Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
26 Dec

Shouting Groceries

vomitA particularly difficult workout session the other day, along with the holiday fast approaching (not a holiday fast, mind you – really, who would fast on a holiday?), prompted this post.

As is typical of many mornings for me, the other day I bagged breakfast and just had a big cup of really strong coffee with a splash of heavy cream and nothing else. Figured I’d eat later at a business lunch. I had a full schedule and not a lot of time, so I decided to do a quick set of modified burpees, where instead of simply jumping, landing, and doing a pushup, I would toss a pull-up into the mix. Nothing but a rotation of squats, pushups, and pull-ups –  and lots of them. I did this for twelve minutes straight with intermittent breaks, which got progressively more frequent as time went on (admittedly). It’s an ass-kicker if you are ever pressed for time. By the end, I was feeling all the typical effects I’ve come to expect from my occasional hard workouts: throbbing legs on the verge of giving out; arms that don’t seem to work anymore; sweat pooled around my feet; and a pretty high heart rate. But I was also incredibly nauseated, which is unusual for me – almost to the point of vomiting. I didn’t feel like moving for about five minutes, and I quite frankly wasn’t myself for the next hour. If it hadn’t been an early morning workout on an empty stomach, I probably would have emptied its contents. This got me to thinking – is too much intensity (to the point of nausea and vomit) a bad thing? Or is the nausea that comes with a particularly intense workout telling us that maybe we’re doing it right?

In certain fitness circles, reaching the point of extreme nausea in a workout is viewed as desirable, but that’s mostly as a badge of honor and “manliness.” Among some body-builders, a leg day just isn’t a leg day unless you’ve driven the porcelain bus (called Ralph on the white telephone?). Crossfit – with whose ideas about fitness I generally agree – even has a mascot called “Pukie.” Their idea is that if you haven’t met Pukie, you haven’t truly worked out like a Crossfitter. An interesting idea, to be sure, but in Crossfit, puking is more of a symbolic goal, rather than an objective with inherent benefits. I prefer to look a little deeper.

Art de Vany sees mild nausea as a natural byproduct of the morning workout on an empty stomach, which in and of itself is a Primal time of day to workout (although there’s no “wrong” time). Consider that Grok probably wasn’t a conscientious fitness buff, doing circuit training sets of pull-ups, mammoth tusk deadlifts, and python squats; rather, the realities of his world mandated that daily exercise was necessary to survive. Sure, there were undoubtedly moments of leisure and play (since he had to conserve energy whenever possible, too), but the bulk of his exercise probably revolved around the acquisition of food, especially the hunt. And when’s the best time to hunt game? Probably early morning when your stomach is empty and food is foremost on the mind.

Hunting on a full stomach isn’t just counterproductive and uncomfortable (leading to cramps and general malaise). It’s also counterintuitive to the human condition. We’re always told never to grocery shop while hungry, because we’ll be ravenous and desirous of everything (troublesome for modern man, who can have almost anything with the swipe of a credit card). But for Grok, being ravenous and desperate for food on the hunt would only push him further and faster. In a life and death situation (which Grok probably faced on a regular basis), desperation was his fuel to continue the hunt. Whatever it took. A fat and happy Grok would just end up frolicking in a dewy meadow somewhere, instead of tracking that buck to the ends of the earth.

Of course, there is such a thing as working out too intensely, and sometimes extreme nausea and vomiting definitely aren’t okay. When I was a marathoner, I used to hear tales of guys who dug too deep and went into exercise-induced rhabdomyolysis, or rhabdo for short. Rhabdo is the rapid breakdown of muscle tissue due to acute muscle injuries. The exercise-induced variety is caused by extreme over exertion, and it can lead to the shed muscle flooding your bloodstream and shutting down your kidneys. Ugly, possible life-threatening – stuff. What’s the first sign of rhabo? Intense nausea and vomiting. Reading comments from people who’ve suffered exercise-induced rhabdo, it seems most cases were exacerbated by improper hydration and “workout arrogance” (a lot of them were older guys attempting to come back from a period of relative inactivity and resume their workouts at the old intensity, without accounting for a warm up period). It seems pretty extreme and fairly uncommon, but it’s always good to be hydrated and physically equipped for the workout you’re attempting. Also, if you’re vomiting and doubled over in pain, it’s probably a good idea to call it a workout.

