How can I prevent exercise headaches in hot weather?
May 29, 2012 7:48 AM   Subscribe

Exercise headaches in hot weather: how to treat (or better yet, prevent) them?

I’m 27, female, and in reasonably decent shape. For all of my adult life, I’ve gotten horrible exercise headaches after moderate-to-intense exercise in hot weather. The headaches are bilateral and throbbing. I’ve occasionally experienced photophobia along with the headaches. Onset is typically minutes after ending exercise. It’s to the point where I literally cannot go for a run in hot weather (i.e., at least 80 degrees and humid) without getting a severe headache that sometimes lasts for hours. I’ve dealt with this by exercising inside when it’s hot, but I love spending time outdoors and would like to be able to exercise outside year round or close to it.

Possible related factor: I sweat much, much more than the average person. It’s always been this way, regardless of my level of fitness. After an (indoor) soccer game, the other people on my team look hot and sweaty. I look like I’ve just stepped out of a swimming pool, and my face is a bright, bright red.

I’ve been told that sports drinks like Gatorade, Powerade, etc. are gimmicky and unnecessary. What I’m wondering, though, is if they might be a good option for me, i.e., someone who sweats an inordinate amount and is probably losing a lot of sodium in addition to water. Rehydrating with water alone is not working.

I’m hesitant to try things out without at least some idea of whether or not they’ll work because, frankly, I’m afraid of getting another headache. The last severe exercise headache I got left me on the floor, in tears and in agony, for hours.

If you have successfully prevented or treated exercise headaches, how did you do it? Do you use Gatorade or another sports drink (or perhaps something you concocted yourself)? Just to reiterate: rehydrating with water alone has not worked, regardless of how much I drink and when I drink it.

(Oh, also: exercising early in the morning is not an option. The heat index has not dropped below 80 degrees for the last 72 hours here. It’s not uncommon for us to have a month-long stretch or more where the temperature never drops below 85 degrees. With the humidity, it often feels much warmer than it is. My thyroid levels were tested for another unrelated reason and are normal. My blood pressure is normal. Finally, the only medication I’m on is a hormonal contraceptive.)
posted by pecanpies to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You talk about rehydrating, but what about prehydrating? I have this problem on occasion, too, and I've found that being extremely well hydrated consistently throughout the day prior to the exercise does help.
posted by something something at 8:10 AM on May 29, 2012

Yeah, taking in water while working out or after working out isn't half as effective as coming in properly hydrated. The day before your work out drink twice as much water as you think is necessary. The day of your workout, drink twice as much water as you think is necessary.

It works for me, and I sweat like a pig and dehydrate like mad myself. I'd ask a doctor as well though, just to be sure that it is indeed a hydration problem.
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:12 AM on May 29, 2012

I would try a sports drink to see if it helps. Sweat is salty, so when you sweat your body loses those salts (electrolytes), mostly sodium and potassium. Sports drinks are designed to replace those salts. Normal Gatorade is pretty strong so a lot of people mix it 50/50 with water. The G2 Gatorade has fewer calories with the same electrolytes so it might be better. You could also try just a salt mix without the calories.
posted by exogenous at 8:13 AM on May 29, 2012

Definitely get your hydration going before you run. It's perfectly ok to have to pee halfway through your run. If you don't want to stack on extra calories, look at Propel. I get the little packets - two of them in a Nalgene bottle.
posted by notsnot at 8:21 AM on May 29, 2012

You are dehydrated, and the boring answer is to drink more water throughout the day. I do hot yoga daily, and it's not enough to drink while you're working out, you must keep water with you at all times and drink drink drink!
posted by katypickle at 8:28 AM on May 29, 2012

You might also want to consider taking a potassium supplement along with your super-extra-lots-of-water before you work out. This will help balance your potassium loss from all the sweat. Good luck!
posted by WidgetAlley at 8:31 AM on May 29, 2012

Nthing drinking lots of water throughout the day, well in advance of your workouts. My layperson's guideline is to be sure I've had enough water at least 30 minutes before I go out. And remember potassium! Bananas, yogurt, and many nuts and seeds are good sources of potassium.

