Why Do Powerlifters Vomit? (5 Reasons and How to Prevent It)

main reasons why powerlifters vomit while lifting

All of us have seen a video of a lifter going for a max attempt only to have a stream of vomit seep out mid-lift. This is certainly not common in powerlifting, and can be avoided once you know the ways to prevent it. 

There are 4 main reasons why powerlifters vomit while lifting:

  • You ate too soon prior to a workout
  • The lift is a maximum effort
  • You’ve recently switched from low-rep sets to high-rep sets
  • You’re not drinking enough water
  • You’re drinking too much water

In this article I will be discussing the details behind each of these reasons, the dangers of repeated vomiting while lifting, and measures we can take to ensure all of your workouts moving forward are vomit-free. 

First, let’s start with some potential reasons why a lifter might lose his or her lunch.

5 Reasons Why Powerlifters Throw Up

1. You Ate Too Soon Prior to a Workout

During the process of working out, your capillaries are expanding to allow an increased flow of oxygenated blood to aid with the completion of reps, sets, and the workout as a whole. 

With more blood being required as the set or rep continues, blood is continuously taken from other areas of the body and sent to the working muscle. 

One of the areas this blood is pulled from is the digestive system. If you have nothing in your digestive system, there’s no requirement for blood supply to aid in digestion. 

However, if you had eaten too soon before a workout (or had a bit of food in your stomach), your body’s response is to vacate your stomach of all contents to ensure no blood resources are required; causing both nausea and potentially, vomiting. 

I would recommend limiting big meals to 2-3 hours before your workout and if you need a snack, give yourself at least 30 minutes before you start lifting.

I wrote a complete guide on what to eat during a powerlifting meet. If you’re a competitive powerlifter, I encourage you to read it so that you don’t feel like throwing up on meet day.

2. The Lift is Maximum Effort

when going for a maximum effort lift, the output required from the working muscles is massive

When going for a maximum effort lift (such as powerlifters do in competition), the output required from the working muscles is massive, likely above what has been required of the lifter’s body during training. 

This is especially true in something like a deadlift or a squat, the largest muscles in the body (the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and back) are being asked for maximal output. 

When these muscles are being exerted maximally, lactic acid builds up.  In order to remove lactic acid from the muscles, you need a high rate of blood flow.  

As such, blood is continuously being pulled from other areas of the body, leading to the vacating of the digestive system so as to prioritize those resources to the working muscles, as mentioned above.

If you find you’re vomiting often during previous powerlifting meets, or even training days with heavy reps, these are days you should be paying close attention to how much you’re eating and drinking beforehand. The lesser the contents of your stomach at the time of the lift, the less likely you are to vomit.

3. You Recently Switched from Low-Rep Sets to High-Rep Sets

While powerlifting is usually trained in the lower-rep range with higher-loads, there are periods of training where a lifter is required to do higher-rep sets

During any exercise, lactate acid is produced, but this is especially the case with high rep training.  Because powerlifters don’t usually experience lactic acid during low reps, when you switch from low reps to high reps it can be of a shock to the body.  

As such, powerlifters usually have a low lactate threshold, meaning they’re not used to having it in their system.  The body recognizes this toxic state and decides to force you to vomit in an attempt to rid itself of the toxic substance. 

When you’re transitioning your training from low-reps to high-reps, I recommend giving yourself two weeks or even a month to acclimate. If you were previously doing sets of 2-3 reps, take some time to build in a week or two of 5-rep sets, then a week or two of 8-rep sets to lessen the shock to your body and reduce the possibility of nausea. 

4. You’re Not Drinking Enough Water

Dehydration can be the cause for nausea and vomiting. That being said, powerlifting competitions are traditionally held indoors, all of your training is done indoors, and there’s really no reason you can’t be without your water bottle while running through a workout. 

The risk of dehydration is not as high as sports like football or soccer. 

However, for powerlifters, dehydration could be a concern if you’re training on a particularly warm day, wearing a number of layers, working out in a gym that isn’t climate controlled, or you just happen to sweat a lot while working out.

