When it comes to training with intensity, we have to walk a fine line between achieving the desired stimulus and overdoing it. One consequence of pushing yourself too hard in a workout can be nausea and potentially even vomiting.
This is never a fun way to end a training session, or worse, to halt your training session only having to finish the workout once you’ve recovered. (Mouthwash anyone?!)
But vomiting during or after a workout is something that can be addressed and avoided almost all together. There are certain factors that correlate with this unwanted reversal of digestion and if you plan properly you can finish the workout in style with minty fresh breath!
To start let’s take a look at what is happening in the body leading up to a catastrophic workout induced vomiting. Often times you are performing an exercise that elevates lactate levels, something like intervals of sprints or sprint style wods with tools like the air bike or rower that are alternated with brief bouts of rest. You go all out on each short set and then have a brief recovery period. Sometimes it only takes one hard set.
During high intensity exercise your body flips the switch from parasympathetic to sympathetic systems. The need to perform is prioritized over the need to repair, recover, and digest. Blood is shunted away from the organs associated with digestion. The brain has redirected it to the muscles in the arms and legs to aid performance by providing oxygen and carrying away metabolic waste.
When we warm up we should aim to bring our bodies gradually and progressively to the capacity needed to perform the workout. This is one of the key ways to avoid the dreaded exercise induced emesis. If you jump too quickly into the workout, the body can perform the movement, but homeostasis is seriously disrupted and it attempts to restore it as quickly as possible. Having elevated acid levels in the blood is dangerous to the body and it decides that all other functions need to stop until pH is back within a normal range. That means digestion gets knocked out of the queue and we all know what that means….
“When you push yourself beyond limits, you discover inner reserves, which you never thought existed earlier.” ― M. Arora
One way to reduce this unpleasant effect is by building your lactate threshold. Strategically performing workouts that take you to the brink of your threshold before resting and letting your body clear the buildup and return to normal. Your body will recognize the need to perform this process and adapt to become more efficient at it. The more you train this system the less likely you are to be majorly disrupted by threshold work and you will also notice improved work capacity.
You can also plan your nutrient intake to prevent the nausea and indigestion that can result in vomiting. Before your workout eating a small snack of about 20 grams of easily digestible protein and 40-60 grams of carbohydrate with the avoidance of fat and giving yourself about an hour to digest can be beneficial. You optimize energy levels for training, but don’t consume so much food that your body is still digesting come training time. Avoid foods high in fat as well as foods that irritate the GI tract such as dairy, spicy foods, and caffeine.
If a 500 meter row still makes you yak, don’t sweat it. Make sure you properly rehydrate and don’t take yourself past that threshold too often. Explain what happened to your coach and they will be able to monitor your performance and provide suggestions to help you properly warm up, eat, and monitor pace to prevent this from happening.