With that in mind, I suppose most post- workout nausea (at least, the type that I experienced) is completely natural. And I must admit, despite that first hour of discomfort and wanting to jettison the non-existent contents of my stomach, I felt pretty awesome the rest of the day (post-workout glow, release of endorphins, etc), and I’m no worse for wear today, so I figure getting a little nauseated once in a while is okay. On the other hand, it’s not something I will regularly choose to pursue.

Further Reading:

Intro to CrossFit

The Prison Workout

Tips for “Hardgainers”

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Hypothesis about when our ancestors hunted, and thus when we would best workout are testable, I think, through your site. I can tell you the best time to hunt whitetails is sunup or sunrise, when the animals move from feeding place to sleeping cover or vice versa( they feed at night and lay low all day). This is true for bowhunters as well as riflemen, so presumably a guy with a spear might have to get out of bed early as well. I myself tend to prefer the evening sessions. The question then is: do we know exactly what was hunted back in the day?
    I read that chimpanzees (who I see as a good model for very early humans) lay around in the morning like me on a Sunday, no hurry to get going. Later in the day they are chasing down monkeys in the trees, a very good workout I’m sure.
    So I think the information is out there, if we can get people talking here.

    Paulie wrote on December 26th, 2008
  2. Good Morning Mark and other writers at Mark’s Daily Apple,
    I have been reading your blog for a number of months now and enjoy it so much – plus I have learned a lot and appreciate your giving so much of your expertise away for free.
    Last night as I was indulging on my MIL’s homemade truffles, appetizers whose number one feature seemed to be brown sugar sprinkles and a lot of bread slathered in mayo based concoctions, I thought of y’all – and then thought “Shit, I really need to get my act together and lose at LEAST 20 pounds.” But, then I quickly put that out of my mind and figured there’s always Jan. 2, 2009 to begin.
    So, with that unproductive thought, I thought I could try a Primal Challenge and wanted to run this by you – how in the world do you give up the sugar addiction? I have willpower for about 1.5 weeks and then I start jonesing for something, anything with sugar. This feeling is STRONG – I’m telling you it must be what addicts feel. I can feel the anxiety in my skin, sugar, sugar, sugar…and then as soon as you feed the sugar beast you can TOTALLY feel the relaxation settle in and it’s so nice.
    Wow, I sound kind of weird don’t I?
    But, anyway, I think this is something you may be missing here at Mark’s – you seem so healthy, disciplined and so far from the sugar beast that at times I think you may shrug and just think, “well, just don’t eat the crap.” That’s how I feel when I hear of people who drink and smoke for which I have no such compulsion – I just think “quit you idiot and pull your head out of your ass.”
    So, I’m asking you, how do I pull my head out of my ass? Is it possible to go Primal, but eat a cookie a day, then every other day and so forth until the beast is slayed? What do you think of that?
    Sorry for the ramble…I’m a little buzzed right now from my morning mocha…oh, and the truffles my MIL sent home with me.
    Happy New Year to you and thank you so much for your time.

    Beth wrote on December 26th, 2008
  3. I’m so glad you posted on this!! Working out on an empty stomach makes me seriously nauseous too. Although weirdly I will usually faint before I throw up. Except for a couple of occassions where I have both fainted AND thrown up. Fun! Kidding. The Gym Buddies have actually gotten used to looking for signs from me that I’m going to lose it because for some reason I’m missing the self-preservation instinct that tells me when to quit pushing myself. For me, yakking or fainting is definitely a bad thing. And it takes me a whole day to recover from a workout of that intensity which as a mom of 3 very young boys is something I can’t afford to do. Leave it to the one day I’m asleep on the kitchen floor to wake up to the two year old chasing his big brother with a knife yelling “sharp!!!” and giggling. Good times.

