Help me feel better while exercising
October 16, 2012 12:01 PM   Subscribe

How can I keep from passing out and vomiting during workouts?

I am mid-twenties, maybe mildly underweight, and female. I don't drink or do any drugs. I recently started doing a fitness "boot camp" a few times a week and for the most part I'm doing well, building muscle, increasing stamina, etc.

However every now and then I'll just feel terrible. My vision starts going black and I get nauseous to the point of vomiting. This morning I also had really bad intestinal cramps.

I'm drinking enough water and eating a pretty healthy diet. I am on spironolactone for acne but a really low dose and the fainting thing has happened prior to starting on spiro.

My question is, assuming that these aren't symptoms of anything really serious, what can I do to prevent them. Is there something I can eat/drink before or during these episodes to keep from passing out on the side of a hill? Or is it just a matter of getting in better shape and powering through it (something I find unlikely, watching people from all fitness levels lap me at the park without pausing to upchuck behind the bushes)?
posted by jschu to Health & Fitness (26 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I would advise you to see a doctor.
posted by Nimmie Amee at 12:04 PM on October 16, 2012 [14 favorites]

Maybe you eat healthy, but do you eat enough?

I'm not, like, a doctor or anything, but you probably shouldn't be working out to the point of throwing up or fainting. Barring easy fixes like just needing more calories, you should probably go talk to one before continuing on your new exercise regimen.

(I used to black out all the time during strenuous workouts. I thought it made me hardcore and meant that the workout was, well, working. Actually I was just super eating-disordered and had whacked-out electrolyte balances and blood pressure. I'm not saying you have disordered eating *at all*, but throwing up when you work out isn't normal, and you shouldn't assume that it is or that you should "power through" it.)
posted by peachfuzz at 12:05 PM on October 16, 2012

(something I find unlikely, watching people from all fitness levels lap me at the park without pausing to upchuck behind the bushes)

Stop going to fitness bootcamp immediately and go see a doctor.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:05 PM on October 16, 2012 [20 favorites]

My question is, assuming that these aren't symptoms of anything really serious, what can I do to prevent them.

You can't assume that. You've no way to know if it is or isn't serious. Go to a doctor. Get checked out. It would be irresponsible for any of us to give you any other advice as what is anecdotally true for any one of us in a similar situation may not be true for you.
posted by inturnaround at 12:07 PM on October 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

My question is, assuming that these aren't symptoms of anything really serious...

Um. Yeah. About that...

Losing consciousness on a regular basis is never a good thing. Hie thee to the doc. It could be a heart or circulation problem, or it could be a poor diet, you'll never know until you see the doctor, the internet cannot help you here.
posted by Slap*Happy at 12:08 PM on October 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

Gentle yoga used to make me barf and pass out. Turns out there was a reason for that. See your doctor.
posted by mochapickle at 12:11 PM on October 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

These are symptoms of something serious. Several things serious, in fact, including a few cardiac conditions that should be treated immediately. You need a doctor.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:13 PM on October 16, 2012 [6 favorites]

Doctor? I mean, maybe, but I'm not actually sure about that in this case. Sounds to me like a classic case of overdoing it, i.e. "bonking" or "hitting the wall." This can happen to anyone, even elite athletes, and while distinctly unpleasant, it isn't all that serious. You just gotta eat something, or better yet, drink some gatorade or something with sugar. Fitness "boot camps" are designed to whip you into shape with a period of intensive training, but if you're not ready for it, you can bonk pretty easily. The "mildly underweight" thing definitely suggests this as a possibility.

Basically, you're some combination of dehydrated and running low on blood sugar while exerting yourself at or slightly beyond your limit. When you well and truly run out of glycogen, caused by an extended period of vigorous exertion, your body goes into "cut that shit out" mode and knocks you on your ass. And boy howdy, that's where you stay until you're ready to go again. This is why marathon runners eat Snickers or whatever.

An article on the subject.

All of that being said, it could be something more serious, so a visit to your doctor is probably advisable. If you're starting a new fitness regime basically from scratch, that was going to be a good idea anyway. But I really think that this sounds like simple overdoing it which you can remedy by taking things a little easier and bringing a sports drink or something with you when you run.
posted by valkyryn at 12:13 PM on October 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Spironolactone has a diuretic effect and it's used in heart patients with edema in chest or high BP. While you said this occurred prior to the Rx, Spironolactone may be complicating this. Give a call to your prescribing physician and get some advice. Fainting and vomiting are side effects for this medicine. You should inform your physician.

tl:dr - Call your doc.
posted by 26.2 at 12:14 PM on October 16, 2012

assuming that these aren't symptoms of anything really serious, what can I do to prevent them. Is there something I can eat/drink before or during these episodes to keep from passing out on the side of a hill?

