Occasional nausea during weight lifting?
October 5, 2019 10:35 AM   Subscribe

I've been an on and off weight lifter for the past three years or so. As in, I go to my local Y and use their weight machines to build some muscle and stay active. But randomly I get nauseous enough that I need to stop my workout and I want to figure out why.

I follow my own routine and cycle through 8 to 10 different exercises per workout, typically 3 sets of 10-14 reps, resting 60-90 seconds between sets and 30-60 seconds between exercises. I'm not lifting super heavy weights but enough that my last rep is challenging to complete. I'm exclusively using weight machines rather than free weights.

90% of the time my workout goes just as expected. But 10% of the time (including this morning), I get nauseous when I'm about 75% of the way through my workout. I switch up the order of my exercises so there's not one in particular that's triggering it.

I almost always work out on an empty stomach (other than a glass of water) because I much prefer to eat after I'm done and no food is appealing when I first wake up (I try to get there early when it's less busy).

The nausea hits me and I usually stop my workout, get a drink from the water fountain and leave. By the time I get to my car, I'm feeling fine but worried it might come back so I don't push it. My heart rate is elevated but I'm not out of breath and otherwise feel fine (other than some expected muscle soreness). The nausea has never hit me in the middle of a set, only when I'm about to start a new exercise.

I have yearly physicals and overall my health is good (cholesterol, blood pressure, etc.). I'm overweight (and have been my whole life) but don't get nausea during other activities (walking, tennis).

Curious if this has happened to anyone else and how they've dealt with it. I'll ask my doctor during my physical in February too but would love input in the meantime.
posted by Twicketface to Health & Fitness (14 answers total)
if you're bending over a lot, could it be acid reflux related?
posted by gaybobbie at 10:37 AM on October 5, 2019

If I didn’t eat at all beforehand, that would most likely happen to me too. Is there any way to have a little something to eat beforehand, like toast with peanut butter?
posted by umbú at 10:38 AM on October 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

Can you feel your pulse pounding before this happens? I get that riding my bike if I stop suddenly. Going from 90% effort to...no effort, my heart rate is like "WTF is this?!?" and I get a wave of nausea. Check your pulse a few times next time you lift, to get an idea what your baseline "working out" rate is before and right after a set. Next time this happens, check to see if your pulse is unusual.
posted by notsnot at 10:43 AM on October 5, 2019

I was experiencing this a lot. Drinking more water helped.
posted by kbbbo at 10:48 AM on October 5, 2019

Do you also have a metallic taste in your mouth? Could be adrenaline...
posted by Wild_Eep at 11:23 AM on October 5, 2019

I’m guessing you’re dehydrated; I get queasy if I’m lifting and I haven't had enough to drink. Maybe bring a water bottle with you, or at least use the water fountain between sets.
posted by holborne at 11:29 AM on October 5, 2019

If you're pushing yourself, it could be normal. I've pushed myself to puke during many a hard workout. Pull the trigger, rinse out your mouth and finish your set.
posted by wile e at 11:53 AM on October 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

Are you remembering to breathe during your sets? I go through phases where I forget, and then I get sick and have to stop.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 1:04 PM on October 5, 2019

I feel nausea when my heart rate is elevated or spikes weirdly when I workout. Pretty consistently I know that if I’m about to vomit while I’m working out it means my heart rate is doing something weird.
posted by katypickle at 2:45 PM on October 5, 2019

Sounds like you might be crashing your blood sugar level. (Endurance athletes call this "bonking", and you can search on that term to read more than you probably want to know about it.) While it's often thought of as an endurance-sport thing, you can absolutely do it while weightlifting—I can do it with absolute predictability if I lift first thing in the morning or after skipping a meal.

If you had access to a glucometer and test strips, you could actually do an experiment and see if your BGL is particularly low when you feel really crappy. Alternately, you could bring something with some sugar in it—non-diet Gatorade, Starburst candies, energy "goop", whatever—and see if ingesting a small amount of sugar during your workout eliminates it. If so, that's probably what's happening.
posted by Kadin2048 at 3:47 PM on October 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

Seconding that this totally sounds like bonking to me, and it happens to me if I do my weightlifting class in the morning and am running late enough that I don’t have time to eat breakfast. If I shove a piece of toast with peanut butter or some yogurt or a banana down in the car on the way it never happens. It’s definitely the first variable I’d experiment with because it is so easy to fix.
posted by charmedimsure at 8:16 PM on October 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

Thanks to all who weighed in - will give a little sugar a try before lifting to see if that makes a difference. Glad it sounds like a common issue and one with an easy fix!
posted by Twicketface at 1:20 PM on October 6, 2019

I agree it could be blood sugar. A piece of fruit right before a workout isn't too bad. It's light enough that you don't feel heavy, and the combo of sugars and fiber give you quick energy and keep you going longer.
It might also be blood-pressure related. You hold your breath during most lifts. The Valsalva maneuver (forcing air against a closed airway) is part of lifting with good form but it can cause a spike in blood pressure.
posted by domo at 11:58 AM on October 7, 2019

This frequently happens to me when biking or exercising. I've started drinking Gatorade before the activity (I bought the powder, and I just mix up a glass), and I feel noticeably better during and after. It's nice because it tends to go down easier than something solid. I'll also echo what notsnot said -- going from max effort to zero can also bring on queasiness. A "warm-down" helps me a lot, just a few minutes of low-effort activity after the really intense stuff. Might help you too, if you're not already doing that.

I also have acid reflux, though, and exercise is one of my main triggers. Just figured it was worth mentioning, in case you've had any heartburn or anything like that. Even with the acid reflux, the Gatorade and the light activity still both help.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 8:20 PM on October 8, 2019

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