    Anyhow, very interesting subject. It’s a phenomenon not just relegated to body builders and professional athletes, sadly.

    Charlotte wrote on December 26th, 2008
  4. I used to subscribe to the “leg day is puke day” philosophy in my younger bodybuilding days. I don’t need that badge of honor anymore. A really good, intense circuit or workout can still give me that bit of nasea feeling though.

    The SoG

    Son of Grok wrote on December 26th, 2008
  5. Interesting post!

    I’ve often thought that a hard-core paleo diet/exercise combo would be something like this: 1) Fast for several days while jogging 10-20 miles a day (on the hunt); 2) Then do some sprints and javelin throws (the kill); 3) Then deadlift a few heavy reps (lifting the kill and cleaning it); 4) Then gorge yourself on raw meat.

    :)

    Stuart Buck wrote on December 26th, 2008
  6. I’ve noticed similar feelings a few times when I’ve completed a really intense run. However, as you say I did feel great for the remainder of the day. I think overall the initial feelings of nausea are a worthwhile sacrifice as the workout makes you feel much more alert and relaxed for the remainder of the day.

    Tom Parker - Free Fitness Tips wrote on December 26th, 2008
  7. Yes,
    I remember puking almost daily in football practice as an adolescent.Wind sprints at the end of a two hour practice. Those three years were also my largest growth spurt,height wise.

    Years later I read that sprinting and other high intensity exercise can cause nausea due to GH release.That kinda makes sense based on my experience.

    Chris wrote on December 26th, 2008
  8. Btw “Shouting Groceries” has to be one of the best ways for saying “pukeing” that I have ever heard! Props.

    The SoG

    Son of Grok wrote on December 26th, 2008
  9. Always thought that a puke at the end of a hard race meant that I went hard enough!! I don’t do that very often, though.

    FitMommy wrote on December 26th, 2008
  10. I find that exercising with no food in my system is just as likely to induce nausea as eating too much. A light meal an hour before is ideal.

    I know how to exercise intensely, but I’ve never done it to the point of puking. Rather than feeling like a wuss, I congratulate myself on having enough sense to listen to my body.

    dragonmamma wrote on December 26th, 2008
  11. I’ve always found that I feel nauseous when I go back to the gym after a lay off, but the next time I go and do a similar workout, I won’t feel as nauseous. My take on it is that it occurs as a by product of your body’s own signalling mechanisms induced by the heavy workout, and in particular, I’m thinking an increase in blood flow to the affected muscles.

    Charles wrote on December 27th, 2008
  12. Those idiots who think puking is a badge of honor need to be stuffed away in a closet. Food goes in one end and out the other. Its fuel to keep the fire going, not something to brag about.

    In your case Mark – the acid in coffee mixed with the cream on an empty stomach is a recipe for disaster when the acid pumps in the stomach get going (plus I have to venture your coffee was made poorly, or of low quality, as good coffee has a sweet, creamy texture on its own and won’t cause such symptoms).

    I suggest Peets (www.peets.com), and make it with a French press measuring exactly right, using filtered water. That one was your own fault Mark. Next time take a couple of shots of espresso without the cream, you’ll enjoy your workout more and won’t feel like puking.

    I prefer the term “Technicolor yawn”.

    Zen Frittata wrote on December 27th, 2008
  13. Ditto to what Zen said. The only time I ever puked was when I took in a whole bunch of tea or coffee before I worked out. Drink your coffee after your workout and see what happens. Give me an empty stomach with only a swig of water, and 100 burpees will not make my insides churn.

    JE Gonzalez wrote on December 27th, 2008
    • Takes me 40 minutes to get to my gym, so I generally have one coffee with cream on drive in. This morning I skipped the coffee, had a great workout (45 min cardio, 45 min of legs/shoulders/abs). Drank approx. 60 oz of water during. Felt great, got to work about 60 minutes after workout, got really weak and sweaty, and finally had to vomit. Very little of the water I drank came up. Now I feel good, although leery of eating :)

      Janet wrote on January 23rd, 2012
  14. Coffee with heavy cream (organic, the other kind has milk and carbs in it and other additives)is my standard “first breakfast” and I do really well on it–the 8 T.s of cream I consume constitutes 400 calories of pure fat. I burn that well and can work out on that and feel great but every once in a while I get a similar reaction. Who knows why? Sometimes we get tired when we normally wouldn’t or our appetite changes. The body is such a complex system! All we can do is try to listen to it.