I find that I'm really sensitive to working out in the heat and it doesn't take much before I feel faint/nauseous if I'm working out outside (which means, living in Florida, there are only a handful of months that are conducive to me working out outside).

The first time I had that feeling, my trainer told me to eat a banana about an hour before I start the workout and to make sure I was much more hydrated during the workout. So I took his advice re: the banana and I made sure to have two bottles of water with me during our training sessions. That seemed to work for me.
posted by lea724 at 12:18 PM on October 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Get to a doctor. I've done a number of workouts over the years that pushed me past my limits to the point where I could barely move - but I've never fainted as a result.

If you are normally handling the workouts well, then it's probably not a matter of the exercise being too tough for you. Something else is probably going on.

It's possible that you are mistaken when you say that you are drinking enough water. Being dehydrated could certainly explain your symptoms. How are you gauging your fluid intake?

Eating too little during the day/ having insufficient fuel in your body could also cause this.

If it's not simply a matter of maintaining your fluid and electrolyte levels, then there is likely something else going on that you'll need a doctor's help in tracking down.
posted by tdismukes at 12:21 PM on October 16, 2012

I don't think this is anything serious. It's actually extremely common, particularly if you're out of shape. I used to get it all the time until I got in better shape, and it still happens to me from time to time when I overshoot my comfort zone in aerobic exercise. The last time it happened to me was when I was doing a Crossfit-style circuit training routine.

The only technique I ever found which solved it is when you feel it coming on, get your head as low as possible, even if it means lying down on the ground. Wait until the nausea passes and then slowly get up to a seated position, then finally stand.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 12:27 PM on October 16, 2012

Hi, I'm a physical therapist, IANYPT. You should take this seriously. Vomiting and passing out, or near-passing-out, regularly or sporadically, should be taken seriously. Go see a doctor. If you were my patient and this was happening to you, I would send you to a doctor.

As a rule, whenever you are having symptoms of some kind, you want to rule out the worst stuff that could be causing them before you jump to the conclusion that something is not serious. Among the serious things that this possibly could be is an undiagnosed heart problem. This is something that you need to see a doctor to rule out. If it is a heart problem, you could be very, very glad that you saw a doctor about it now, rather than a few years down the road when the problem could be potentially much more serious.

If it is a blood sugar problem or a blood pressure problem, the doctor can help you diagnose these too. They can also refer you to a nutritionist if that is the root of the problem.

TLDR: There are people who can help you in person way better than we can, because we have limited information, because we can't see you. Your MD can help send you to the appropriate one.
posted by jennyjenny at 12:27 PM on October 16, 2012 [5 favorites]

Are you anemic? Are you getting enough iron and potassium?
posted by Ideefixe at 12:29 PM on October 16, 2012

Doctor, please. Spironolactone has vomiting and fainting as side effects and if you experience them, you are advised to see your doctor immediately. Spironolactone is a blood pressure medication (diuretic) that has been used for other ailments, but it can cause problems with some individuals because of its original intended purpose.
posted by cecic at 12:43 PM on October 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yes, doctor to rule out super bad things including side effects of your medicine, but just because it's good to rule that out doesn't mean it's necessarily a sign of something serious. I feel exactly like this (not to the point of actual vomiting/fainting, but feeling about to faint and nauseous) whenever I work too hard, particularly when it's hot/humid but even when it's not if I really overdo it - and it's more about how hard you're pushing your body past its normal limits than about your absolute fitness level. My suspicion is that in my case (not necessarily yours) it's a sign of poor heat regulation and I'm just overheating.

Boot camp is notorious for pushing past your limits (that's kinda the point) but you definitely shouldn't be pushing hard enough to vomit. A critical question to ask yourself is whether the "every now and then" is only on days when you're pushing yourself harder than usual or hot/humid days, or whether it's random. If you consciously dial things way back, does it still happen? I'd be much more concerned if it's not related to exertion/heat.
posted by randomnity at 12:48 PM on October 16, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers so far. Kind of freaking out here... Just for perspective, this has happened 2 or 3 times out of 15 workouts in the past 5 weeks... Not heat related I don't think.

