To avoid exercise-induced nausea during intense strength training, remember these tips:

  • Get enough rest between sets so you maintain a manageable heart rate. If your heart rate is at its maximum, exercise induced vomiting may occur. Rest periods of up to five minutes are acceptable after a heavy set of squats or other compound exercises.
  • Don’t bend over to adjust the weights. Instead, adjust weights while they’re on the rack or on a table. Avoid compressing your stomach.
  • Drink the bare minimum amount of water that you feel you need. Try to avoid drinking right before intense sets. If you are properly hydrated before working out, you can keep your drinking to a bare minimum. Emulate a boxer who drinks only enough between rounds to replace the water lost to perspiration and exhalation.
  • Don’t rehydrate with fluids containing dissolved gas. Never use carbonated drinks during a workout. Avoid shaking your water bottle when you drink from it. Sipping from a cup is preferable to using a water bottle; anything that introduces dissolved air into your water will increase the gas in your stomach during exercise.
  • Finally, get in shape for your weight lifting workout. If a single set of squats leaves you gasping for breath, you are not properly prepared.

Nausea after exercise

While weight lifters and bodybuilders can experience nausea after exercise, it more commonly affects endurance athletes.

Marathon runners, and other endurance athletes, occasionally experience exercise-induced nausea.

Marathon runners, and other endurance athletes, occasionally experience exercise-induced nausea.

If, as a weight lifter, you consistently experience post-workout nausea, remember that dehydration and (ironically) over-hydration or water intoxication can manifest itself as nausea after exercise. Check out some techniques for recovering from intense exercise and be sure to get your post-exercise carbs. For weight lifters, throwing up after exercise is atypical; if you experience extreme nausea after exercise, it is time to reevaluate your workout program, diet, and recovery protocol.

Correlation between heart rate and nausea

Wear a heart-rate monitor and you find out all sorts of interesting things.

I recently was wearing my heart-rate monitor, watching my heart rate drop after a set of deadlifts.

As I waited for my heart-rate to drop back below 150 or so, I let out a slight belch. Immediately, my heart-rate dropped below 120 and I felt a bit light-headed. Then I experienced the nausea feeling that often accompanies light-headedness. After 5 seconds or so, my heart-rate caught up again, and the light-headedness went away (and so did the sick to the stomach feeling).

What this tells me is that anything which reduces your blood pressure (a belch will do it) can immediately cause a sick feeling, even though it’s only temporary. It’s the same phenomenon as suddenly getting up from a seat and feeling mild vertigo.

I was surprised that a slight burp caused a drop in intraabdominal pressure significant enough to effect my heart rate.

Some people theorize that the body’s feedback mechanisms intentionally cause vomiting as a way to reduce blood pressure. So, if you vomit during or after exercise, perhaps you’ve been working out at max heart-rate for too long.

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{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

Albert Yi September 15, 2009 at 4:26 pm

When I begin to feel like throwing up, it is always because I didn’t spend enough time resting between lift sets. So many places say that you should keep the rest period between lift sets to a minimum, but like the 1st tip says, always get enough rest between sets to keep the heart rate down. I wish I knew this a few years ago!

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Senester September 22, 2009 at 7:51 am

Throwing up in the weight room is more common than most people think.

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George October 6, 2009 at 3:47 pm

One of the points made in the article is to get in better shape, letting your heart rate come down between every set will not accomplish that. Eventually the nausea will go away after a heavy set of squats or deads, then you know you are in shape.

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Thomas October 29, 2009 at 2:44 pm

That’s a very good point. As per the specificity principle, the best way to get in shape for squatting is (of course) by squatting.

However, when I recommend resting a fairly lengthy while between squat sets (up to 5 minutes), I’m thinking of ultra-heavy sub-six-rep squats of the sort you’d use on a bulking program. Unless you’re already in shape, it’s best to postpone the start of a serious bulking program until you can work out with maximum intensity.

So, my preference is for novices to first get in shape with less intense squats (and other squat-type movements). Then, after a certain degree of fitness is achieved, to start eating big and squatting big.

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Enigma June 1, 2010 at 1:34 am

Now I have just finished a workout involving supersets which is basically a push set of 15 ie squats and then a pull set of 15 Straight back dead lifts, it was recommended to have a 30 second rest after you do both these exercises back to back, then do it again for 3 sets.

So this was my first time in a while doing weights and then i spewed like a fountain i mean it was disgusting, but i’m not going to change my workout gonna still do the same cause with out pain and sacrifice you can’t truly break your limitations. So i made it through my weight/spew session and not gonna quit, i mean i was sick half way through my workout and i’m not a quitter, so i pushed through the pain barrier and so should everyone here.