    As far as Beth and the sugar addiction, I gave up sugar not by choice–my body just stopped digesting it and I’d get sick. Even the fructose in an apple makes me sick. (I can eat citrus and blueberries.) So I had a pretty good motivation–eat sugar, get sick and feel crappy for days. The sugar cravings were pretty bad for about 6 weeks, and after that I didn’t even want it anymore and also I’d replaced it with other things so I was just used to not eating it. I suggest setting short goals (make it through the day) with the longterm goal of making it 6 weeks with no sugar. Give yourself a reward for each day you do it, and then a bigger thing for each week and milestone marker at the halfway point. Keep all sugar out of the house (or have family members stash theirs…my teenager has her own “snack” cupboard.) Splurge on treats like pistachios, guacamole, tangerines or whatever your favorite primal foods are during this phase. I think part of the cravings are due to the body liking carbs; it’s a fuel our bodies really want to burn maybe because evolutionary wise it was quick, instant energy? (but seldom available in much quantity, calorie wise, for paleo people.) Basically we fuel our bodies with either fat or carbs as the primary calorie source, and I think it takes time for our bodies to learn how to use fat instead of carbs. The chemistry is different and the body has to adapt. I’m not sure if it’s better to go cold turkey or ease off the carbs. I do know it’s so worth it in the long run. It’s hard though. I’ve been struggling with moderating my consumption of potatoes, kettle chips and tortilla chips, because I can eat some of those but when I get over 100 grams of carbs in a day my gut reacts badly and I feel cruddy. Also, heavy beers (IPA!)are high carb, and I like those a lot. A Heineken only has about 10 grams of carbs, and Michelob Ultra is something like 2 or 3 grams. But a Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Ale is about 30 grams! 1/3 the daily allotment of carbs in just one beer! When my climbing partner puts some nice IPAs out on the tailgate after a good workout at the gym, I don’t want to turn that down. So I try to have just one.

    Danielle T wrote on December 28th, 2008
  15. I always eat breakfast, i just feel the need to eat in the morning. I have coffee, eat, wait a while before i exercise. This just seems to work for me. I don’t always exercise @ the same time of the day, sometimes it’s early in the morning and sometimes it’s later in the day. I eat very early dinner @ night, guess that’s why i wake up so hungry. I know some people who don’t eat breakfast, but i don’t have room to talk, ALOT of times i skip lunch.

    Donna wrote on December 29th, 2008
  16. Danielle,

    Thank you for taking the time to comment – I realize I sounded so flaky and after I thought of all the posts Mark’s has written about the effects of sugar and ways to counteract – I guess I really just want some kind of magic bullet. I don’t want it to be so hard – to want sugar so much. I could care less about alcohol or carbs, but sugar, hmm, it can be so lovely! I am going to try your advice…albeit on Jan. 2.
    Happy New Year to you and all!

    Beth wrote on December 29th, 2008
  17. If you crave sugar, you crave carbs. A few cookies or sweet treats quickly uses up the primal ration of carbs. I’m not big on charting everything I eat, but I think it’s educational once in a while to write down a day’s worth of food and calculate the proportions to get a fix on your mix of carbs/fat/protein. I used to have such a sweet tooth, but it can be defeated. But it’s about a desire for long-term lifestyle change. My New Year’s resolution is a small fine-tuning of the major changes I have made over the past few years one small step at a time–eat a little more fish and greens and be more faithful to 100 grams of carbs per day. That seems doable to me, and I started last week. If it’s a countdown to something you are dreading and don’t really want to do, I think it’s going to take a lot more resolve.

