Running and severe nausea
September 20, 2006 9:19 AM   Subscribe

I am in pretty decent shape (nothing amazing, but 5' 7" and 138 pounds which is normal) but find that I can't do much of ANY running without feeling horribly, horribly nauseated within minutes of finishing. I can lift and do pushups, squats, etc., but running is basically out of the question. Sometimes it's so bad I have to stop even though it's rarely more than 10 minutes. Since I'm not unhealthy or overweight, I'm pretty concerned about this. Why does running, in particular, make me feel so awful? Does this happen to anyone else? Should I be trying to push through it?
posted by dmaterialized to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: how far are you running? i find that if i don't have a bit to eat (or some sports drink) before I run, and some sugar mid-run (for longer distances), I get all woozy. Granted, i have diabetes mellitus so my situation is a bit different, but don't rule out your body's need for fuel while you are working.
posted by casconed at 9:21 AM on September 20, 2006

If you haven't done any running previously you really need to work up to a certain level. Don't expect to just up and start with 10 minutes of running without any previous attempts. Start with fast walking for about a week on a 5k course, then move up to a slow jog for several weeks and then push yourself towards running. If I am out of shape, I don't feel very good trying to do a several mile run on a first attempt.
posted by JJ86 at 9:22 AM on September 20, 2006

You're feeling nauseated because you're really just out of shape. I was the same way when I was a kid and started cross-country training each late summer. But keep exercising, stay hydrated and within a few days or so your body will get used to it.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:25 AM on September 20, 2006

Your height/weight doesn't necessarily indicate whether you're in good shape. (I'm not saying you aren't, just that just because you are not overweight does not necessarily mean you are fit.) How much cardio do you normally do, and at what intensity level? If you haven't been doing much cardio lately, it wouldn't be surprising for you to feel like this when you take it up again. And as cardio goes, running is quite tough, so that might explain why running does this to you. I feel like that when I haven't gone swimming in a while, for example.
posted by Amizu at 9:25 AM on September 20, 2006

Best answer: You might check out this related question. Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be a clear and straightforward answer out there.
posted by exogenous at 9:27 AM on September 20, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for the related post, exogenous; I do have that exact same problem! Not only am I woozy and feel like I'm going to throw up, but I have an uncontrollable need to spit out the "acidic" feeling in my mouth every 20-30 seconds.

I definitely don't do enough cardio, mostly because of this! I can easily do ten minutes of very fast jumping jacks and just feel tired (not nauseated) at the end. I guess I just have to take it even slower than I have been. I've always felt 6-7 minutes of running (slow to moderate pace) on level terrain should be pretty simple... maybe it isn't :)
posted by dmaterialized at 9:33 AM on September 20, 2006

...within minutes of finishing.
I read this as meaning that you feel sick after you finish running, right? Are you "warming down" properly? If you finish running or other exercise and just stop suddenly to collapse on the ground you may get sick as well. Saw this plenty of times as a high school cross country/track runner back in the day.
posted by zoinks at 9:54 AM on September 20, 2006

You should go out an immediately buy a heart monitor. I can't stress this enough. I would guess that your cardiovascular system isn't doing that well. Without the data, no one knows, but this is a problem I've encountered in others with the same symptoms.

Don't screw around with your heart.
posted by ewkpates at 10:06 AM on September 20, 2006

Best answer: I think running is a lot harder than other types of exercise.

It took me about six weeks to build up to being able to run 5k, and that's despite the fact that I'd been working out on the ellipticals and bikes at my gym for 30 minutes a day, four times a week for six months.

I started by running half a mile, walking 5 minutes, running half a mile, walking 5 minutes, running half a mile. Every week I'd add a quarter of a mile to how much I was running and reduce the amount of time I was walking.

