Nauseous After A Workout? The Science Behind Why & What To Do
Picture this: You come in from a long run on a hot day or walk out of a hot yoga class dripping with sweat, and instead of feeling energized and on an endorphin high, you're slightly…queasy?
Considering the record heat of this summer, we could all be more mindful about our hydration. But it's not as simple as keeping a water bottle attached to your hip. In fact, over-hydrating on the wrong liquids can cause more harm than good. Read on for expert insight into electrolyte balance and why mastering it can help you avoid post-workout nausea.
What are electrolytes?
A refresher: electrolytes are minerals found in the blood that conduct electric charges. In the body, they work to maintain the right balance of fluid1 inside and outside of cells and conduct chemical reactions. We get them through food and drink, and like with other vitamins and minerals in foods, when electrolytes aren't consumed in the right quantities, imbalances can cause myriad health issues.
How exercise impacts electrolytes
During exercise, muscle exertion creates heat. Sensing this, the body transfers heat to water, which is released as sweat that evaporates off of the body. But besides heat, sweat releases electrolytes2 like sodium, potassium, and chloride. If these all-important minerals aren't adequately replenished, imbalances like hyponatremia, or low blood sodium levels, can occur.
The most commonly depleted electrolyte, according to registered dietitian and sports nutritionist Marie Spano, M.S., R.D., is sodium. "It is not common to have low levels of other electrolytes in the blood," Spano says. Too low sodium levels (or any electrolyte levels, for that matter) are more likely with intense exercise in hot and humid environments2.
While drinking enough water is key to overall health, overdoing it can further exacerbate a sodium imbalance. During extended periods of exercise, drinking too much of any low-sodium beverage can dilute your body's electrolyte stores and increase your risk of hyponatremia, Spano says.
That said, Spano points out that the average person probably doesn't need to worry about hyponatremia unless they're working out for an extended period or outside. If you're hitting an air-conditioned gym for 30 minutes or less, you probably don't need to be pounding sports drinks. But longer bouts of exercise in hot climates put you at risk.
Spano says hyponatremia is often seen in people running marathons, doing construction work in the heat, or training for a sport in heavy gear, like football pads.
What to do
To replenish electrolytes, many people opt for a premade electrolyte drink (find some of the healthiest options here). But simply adding a pinch of salt to your water will do the trick. Coconut water is often touted as "nature's electrolyte drink" thanks to its potassium and magnesium content, but it lacks sodium, so you may want to add a pinch of salt if you go that route. Or, spice things up with our assistant health and beauty editor's favorite, nature's gatorade, which boasts more electrolytes than its namesake.
You can also replenish electrolytes with a thoughtful post-workout snack.
While Spano says that potassium, magnesium, and calcium imbalances are usually reserved for clinical conditions where people are hospitalized, most people don't consume enough of the important nutrients. Replenish potassium with bananas, spinach, potatoes, and citrus fruits. Opt for nuts, seeds, and beans to get your magnesium fill and dairy products for a calcium hit.
Or try this smoothie, which features ingredients from each category.
Electrolyte Replenishing Smoothie
- 1 banana
- 2 tablespoons of peanut butter (salted)
- ¼ cup oats
- 1 cup spinach
- ½ cup plain Greek yogurt
- ⅓ cup milk of choice
- Dash of cinnamon
Directions: Add all ingredients to a blender, and blend until smooth.
Other causes of nausea
Of course, a lack of sodium isn't the only culprits of post-workout nausea. It may just be the way your body responds to exercise, which can slow gastric emptying and reduce blood flow to the abdomen4. Eating too soon before you move can also leave your stomach upset.
If you're ending your workout sweaty and nauseous, you may want to fuel up with an electrolyte-rich snack or drink. Try adding a pinch of salt to your water or refueling with a banana with salted nut butter after your next long run.
Emily Kelleher is an SEO editor at mindbodygreen. She received her undergraduate degree in magazine, news, and digital journalism and political science from Syracuse University. Her work has appeared in Shape, Greatist, Well & Good, Romper, Fatherly, and more.