I probably am not eating enough. I never have a great appetite. I'll talk to my doctor, thanks guys.
posted by jschu at 12:54 PM on October 16, 2012

The most common reason for symptoms like this is that you're dehydrated and your blood pressure's too low, making you feel faint.

That being said, there are certainly other, less common and more serious reasons for the symptoms, and I think getting checked out before continuing any exercise program is a good idea.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 1:09 PM on October 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

A technical term you could use when looking online or when talking with your doctor is vasovagal syncope. It can be brought on by a number of things, but most commonly is from the vagal nerve that runs from your stomach to the base of your skull. Dehydration, hunger, or lack of sleep could be great starting points. I'd also look into the possibility of agitation from having stomach acid in your lower esophagus. For me, it's caused by a small haital hernia...but there's a plethora of other causes that can only be found through doctor visits. Good luck!
posted by samsara at 1:09 PM on October 16, 2012

Nthing that you need to see a doctor, but are you sure you got enough water on the days you passed out? When I feel sick after/during exercise, it's almost always because I haven't had enough water that day.
posted by downing street memo at 1:15 PM on October 16, 2012

If I drink too much water too close to when I start my workout, it's very uncomfortable to the point of wanting to puke. But it feels different from wanting to puke when I overdo it. Also feels different from wanting to puke because I'm sick.

Could it be one of those?
If not, doctor!
posted by cheemee at 1:34 PM on October 16, 2012

Agreeing that you should talk to a doctor.

That being said, I've had light headedness, shrinking vision, nausea when doing intense workouts. For myself, I've found that downing something with protien (yogurt, whey powder) half an hour or 45 min before excercise does a lot to stabalize me. But that's for me and my workouts. The only people who could really determine what you should be doing would be you and your doctor ; )
posted by ghostiger at 1:54 PM on October 16, 2012

I don't think you need to freak out. Lots of times a medication side effect is pretty simple to resolve. Call the doc and get a recommendation from the person who's seen you entire medical record. It may also be garden variety overexertion. Call and find out.
posted by 26.2 at 2:09 PM on October 16, 2012

I don't think you should freak out (but do see a doctor to make sure it's nothing serious). I have a similar body type/history, and I was the same way, always pushing myself as hard as I could, which would inevitably make me dizzy/close to blacking out and/or barfing. After seeing my doctor and him giving me the all-clear, I ended up spending a few weeks limiting my workouts to just elliptical machines where I could keep an eye on my heart rate. Now that I know what "working out hard, but not enough to conk out" feels like, I can go do more strenuous stuff and just make myself back off when I start feeling like I'm overdoing it.

Also: I discovered I can't work out in the morning, or I get stomach/intestinal cramps, so I go after work. And: I always, always eat a little something with protein an hour before.
posted by chowflap at 2:50 PM on October 16, 2012

I also think checking in with a doctor is a good idea.

That said: I do a bootcamp class too, and this has occasionally happened to me. (Including actual vomiting on the first day! It was very glamorous.)

Here is what helped:
- eating before class. Everyone always goes on and on about protein. I feel dizzy without eating simple carbs (a plain granola bar) beforehand. When I was starting out, I would sometimes drink a small bottle of Gatorade too. I know -- all the carbs! But it was literally the difference between making it through the hour or not.
- Wearing a heartrate monitor. Helps curb overexertion. I became familiar with my own heart rate, and try to keep it below OMG-going-to-die. I am competitive (who knew?) and was trying to keep up with people who were faster and fitter than me. The monitor gives me a concrete way to measure my exertion.
- drink water the night before. Two glasses before bed. (Having to.pee when you wake up helps get you out of bed anyway.)

I'm still occasionally dizzy (the tail end of a cold hampered my breathing recently) and, dude, you have to STOP when that happens. Take five minutes. If your coach gives you any shit, they are terrible and don't give them your money.

But, yeah, since you're starting a new, strenuous fitness program, seeing a doctor is a good idea anyway.
posted by purpleclover at 3:13 PM on October 16, 2012

If I try to work out hard in the morning, I sometimes get something similar unless I'm really careful to eat and drink enough early enough before I work out. It's just really hard for me to be hydrated and have enough blood sugar for a really hard workout while not puking because of all the stuff in my stomach. What is working for me right now is a smoothie of frozen berries and yogurt. Somehow I can get that down and it doesn't make me sick. Maybe you could start getting up a bit earlier so that you have more time to absorb the water and digest, and then eating and drinking more. I'm usually fine in the evenings, since I've had all day to drink/eat.
posted by lab.beetle at 7:36 PM on October 16, 2012

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