Once I got to the point where I was physically capable of running a 5k, it took another two weeks of doing it three times a week before I was able to run the 5k and actually feel good afterwards.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 10:08 AM on September 20, 2006

Running is a lot harder than it seems - you should work up to it slowly. The best program I ever saw has you adding your running in bits after you're able to walk 1 mile in 20 minutes.
So you start by walking a mile as quickly as you can. Then you get it down to 20 minutes. Then you walk five minutes and jog five minutes, then 10/10, then run 15, walk 5, then you're running the whole mile. You'll stay at each stage for one week, so it should take about six weeks before you're running the whole mile. That way your whole body can adjust to running gradually.
Also, you may be getting an anaerobic response - when I used to race bicycles, the first several times I did interval training (where you make your body go into anaerobic metabolic state for short bursts) I literally gagged for a few minutes at the end of each sprint. Gradually, my body learned to handle it, and I got a pretty good sprint going (for a slow, distance rider, that is).
Just take is slow, and warm up and cool down properly.
posted by dbmcd at 10:10 AM on September 20, 2006 [3 favorites]

Best answer: The acidic feeling(acidosis) comes from being unable to breathe fast enough to clear the buildup of CO2, so it builds up as carbonic acid in the blood. When you run, you generate a large amount of CO2 because your muscles are working much harder than usual, but you haven't yet adapted to where you can clear all that CO2 through deep exhalation. You're also getting a buildup of lactic acid as your muscles can't get enough O2 and switch to anaerobic respiration. This further results in a rapid drop in blood glucose as the muscles consume their supply on hard and go looking for more. A rapid drop in blood sugar is well known to cause nausea, and since you probably have a high level of fast-twitch muscle fibers, your glucose consumption rate is faster than a trained runner.

What can you do about this?
  • Drink a couple ounces of sports drink like Gatorade every 10 minutes or so to offset the drop in blood sugar, but don't drink too much of you'll give yourself a cramp. Also, you should drink it around room temp or above so it's most rapidly absorbed. The phosphate in the gatorade may help prevent the pH drop due to the phosphate it contains, but I'm not sure there's enough to do anything in that respect.
  • If you smoke, for god's sake, Quit! You'll find it very difficult to develop the lung capacity to run well if you smoke.
  • Give it time. Your lung capacity will slowly adapt to exchange more CO2, your muscles will store more glycogen to prevent precipitous drops in blood sugar, and the makeup of your muscles will change to include more slow twitch fibers and less fast-twitch muscles, meaning your muscle's metabolism will operate more efficiently. Each of these processes occur on their own timescales, but you should notice a difference in a couple weeks.

  • posted by Mr. Gunn at 10:32 AM on September 20, 2006

    Getting a heart rate monitor is a good suggestion. I didn't see it posted here already - so I figured I'd link to it - you should try the Couch to 5K program here.

    I did it and it was really successful for me - until I realized that running was a little too hard on my knees and hips, so I stopped. But I finally got to a point with running where I could do so much more than I ever thought I could, and actually found myself enjoying it, even though I'd always hated running ever since I was a little girl.
    posted by pazazygeek at 10:43 AM on September 20, 2006

    Best answer: It sounds to me as if what you've got going on is a very low anaerobic (or lactic) heartrate threshold. This does indicate that you're out of shape, but it's very trainable. You don't need to panic, you don't need to rush out and buy a new gadget. you do need to take it easier and, if the problem persists, get to a doctor.

    Here's the deal:

    There are three main numbers (all heart rate numbers) that give an athlete an easy snapshot of fitness and cardiac health. (There are also some others that are a bit more useful, VO2Max, and vVO2Max, but they don't really matter here.)

    The numbers are resting HR, max HR, and anaerobic threshold (AT).

    Resting heartrate is just that, your pulse when you're completely rested and resting. First thing in the morning, say. In general, the better your fitness, the lower this number is, because what it suggests is that your heart beats more strongly with each contraction.

