When a headache strikes, it can often seem like it's coming out of nowhere. Its painful presence shows up with no rhyme or reason, and it sticks around for however long it wants to. What's even worse is when a headache hits you right in the middle of your workout, just when the endorphins are starting to kick in and make you hate cardio a little less. The sad truth is that working out can indeed give you a headache — however, there are ways to make sure you don't get derailed by your brain pain every time you hit the gym.
First of all, you're probably wondering why a workout would lead to a headache in the first place. After all, you're doing all the right things for your well-being by moving your body and breaking a sweat, so what gives? Well, according to Mayo Clinic, working out can trigger what's called a primary exercise headache, which is simply characterized by throbbing pain (typically on both sides of your head), and it usually happens during and/or as a result of a really demanding workout, like weightlifting, running, rowing, or even swimming.
The pain can be traced back to what exactly is happening inside your brain when you work out.
According to Health, a headache can easily strike during a workout because the blood vessels in your brain are under a lot of pressure when you're moving around and sweating a lot — especially, again, during a particularly intense form of exercise, like sprinting, cycling, etc.
But if you experience exercise-induced headaches — or even worse, migraines — on the reg, there are also external variables that might be bringing them on, namely your environment. Regularly working out in a hot environment ('sup hot yoga lovers?) or going for jogs at a high altitude, Mayo Clinic notes, could trigger headaches that last for hours. Ugh.
But if your workout setting doesn't seem to be the culprit, consider what you may have been doing (or not doing) that day prior to your workout, including how you prepared for your sweat sesh. Did you drink enough water? Did you push yourself to do a new, super difficult workout without stretching first? According to the American Migraine Foundation, these types of headaches can easily happen when you don't take the time to warm up before you exercise. And, as Women's Health notes, forgetting to fuel your body properly with H2O and a pre-workout snack could lead to dehydration and blood-sugar drops — both of which are recipes for major brain pain.
Getting a headache during a workout can be brutal, but the good news is there are plenty of ways to prevent the pain before it even has a chance to hit you.
Just as the American Migraine Foundation suggested, Health reports that warming up before any type of exercise is crucial, not just for preventing a headache, but also for making sure your entire body is ready for the physical challenge it's about to endure. It's all about those dynamic stretches, girl. Even if it means you have to get to the gym a few minutes earlier to squeeze in your warm-up moves, trust me, it's worth the extra effort.
In addition to warming up properly before your sweat sesh, celebrity trainer Larysa DiDio told Women's Health that drinking around eight to 10 glasses of water a day, along with eating a healthy, nutrient-dense, pre-workout snack, can definitely help you steer clear of an exercise-induced headache. She suggests spreading some peanut butter on a whole-grain rice cake for something that's both tasty and packed with enough protein to carry you through your workout.
Most importantly — and this goes for any workout, headache or no headache — remember to never push your body past its limits, especially when you're already in pain. It's always OK to take a moment to rest and cool down when your head (or anything else, for that matter) is bothering you.
If your headaches keep happening every single time you work out, despite using over-the-counter meds, extra water, warm-ups, and pre-workout snacks to help dull the pain, be sure to check in with your doctor to figure out the best next steps to take.