    Danielle T wrote on December 29th, 2008
  18. Danielle,
    Again – thanks for taking the time to comment. You’re right of course, I really don’t want to cut sugar – who ever wants to give up an addiction I wonder? I have to though. I need to lose weight and my family has a predisposition to Type II diabetes and heart disease – I can’t think of a better motivation than wanting a long healthy life. I hadn’t thought of the sugar craving in conjunction with carbs, but that makes sense too.

    Beth wrote on December 29th, 2008
  19. It WILL make your life longer and better. Your day to day energy will probably improve. Also, my sleep needs dropped from 9 to 6 hours when I gave up sugar! (In winter or when stressed at work, I need 7.) The joke around my house is that I spend the 2-3 hours I gained in the kitchen making nearly everything that I eat from scratch, though. But it’s a good way to live. As I say, I was motivated by nearly instant gastrointestinal distress. It was only after I had dealt with the acute issue at hand (I was having so many digestive problems that my weight dropped to 108, I’m 5′ 4″) that I began to see the long-term benefits of eating this way. It’s funny, I used to turn down food by saying, “No thanks, I can’t eat that, I have food intolerances.” Now I just say, “No thanks, I don’t eat that.” A lot of doctors told me to eat carbs even though they made me sick. But one said, hey, some people eat this way by choice (no wheat, dairy, sugar) and it’s probably better for you. That really changed my thinking. That and blogs like this one. It really keeps me positive to keep in touch with others who are aware of these issues. You totally can do it, and it’s worth it.

    Danielle T wrote on December 29th, 2008
  20. On an empty stomach I can do but to the point of nausea I can’t. Im a wimp and I would hate to push myself that far. I just feel that thats your body saying enough! Cant imagine Grok would want to vomit when he was hunting? But basically Im just jealous that I cant push myself that far.

    Dr Dan wrote on December 30th, 2008
  21. I reach failure before I reach nausea on an empty stomach (interval rowing is where I learned this). Heavy meals pretty much make nausea certain. I have to do my morning workout on an empty stomach because eating (aside from something very light) before I’ve been up a couple of hours makes me very nauseous.

    Glen wrote on December 30th, 2008
  22. I haven’t pushed myself to the point of nausea in a long while and I have to say Mark, thanks for the reminder. I do some pretty tough functional training (in fact your push, burpee, pull combo is one of my faves) but I’m definitely guilty of too much rest time. I think it’s time to cut the 45 minute sessions into 20 and feel the pain a little more!!

    @Beth: to rid yourself of sugar addictions try incorporating more natural animal proteins and good fats such as organic coconut oil into your diet. A sugar craving is in part your brain’s way of saying that you are not nutritionally satisfied. As sugar provides a ‘quick fix’ it is generally the easiest thing to reach for, even though in reality it will not fill the nutritional void. This is how the sugar cycle begins – lack of nutrients = more sugar cravings and so on and so forth.

    Kat Eden wrote on December 31st, 2008
  23. Beth, I recently slayed the sugar/carb beast. Mentally, I was highly motivated from reading The Protein Power Lifeplan. I was totally convinced that grains were a poison responsible for so many diseases; that conviction was the most important thing to pushing through. The other thing that helped was to replace the grains with something. When I had a hankering for carbs, I’d reach for some olive oil, peanut butter, cheese, or something else fatty which was really effective for me to get that satiated feeling so the craving would go away.

    Toban wrote on January 1st, 2009
  24. Having something else to reach for that you really like is what helps me, too. I think that’s key. But I go for almond butter, not peanut butter. Homemade jerky is good to have around. Coconut is just a great snack, too. I’ve been keeping that on hand ever since I read the MDA entry on that. Plus it’s really fun to whack those things with a hatchet in the backyard!

    Danielle T wrote on January 2nd, 2009
  25. The first thing that I thought of when I read the title of your post was shouting groceries of a very different sort. Supposedly advertisers are soon going to be able to use “directed sound” to make their products sound like they are to talking to you. It’s only audible in a very small area around a very focused little speaker and supposedly sounds almost like it’s coming from inside your head. Creepy. http://jscms.jrn.columbia.edu/cns/2008-04-29/cuddehe-directionalsound Kind of makes you want to…you know…

    Karin wrote on April 1st, 2009
  26. I recall one prominent Crossfitter saying you can’t train at a high level of intensity if you have to keep stopping to empty your guts. Pushing to the point of meeting Pukie is an exercise in mental toughness, as far as I can see – most people won’t know at what intensity that point comes, so it’ll serve them well to go there at least occasionally.