    Max HR is the maximum number of beats per minute that your heart can beat. This really varies from person to person, is somewhat age dependent, IS NOT an indicator of fitness in any way. It's a fixed number, it does not change as you get more fit, it does not change with training. It's a useful number to know in order to set some of your workout intensities, but other than that it doesn't tell you or predict much.

    The number you're bumping up against is you AT, the heartrate at which your body stops being able to operate aerobically and switches to anaerobic work, producing lactic acid, gasping breath and all the biproducts of pain. Everybody's AT is different, and can be expressed as both a heartrate number and as a percentage of MaxHR. It's very trainable, in fact, it's one of the big things that runners work to train. When that number is low, because you're out of shape, your body begins to switch over to anaerobic energy production, which is a process that only works for a short, painful, time, very quickly. In other words, people with low ATs are effectively sprinting even when they aren't running fast at all! Of course one cannot keep that up for very long.

    Three quick illustrations:

    Sue is a worldclass sprinter. Her Max HR is 200, her RestingHR is 50 and her AT is 90% of her MaxHR, or 180. She runs the 100 meter, and competes at 94% of her MaxHR, completely above her AT, which hurts like hell, but she only has to do it for 10 seconds. (An impossible 2:39 mile.) Still, at the end of her race she gasps for breath for several minutes as her body tries to catch up with the demands of anaerobic energy production and biproducts.

    Glenn is a worldclass marathoner. His MaxHR is 200, RHR 50, AT is 95% of MaxHR or 190. He competes at 94% of his MaxHR, making his race aerobic, but very fast (under 5 minutes/mile for 26.2 miles). He's spent his life training his AT to be as close to his MaxHR as possible so that he can run fast without crossing that red line. His breathing and heartrate after running 26.2 miles is mostly affected by the sprint at the end, otherwise his respiration returns to normal quite quickly because he has been doing aerobic exercise.

    A new runner has a MaxHR of 200, RHR 50, AT is at 75% of MaxHR at 150bpm. This runner's heartrate when walking is 100bpm, very slow jogging=120 bpm, jogging=151bpm. Because the runner is not very fit, they've crossed into the anaerobic zone at just a jog, meaning that as far as theor body knows, and regardless of their speed, they're sprinting. They stop and vomit after three blocks, which is an inordinately long sprint.

    Simply walking briskly and then jogging slowly, never so fast that you're gasping for breath or unable to carry on a conversation, will move that AT up pretty quickly. Then, as your speed increases, the same rules continue to apply.
    posted by OmieWise at 11:05 AM on September 20, 2006 [34 favorites]

    OmieWise is absolutely correct, great illustration. A lot of recreational level athletes have no basis of reference for how well conditioned they really are. I can only offer support to this example as a cycling coach, as I'm a pathetic runner.

    Running is the easiest exercise to (logistically) do for most people, owing to its simplicity. However, it is physically the most demanding, particularly for an unconditioned athlete. I don't care how fit you are, the first four to six weeks of any running crosstraining sucks monkey butt. I've been a very successful bike racer for the past twenty years, yet I must bleed out my eyeballs to run a ten minute mile.

    The three examples OmieWise cited above are also a beautiful illustration why cycling (specifically road racing) is so bloody painful and difficult -- because of the unique ability to constantly 'recover' at well below AT on the bike (owing to mechanical efficiency + drafting in the field) bike racers must do tons of conditioning in order to survive numerous VO2 MAX level 'attack' efforts (meaning supralactate or above AT) of between 30 seconds to as long as six minutes, over the course of a 45 minute - 2 hour race. This. Absolutely. Sucks. One of the more charming talks I commonly have to have with beginning racers is the "You Will Puke and/or Get Puked On At Some Point, So Don't Flip Your Wig" discussion.
    posted by lonefrontranger at 3:30 PM on September 20, 2006 [2 favorites]

    Probably not applicable, but I used to have problems with gagginh when I ran and it turned out I had mono. It was the only symptom I had.
    posted by stoneegg21 at 8:06 PM on September 20, 2006

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