My recommendation is to keep a large water bottle handy, such as the Buzio insulated water bottle. Your water will stay cool, isn’t likely to get spilled everywhere by a plate or collar, and you can grab a drink whenever you feel thirsty. 

5. You’re Drinking Too Much Water

Rather than not drinking enough water, there is a small chance that you’ve taken on too much water during your training session. 

When we intake too much water, we dilute the amount of sodium in our blood, causing exercise-induced hyponatremia. The sodium in our bodies is needed to keep our muscles, nerves, and body tissues running properly. 

The symptoms of hyponatremia are similar to dehydration, resulting in nausea and potential vomiting. 

Again, because powerlifting training and competitions are fairly controlled environments, the chances of this occurring are slim. 

However, what is more possible is chugging a ton of water, throwing on a belt, and the compression of the belt causing that water to want to come out the same way it came in. 

My recommendation for both of these cases is to drink when you are thirsty. Don’t overthink hydration; keep a full bottle nearby and grab a sip or two when you need it. 

Is Throwing Up While Lifting Bad?

vomiting after or during a particularly hard set of squats or deadlifts is a very uncomfortable experience

Vomiting after or during a particularly hard set of squats or deadlifts is a very uncomfortable experience. If this becomes a pattern, there are a number of health complications that can come into play.

1. Dehydration

. If you’re unfortunate enough to vomit while exercising, that will result in the loss of vital fluids needed to keep your body and muscles hydrated for coming exercises.

2. Electrolyte Imbalance

When you vomit during exercise, the fluids you lose contain vital electrolytes that help balance your system and keep you in good health. When these fluids are lost, electrolyte levels lower substantially; this can cause you to feel lethargic and can lead to muscle cramps.

3. Loss of Tooth Enamel

The acidic contents of the stomach can erode tooth enamel when they come into contact as a result of excessive or repeated vomiting. 

4. Tearing of the Esophagus

Through coughing and vomiting, it is possible to tear the wall of your lower esophagus, leading to anemia, fatigue, and shortness of breath

How Do You Prevent Puking When Powerlifting?

how do you prevent puking when powerlifting

Vomiting is not a guarantee when you get into the sport of powerlifting. If you’re smart about your preparation for a training session and how you execute your workouts, there’s no reason you should ever be up-chucking on the platform. 

Below I’ve listed 3 tips to avoid vomiting during your lifts:

1. Stay hydrated

Our bodies are amazing machines that, through evolution, have developed the ability to determine when we need water. To avoid dehydration, simply drink water when you’re thirsty. Make sure your water bottle is full, and keep it close by throughout your workout.

2. Give yourself time after eating before you hit the gym

When it comes to when you should be eating, ensure to give your body time to digest before hitting the weights. For smaller snacks, give yourself 30 minutes, and for larger meals, give yourself 2-3 hours before getting under a barbell. 

3. Know your work capacity

In terms of lifting, work capacity is the rate at which you recover from a set and rep scheme, and the number of sets and reps you can perform. 

When we begin to feel nauseous, it can be an indication that we’re coming to the limit of our work capacity. 

Ensure you’re resting enough between each of your warm ups and working sets (3-5 minutes for strength), and allow your body time to acclimate to new loads through proper programming. 

What Should I Do If I Vomit While Lifting?

what should I do if I vomit while lifting

If you do manage to throw up while completing a lift, ensure to follow the below steps once it is safe to do so:

  • Intake gradually larger amounts of clear liquids
  • Avoid solid foods until you’re sure the vomiting episode has passed
  • Take a few minutes to rest until the nausea has passed
  • Sip on an electrolyte-filled beverage (such as Gatorade) to replenish what has been lost in your system
  • See a medical professional if vomiting continues or your condition does not improve

Final Thoughts

Vomiting while completing a lift is an entirely avoidable experience. 

Your body may decide to take this route if you’ve left it dehydrated or decided to pound back a cheeseburger a little too close to hitting the weights. 

To keep all of your lunch in your stomach, be sure to keep that water bottle filled to the brim and by your side, and give yourself a bit of time before getting under the barbell. 

That being said, if you find yourself repeatedly vomiting while lifting, be sure to see a medical professional to rule out any underlying conditions.