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TT June 11, 2010 at 12:01 am

“Pushing through the pain” is probally the most stupid thing you can do while training. Muscle pain is one thing but for a novice and even uneducated regulars, if you induce tendon/ligament tearing and push on confusing it for normal muscle tearing, you will end up having surgery and MONTHS of pain, sometimes perminant damage. As for vomiting and pushing through, also stupid…you remove ALL the bacteria in your stomach and totally cock up your electrolight levels and in the end, you will put your body into a state of shock and recovery becomes an issue and this indirectly kills ALL your gains…it is like having gastro/food poisening…..the author is right, rest because strength and stamina is not build through pushing the “pain barrier” UNLESS you know what you talking about and that means getting educated before you get hurt, perminantly..oh and lets not forget, ignore the signs and you’ll have a stroke very easily…the heart is but a pump..and it to can say ENOUGH…no matter how old you are.

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Anthony September 17, 2010 at 8:11 am

I used to get the feeling of nausea after lifting weights, but it was because I would drink water between virtually every set. After I began to do what you said and cut down on drinking water, the nausea went away. I never thought of having a full stomach during weight lifting, but you are right it is a cause of feeling sick during the workout. Now that I don’t feel nauseated after heavy squats, I look forward to leg days.

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Kenneth April 3, 2011 at 11:38 pm

I’ve experienced this more then a few times in my life. From the personal experience and clients experience this feeling trigers aggressive recovery and adaptation. With myself if I duplicate the exact same workout, same weights, same rest periods, same hydration, same time period from last meal, 48 hours later and no nausea. Most of my clients experience the same results although I avoid pushing them to that point.

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Elderon May 8, 2011 at 1:14 pm

I recently had a re-kindling of my passion for MMA, especially BJJ. Seeing that a new place opened by me I decided to get myself into some semblance of shape. I didn’t realize how much I lost from not exercising for about two years.

To get back to the topic, I too am having the issue with bad nausea during workouts. I believe it to be caused, for myself at least, by high bp and perhaps not breathing correctly during exercise which just compounds the problem.

I made a point to pay attention to what I was doing before I experienced the nausea and it seemed like I had it for exercises like pull ups or the last rep or two of bicep curls, exercises that I unfortunately have the bad habit of holding my breath sometimes (bad bad I know, I’m working on proper breathing). I also tend to tighten my abdominal muscles, perhaps this is contributing to bad breathing as well as raising bp from the extra strain?

I find taking the longer rest periods and just breathing helps. The nausea can be pretty intense (start to gag..etc) but taking a small break when you feel it start and just breathing, it goes away quick. The problem is that most workout sites/books/articles.. whatever almost always say like 30 secs or less between sets, maybe 1 minute max and that is not nearly long enough for many people starting out.

On the bright side though, the better my cardio and general fitness gets the less I seem to experience the nausea. So perhaps people who are out of shape or new to having a workout routine should do a few weeks of cardio and general exercise before getting into their new exercise regiment.

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mikew May 19, 2011 at 1:52 am

yeah, about an hour before i left for the gym i took a half of a shake, and some supplements. with a bottle of water to go. bad idea. i knew that if i drank too much of any shake, or ate too much or drank too much i would get sick, so i limited it. still got sick as a dog. heart rate was way up, breathing was way down? and yes i was only waiting 30 secs. between sets, on a bulking program. weird. and i was doing leg workouts too, ironic. i guess it was a perfect storm. next time…water only. this site was helpful. gonna change that workout program tomorrow.

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Silvia Di July 8, 2011 at 6:00 pm

I feel nausea and dizzines, this is totally affectin my workout’s. Especiacily cardio, I really don’t know what to do Dr. said everything is fine with me but when I’m running or doing squat’s OMG! I need to make like 10 to 15 min rest. Please any advice around?

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Jay July 31, 2011 at 6:43 pm

I guess the main point I took from this article is to not overdo it, especially if you’ve had a period off, and to progressively increase your weights over time. I just had my first session after a 3 week holiday and I planned to start where I left off. My pre workout nutrition this morning was good, consisting of oatmeal, an apple and a small protein shake. Hit the gym an hour later with squats, overhead presses and deadlifts being the main focus. I was fine until I hit the deadlifts and started feeling nauseous. I didnt end up finishing my program and packed it home feeling pretty sick all the way haha. Gym sessions for me are never usually a problem unless I’ve had a break and my bodies not ready for the sudden onslaught. I guess the big take home message is to bring yourself up to speed before you start doing your personal best sessions, listen to your body, eat well and be patient. I know that after one or two more sessions I’ll be feeling good and training without the nauseous!