    Stuart H wrote on June 19th, 2009
  27. This is a problem I’ve been having a lot lately – I have been routinely feeling extreme nausea after only about 20 mins of my workouts with my trainer. It’s awful, and makes me dread going back for more.

    What I don’t understand is why it comes on after only a couple of resistance exercises – eg; squats, and shoulder press – I have seen the doctor about it, and although my BP is a little high (135/80) she seems to think it’s simply the mental anticipation of the intense workout and nausea that is actually inducing it – self fulfilling prophecy! Definitely not a good thing for me.

    Dan W wrote on August 8th, 2010
  28. Thanks for posting this. I’m currently curled up in fetal position on my bed wondering if i have a heart condition because i just vomited my heart out after high intensity interval training.

    Laura wrote on October 4th, 2011
  29. This is an excellent site, I will definitely be adding your blog to my blogroll :
    D

    Samdarshi Rana wrote on June 28th, 2012
  30. feeling sick after an intense workout – no drama…. but for how long is okay? a couple of hours i would have thought acceptable, but longer – maybe its something else?

    tonia wrote on January 24th, 2013
  31. I get to the point of nausea a lot after my workouts. I am pretty small and don’t have much body fat. I have been trying to figure out why I feel sick. I have been trying to eat more and working out at different times if day but it doesn’t seem to help much.

    Cj Pietri wrote on March 25th, 2013
  32. Is there a relationship between nausea and not eating enough carbs with protein post-work out?

    I noticed if I just eat protein or not enough carbs with my protein I get nauseated

    and it seems like that might have happened with you as well?

    I dont eat carbs pre-work out I drink coconut milk+ water+glutamine pwd+electrolytes+dash of salt+liquid stevia

    I know you are suppose to uptake amino acids easier when your insulin levels are higher but I thought protein could be converted to glucose as well…Maybe the conversion rate takes too long so my body is breaking down its muscle tissue which then makes me feel sick….rather than just having the amino acids enter faster into my muscles with the help of some glucose?

    I’m really curious of why this nausea happens?

    –Thanks really like your blog posts!

    Susan wrote on November 15th, 2013
  33. Hi, sorry for my vague English spelling, I do not have not English mother tongue.

    Feeling the nausea and vomiting just means that your body ain’t fit for that level of exercise, yet. You need to train more to get rid of it.
    Athletic performance is related to genetic heritage firstly and then environmental factors, so how much you need to train to get rid of this feeling after high intensity training relies on genetics.

    High intensity training nausea (HITN) feels like a rapid blood loss, poisoning and delirium at the same time. Most people believe this feeling is due to blood sugar levels and how the body regulates this, but there is more to it.
    The reason of HITN is that the body over time adjust the oxygen levels in the blood to fit to the oxygen levels the muscles consume. When a person is suddenly training hard after a long pause and the body is in “rest mode” it will feel like a rapid blood loss, delirium and poisoning at the same time because the body haven’t the appropriate values/support of oxygen in the blood from before the exercise and the body ain’t sure what is the cause of the sudden need for more oxygen so it prepares to puke. .

    Having the TT genotype means that the muscles breaks down in every struggle and there is a greater need for oxygen to restore broken muscle mass fiber. All of this is very important for people which exercise hard to understand. The more you lack the production of alpha-actinin-3 the worse this will be for you after intense exercise, especially after a training pause. The more of alpha-actinin-3 you have the less muscle mass you will gain after each exercise.

    The best cure for HITN is to lay down with the head to the ground, put legs higher than your head, remember to breathe to get enough air but do not hyperventilate and fight the urge to puke, you don’t really need to puke.

    I hope you like my feedback and find it useful in the future :)

    espen wrote on February 8th, 2014

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