If you’ve ever done a CrossFit “WOD” (workout of the day), you’ll know the feeling: Your temperature suddenly goes atomic, exhaustion grips your limbs and a wave of nausea hits your gut like a tsunami. Your trainer hears your complaints and barks back, “That’s weakness leaving your body! Keep going!” Eight burpees later, you’re bent over one of the gym’s steel drums, barfing your brains out.
Congrats, genius: You just met Pukie the Clown, the notorious mascot of CrossFit.
Upchucking during or after a WOD is like a badge of honor to many CrossFitters. There’s even a popular workout called “The Vomit Comet,” which entails a crippling circuit of kettlebell swings, pull-ups, burpees and thrusters (barbell squats combined with shoulder presses). I mean, we get it: The whole point behind CrossFit is to push your physical and mental limits. But what’s up with the seeming obsession with working out until you puke?
“I never throw up from working out,” says Bryan Winston, a certified strength and conditioning specialist in New York City. “If you’re vomiting from working out, you’re working out too hard — calm your ass down!”
Winston feels that many guys in the gym overtrain to the point of puking simply because of machismo, and says you should pay close attention to your body during a workout. “They throw up because they think it’s manly to workout that hard. I think it’s dumb,” he says, matter-of-factly. “When I’m feeling faint, I know it’s time to slow down, or I haven’t eaten right. Proper nutrition is important, but it’s also important to understand one’s goals and how to listen to your body.”
So what causes extreme exercise-induced vomiting in the first place? Eating too much pre-workout? Not enough? Weak stomachs? Flavia De La Cruz, a New Jersey-based doctor of internal medicine, says it’s less about food or an iron-clad gut, and more about intense exercise causing a sudden release of adrenaline. This diverts blood flow and oxygen to your actively moving extremities and away from your visceral organs, leading to decreased oxygen and therefore abdominal symptoms.
“It can also be caused by decreased oxygen flow from dehydration due to sweating, which is an effect of adrenaline as well,” De La Cruz says. “It all comes down to our stomach becoming irritated and annoyed at not being able to fully function, because its oxygen flow is being strangulated by adrenaline. Therefore, it manifests in nausea and vomiting.”
To avoid this, De La Cruz suggests staying hydrated with electrolyte-rich fluids over the course of your workouts. “When working out at extreme levels, our bodies need to replenish water losses from sweating. Drinking small amounts of fluid throughout, instead of a large amount in the beginning and at the end, can help the stomach not become too distended and not require more oxygen to get things moving through. And adding electrolytes to the fluids can help with absorption.”
So, while puking during your squats or deadlifts may garner cool points from your fellow CrossFitters, do as Winston says: Listen to your body, because it’s a clear sign something is wrong.
Also: No one wants to walk through (or smell) your rancid vomit.