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Felicia August 5, 2011 at 7:23 am

Just came home from the gym and puked on my front porch! Rinsed my mouth out, googled “exercise induced nausea,” and this site popped up. It explains a lot—thanks! I used to work out a lot a few years ago and am trying to get back into it now, but I gather I’m jumping in a little too intensely. The brain remembers what it’s like to train but I guess the body doesn’t. I’ll start taking it easier.

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Miguel November 25, 2011 at 12:17 pm

Felicia, please read comment by Kenneth above. If your heart is healthy, don’t start taking it easier just because of nausea! Stick with your program; your body will get used to it and the nausea will subside over time.

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Ian September 30, 2013 at 4:27 am

So you’re suggesting I should push myself until vomiting after every workout for the first month I start?

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Jessica January 5, 2012 at 3:00 pm

I am by no means a weight lifter……and I have been throwing up after my workouts…..weightloss yoga and cardio max intense workout with 2lbs wieghts? would this also be caused from bending and tooo much water in the stomach?

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Thomas January 6, 2012 at 6:18 am

Heartrate plays a part in it too. Try wearing a heart-rate monitor and keeping your workouts in a fat-burning target zone, rather than letting your heartrate get up to its max. Hopefully, you’ll get in shape eventually and the nausea will be a thing of the past. Good luck!

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Gary January 9, 2012 at 10:24 pm

One thing I do to help nausea is have a roll of antacids handy. If I begin to feel a little stomach upset I immediately take an antacid, which settles it down. At most I would need one per workout. That and making sure to get the heart rate down sufficiently between sets has eliminated the nausea.

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Ann January 25, 2012 at 9:51 pm

I too have just started back at the gym after too many years off, my symptoms, sweaty, hot, heart rate up, sick in stomach, light headed, beginning of headache, burping, tried to push through it but it got the better of me, ran to the ladies, kept it down, but couldn’t get up from the bench in the ladies, felt like I would pass out after vomit, lol so stayed down, finally had to go home, managed to drive home fell into bed and didn’t appear till the next day, still feel slightly sick and headache, welcome back to the gym! Not a great incentive to go back next week.

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w March 10, 2012 at 8:27 pm

i started a weight lifting program last month, and when i push myself very hard, i get really nauseous. i agree that you need to build up stamina and strength, because i repeated that exact same workout (with some weight increases) and it felt way easier. i also agree that rest and deep breaths are important. just taking it easy for a minute and concentrating on my breathing makes a big difference.

i also wonder if being very hot has an effect on this? heat tends to aggravate nausea, in my experience.

it’s very interesting you mentioned bending over because i got nauseous tonight (hence my google search that led to your site) and one of the exercises i did was a DB bent over row. in addition i had a big dinner tonight. on top of all that, i also had done an extra set beyond my program for a compound exercise which i did first (squat.) i thought one more set wouldn’t be that big of a deal – lesson learned! thanks for the info.

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April March 20, 2012 at 9:27 am

I’ve been running on a treadmill, working up my speed. I thought if I was paying attention to how I feel that I’d be safe and wouldn’t overdo it. Six weeks ago I ran a personal best speed and felt fine, as usual, but a few minutes after I sat down which I don’t normally do and I was so sick I couldn’t get home. A kind person helped me. It was very scary as it never happened before. Usually I walk home from the gym so I don’t sit for a while after running. Tonight I went back to it and I drove to the gym, so again I sat down a few minutes after the workout and I got sick again, though nowhere near as bad. I had monitored my heartrate tonight to make sure I didn’t overdo it too. I was in the athletic range for most about two thirds of the 20 minute run. Is that too much? And does sitting down afterwards cause nausea because my heartrate drops too quickly?
I’m glad to find this article, I was afraid I might have a heart problem. I suppose it couldn’t hurt going for a checkup anyway though.

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Thomas March 23, 2012 at 10:16 pm

It’s always good to put your mind at ease, but unless you have symptoms of a chronic medical condition, it’s not absolutely necessary to see a physician. Nausea after exercise isn’t really that unusual, and I would’t call it an indicator of disease. Of course, only you know for sure the severity of your ‘sick’ feelings. If it was really out of hand, a consultation with a doctor certainly won’t hurt.

In one of their fitness guides (which was vetted by many doctors and medical organizations), the US government says this:

People without diagnosed chronic conditions (such as diabetes, heart disease, or osteoarthritis) and who do not have symptoms (such as chest pain or pressure, dizziness, or joint pain) do not need to consult a health-care provider about physical activity.

This advice is different than what you’ll get from most exercise-services providers (like trainers, gyms, websites, etc.) People want to protect themselves from any sort of liability, so they say something like “always consult a physician before starting any exercise program”. They try to send you to a doctor just in case… The doctors who wrote those fitness guidelines for the government don’t think it’s wise to recommend a consultation before starting a fitness program because they reason that this will discourage many people from starting a fitness program.

