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Why Do You Get A Headache After Exercising?

Pushing through an intense workout can be a self-affirming personal experience—not to mention all the good it does for your mind and body. The last thing you need after making all that progress is a debilitating, progress-halting headache. If you don’t pay attention to your water intake, however, headaches can result from becoming dehydrated during exercise.

So, what should you pay attention to—and what can you do to stave off exercise-induced headaches? We’ll do our best to help you tackle or avoid this issue and come away from your workout without head pain.

5 Reasons You Get a Headache After Exercise

Low Blood Sugar

You may have a pre-exercise routine that includes any number of supplements or powders, but the importance of eating before any strenuous activity can’t be understated.

Exercise causes the body to expend calories, which are a unit of energy the body receives from any food or drink consumed. These calories often come from carbohydrates, which are converted to one of the brain’s favorite fuel sources: glucose. A variety of symptoms can befall you if the brain isn’t receiving enough glucose, with headaches being just one side effect. Other possible symptoms include sweating, faintness or dizziness, shaking, confusion, nausea and hunger.

You Have an Exertional Headache

Exertional headaches can be caused by any kind of physical activity from coughing and sneezing to running and lifting. These kinds of headaches are often described as throbbing pain felt on the side of your head which can last anywhere from minutes to days. If you’re exerting yourself at high altitudes or in warm weather, you’re more likely to develop an exertional headache.

There are two types of exertional headaches: primary and secondary.

Primary exertional headaches occur through unknown bodily means, but health experts hypothesize they’re caused when exercise or other exertion causes blood vessels to dilate.

Secondary exertional headaches are also caused by physical exertion, but these headaches come about due to an already present underlying condition. These underlying conditions can range in severity from sinus infections to major medical emergencies like tumors. Symptoms will include head pain, but may also include vision problems, stiff neck, vomiting or congestion. A secondary exertional headache should prompt those affected to seek medical advice, diagnosis or treatment of any underlying issues.

You’re Not Breathing Enough

Have you ever noticed that, sometimes, you’ll unconsciously hold your breath if you’re concentrating hard on something? You could be doing the same thing during physical exertion that you do during mental exertion, which could lead to a headache.

Exercise or exertion increases heart rate, placing more demand on you to provide oxygen to the brain and your muscles. This can be especially prevalent during strength training or core work, which both require exertion levels that may trigger that unconscious breath holding.

You Have an Exercise-induced Migraine

The exact cause of migraines may still be unclear, but in a number of people, environmental factors and triggers can bring on this crippling form of headache. One of those factors for some people is physical exertion.

While it’s true that migraines are more likely in certain people - women, adults between 25 and 55, and those with an established family history - exertion may bring on pain specific to one region of the head, sensitivity to light or sound, nausea, or vertigo. If you’re one of the 25-to-30% of people who experience migraine aura, you may also see wavy lines, flashing lights or sparkles.

Migraines can ruin your day, as the pain and symptoms associated with them are more severe than a primary exertional headache.

You’re Dehydrated

Hydration plays a huge part in bodily function, and exercise can do a lot to throw your hydration levels off balance.

Perspiration and the need for the heart to quickly move nutrients around the body can contribute to dehydration, which in turn can cause a number of ailments—including headaches. A dehydration headache occurs when the brain shrinks, which puts pressure on nerves and creates pain. Bodily tissues, including the brain, shrink when you’re dehydrated.

Treatments for Headaches After Exercise

Medications or Supplements

Studies show exertional headaches respond to certain behind-the-counter medications, like naproxen and indomethacin. These require a prescription. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications may also help. Doctors may also suggest beta-blockers, which reduce blood pressure.

There are also studies that suggest certain supplements may help prevent exertional headaches, including magnesium and vitamin B2.

Preparing for Exercise

There are a number of things you can do to minimize your risk of experiencing an exertional headache. Prepare your body by warming up, stretching, practicing good posture and wearing shoes that promote good posture while working out. Get enough sleep and do so on a reliable schedule. Avoid exertion for long periods of time while at hot temperatures or high altitudes. Maintain a healthy meal schedule and consume healthy meals.

Staying Hydrated

Giving your body the hydration it needs–along with the electrolytes that help keep it running–can make a real difference when striving towards a healthy post-workout feeling. Drinking enough water before, during and after workouts can reduce the risk of headaches.

However, water may not be enough to properly replenish your body after a workout. Enhancing water with an ORS, or oral rehydration solution, can quickly provide you with the electrolytes and sugar needed after a workout.

Avoid Dehydration Headaches with DripDrop

Strenuous exercise can lead to an exertional headache, but proper hydration can help limit the risk of experiencing this unpleasant result. Enhance your body’s ability to utilize hydration for good with DripDrop, a dehydration relief solution that includes three times the electrolytes of a sports drink. The multi-flavor pouch comes with a wide range of flavors, or create a custom subscription featuring your favorite flavors and save 25%.