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.


  • 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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