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Joe May 4, 2012 at 7:16 am

I play music live and often will be in hot environments, smoky, etc. I notice that about three hours into the night I begin to sweat uncontrollably, get nauseous, etc. and cannot seem to go on. i am about 20-25 lbs overweight and haven’t been excercising between these marathon rock shows.

After this symptom starts I immediately get pale, weak feeling, back starts hurting and inevitably I puke. Will losing my extra weight help this? or is it a medical condition. My doctor said everything is ok and my blood is good, but he’s also enamored of the fact that I’ve lost 100 lbs.

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Thomas June 23, 2012 at 3:38 pm

I don’t know what to tell you. Of course, you should make sure you stay well hydrated and make sure your blood-sugar levels are not dropping to the point where you start to feel sick. It’s probably just a question of getting super-fatigued after 3 hours of tension.

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Kevin H. June 22, 2012 at 5:31 pm

I’m in my mid 40s and have allowed myself to fall into a very sedentary lifestyle the past several years. Thanks for this great site! I’m not sure I’d be considered skinny (6ft, 220 lbs – about 100 kg I guess), but I’ve always had skinny legs and would like to take the weight off my midsection and add muscle to my legs and upper body (chest, shoulders, etc.).

The one thing I dread is that nauseous feeling and, God forbid I actually vomit! I have a hiatal hernia. I haven’t vomited in years, but I’m concerned about further damaging my esophageal sphincter if I do. Thanks for your tips. Any other advice for somebody with my condition? I know losing weight around my midsection is supposed to help but. Otherwise, I’ll just follow your advice and also take it slow.

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Thomas June 23, 2012 at 3:26 pm

Interesting situation you find yourself in. I don’t have any real tips for you — it would be irresponsible of me to pretend I know something about how you should exercise with your medical condition. In a general sense, I think it’s a good idea to initially wear a heart-rate monitor and keep your pulse from maxxing out. Once you’re in shape, it probably won’t matter if your pulse gets up near the max because you’ll be able to withstand it. Design a good, varied cardio program and make that the focus of your exercise efforts. I say this because, as a formerly sedentary couch potato, you’ll want to build up your muscular endurance and your work capacity. Think in terms of months rather than weeks. Adding appreciable muscle mass can wait. Good luck!

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Mary November 1, 2012 at 9:45 pm

Should we avoid the excessive production of Lactic acids by eating carbs before work outs? So there will natural production of energy when needed, instead of organic production of energy. Correct?
I wonder…seems to be more than just blood pressure, for my experience!
Please explain this other factor if it does affect nausea during and after intense exercise.
Thank u

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ned December 12, 2012 at 5:36 pm

Thanx for this site it really helped alot reading through comments. After coming back to gym aproximately after 7 months I felt nausea sweating increased heart rate after 25 min of intensive running. I started feeling sick after running and after doing abdominal muscle excersises. For the first time in my life I felt like this and it was really scary I even called ambulance. Everything was fine they did ECG blood tests andeverything seemed fine. I will also see cardiologist just to make sure I have healthy heart althoughIv been involved in sports all my life

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Maggie February 20, 2013 at 4:30 am

Thank goodness for these suggestions . I am a nurse returning
To exercise after several months of abstinence .
I thought I was going to die I felt so ill . Nausea, almost vomiting and
Bowels !! I did not realise it was so common to feel like this, I was thinking I should give it up as exercise is supposed to be good for us . I will continue having read a the comments .

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Charlie May 22, 2013 at 2:05 pm

Best way to eliminate nausea from lifting/running:
SUGAR!!!
Try eating a Fiber One bar, drinking a gatorade, some strawberries, or even a snickers bar within 10 minutes of your workout. Sometimes I feel sick mid-workout, and I’ll eat a handful of fruit gummies, wait about 10 minutes for the sugar to kick in, and feel totally fine. Drinks provide sugar-energy faster than food, obviously.
Also, for us skinny, fast-metabolism guys, eat tons of carbs within 2-3 hours of your workout, like pasta, whole wheat bread, and anything else starchy/bready.

Good luck! Get huge (or normal-looking).

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mark July 21, 2013 at 5:30 am

Really interesting info. Been lifting on off for 3 years but last 6 months harder and more consistant. Due to working nights and time being an issue I have a protein and powdered oats shake an hour before I get up and hit the gym on top of a litre of water for hydration. Now ive not experienced any nausia problems until recently. 2 sets in im struggling to contain myself and as a result my training has been made impossible. We have just have a heat wave and I presumed this a factor. Any advice much appreciated.

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