Is it possible to work out in the early evening, around 6 or 7 pm? It may not be cool, but it'll be less hot, and the sun won't be direct.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:40 AM on May 29, 2012

I realize I shouldn't have said "rehydrating" - sorry for the misdirection. I have tried "pre-hydrating," so the speak, by increasing water intake on the day of my workouts and it hasn't worked. I often have to pee mid-workout and output is normal - very light, straw yellow (so I know I'm not chugging too much & having it simply pass straight through me), and it's a normal amount for me. Trust me - I wish the answer was as easy as simple dehydration!

I used to do hot yoga on a daily basis and never got these headaches, FWIW. They only seem to occur after moderate to intense aerobic exercise in hot weather (e.g. after running, outdoor soccer, etc.).

Thanks for the suggestions. I'll check out G2 and Propel.
posted by pecanpies at 8:40 AM on May 29, 2012

You should be aiming for straw coloured urine all the time regardless of whether you exercise, or not, but I wonder if what you're actually dealing with is exercise induced migraines. If that's the case, then you need to start a migraine journal and keep an eye on things (diet, sleep, stress levels etc) that may be contributing to the headache. Is there a pattern before you exercise? My migraines have rarely ever been triggered by a singular event like eating some chocolate. There's also some stress, an overripe banana, or perhaps I didn't get enough sleep that sets the ball in motion towards some head splitting pain.

You also mention hot weather, are you out in the sun? What are you doing to minimize glare? The sun/bright lights/glare can be a trigger for me maybe it is for you too? Maybe some sunglasses and/or a hat would help?
posted by squeak at 9:13 AM on May 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you find you're getting them much more frequently in hot weather, it may indeed be an electrolyte issue which could be fixed by quickly replacing your electrolytes soon after or during your workout. Some people take salt caps or tablets (look up s-caps or nuun online or at your local sporting goods store) if you want the electrolytes without the other stuff in sports drinks for whatever reason.
posted by matcha action at 9:56 AM on May 29, 2012

I have the same problem, pecanpies, and it's not related to dehydration for me either. I've been unable to find a solution, so I do my exercise early in the morning or make sure there's a cool-down break (like, in a lake) on the schedule. Sometimes these headaches will develop for me if I spend hours in intense heat even without exercising.
posted by workerant at 11:49 AM on May 29, 2012

Sort of seconding squeak just above - every year I get a couple wicked migraines in May when the weather first turns HOT. (These are real beauties with photophobia and auras and last for an eternity; triggered by I believe the heat, which I've learned to loathe, and also humidity and increased light /glare.)

"One of the theories of migraines is the classic vaso-constriction/vaso-dilation: that migraine headaches are caused by the constriction of blood vessels in the brain, followed by their dilation. Brain studies during migraine have shown that blood flow to the brain is in fact abnormal, which likely contributes to the symptoms.... migraines may be triggered by the overreaction of blood vessels to a variety of factors including ... changes in altitude and/or weather, glaring lights... excessive exercise."
(And dozens of other things, apparently.)

Next time you get one of those vicious headaches try Excedrin Migraine and see if it helps at all.
posted by henry scobie at 12:07 PM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm also very sensitive to heat and sunlight. I've found that I can avoid headaches by switching between gatorade and water (or diluting gatorade), wearing a hat and sunglasses, being diligent about sunscreen, and taking Advil preemptively. I think the sun plays a big role in my headaches in addition to the heat so going out in the morning or evening might help even if the temperature is still high. Cooling off as fast as possible after I'm done exercising also helps.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 1:15 PM on May 29, 2012

Nthing the possibility of migraines (especially with the photophobia) - I get them triggered by exercising in hot weather.

What *really* helps me is exercising indoors, but when I can't avoid being outdoors, I pre-treat by taking my meds at the very first niggling of a possible headache, drinking lots of water (although water by itself does nothing), limiting the amount of time outdoors, and by cooling down as quickly as possible - jumping into a cool bath or shower the moment I get inside. I also wear a hat. If my head has shown any tendency at all towards pressure ot pain that day, I don't go outside for longer than necessary in the heat.

I have considered these sorts of bandanas or hats that you stick in the freezer to chill and then put on your neck/head, but haven't given them a try yet.

Also - I recently quit hormonal birth control, and my incidence of headache dropped precipitously. I haven't exercised outside long enough here this year to tell if it's affected my exercise/heat-induced headaches, but it's another thing to think about if you're on it.
posted by telophase at 3:20 PM on May 29, 2012

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