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Exercise-induced nausea and increasing intensity in moderation

Running & Fitness
Saturday, January 9, 2021

With all the positive things that is reported about the advantages of exercise there is one problem that individuals that workout need to understand. This problem can affect any person that exercises, but it usually centers on the extremes of exercise. On one extreme is the individual that is starting a program for the first time. The other extreme is the very fit individual that reaches the highest level of fitness. One point about exercising is that if you want to improve you need to push outside your comfort zone. In other words, to improve you need to exercise harder than the usual effort you put forth. For the beginner that has been sedentary most of their life any form of exertion is going to be outside their comfort zone. For the very fit person the effort has to be on the upper level of effort to be outside their usual comfort zone. It can happen to the average fit person that tries to improve their present level of fitness and increases the effort of a workout. 

This working out at an increased effort can cause the problem of ‘exercise-induced nausea’. This is when the person is working out and suddenly becomes nauseous and have stomach cramps. This usually happens to endurance athletes that push themselves to the extreme levels of exercise, but it can happen to almost every person that goes beyond their comfort zone in working out. 

This problem of exercise-induced nausea occurs when the blood flow reaches a level that it cannot provide enough oxygen to the skeletal muscles. When the level of exercise increases the heart rate becomes faster to pump more blood, and oxygen, to the working muscles. When the exercise level increases the body diverts blood away from inactive areas. This inactive area is often the stomach. When the stomach becomes dehydrated and needs blood flow to move the nutrients from digested food in the stomach the result is that well known feeling of an upset stomach. It is the body’s way of telling you that the level of exercise needs to be reduced and moderated to a lower level of effort.

Personal experience lessons learned that I could not eat before I went for a run. The digestion process needed the blood flow in the stomach and restricted the blood flow to the exercising muscles. It wasn’t very far into run that it seemed my legs felt like they were weighted down with lead and the ability to even run slow was a major effort. I went into a race hungry and hydrated. For a marathon the carbo-loading took place the day before the race. I knew one friend that needed a stack of pancakes an hour before a race to get his energy. He was the only runner I knew that could eat a big breakfast the morning of a race.

The exercise-induced nausea can happen with any form of exercise. It may be on a bike ride trying to increase your speed, or the extra effort needed to climb a long hill. It can happen lifting weights. In college a friend and I wanted to have a hard workout to pump up our arms. We were going to do five exercises for the biceps and triceps for three sets each. That means 15 sets for the biceps and 15 sets for the triceps. You have to remember when you are young you think you are invincible. About the time I reached the fourth exercise my stomach was telling me that it was about to expel any contents it had. Fortunately, my workout partner suddenly quit and headed out the door for the restroom. His stomach was telling him he had reached his limit of effort and payback was about to happen. Of course, I was not about to tell him I was only one minute behind him before I would have had to leave. I sat down on the mats and tried to recover before he returned. By the time he returned I felt much better. I asked him if he was OK and pretended I had never felt better. 

The one point to know about over extending a workout to the point of exercise-induced nausea is that to improve the effort does not have to be a maximum amount. The key is moderation in exercise intensity. The improvement can be in increments of smaller effort. Do not try to improve your 10K race time by five minutes, rather consider a faster time of anywhere from 30 seconds to one minute as improvement in performance. If intervals for a quarter mile are usually an 8: minute pace of 2: minute intervals, try running an interval of 1:50 minutes. Ten seconds is enough and is still outside the usual comfort zone. As that pace becomes comfortable you can try running 1:45 minute quarters.

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