The sad truth is that exercise headaches are a lot more common than most of us realize. They’re an unfortunate side effect of high intensity exercise, and they’re not always a sign that we’re doing something wrong. If you’re the kind of person who gets a headache after an intense exercise session, here are a few of the potential causes, as well as their solutions.
Sudden High Intensity Headache
This is the kind of headache you get when you go from fairly sedentary activities (like your daily job) to high-intensity exercise (like sprint training). It’s more than likely caused by a lack of warm-up. Without a warm-up, your body isn’t prepared for the sudden high intensity exercise, so it ends up over-exerting itself as it tries to compensate for the increase in activity. A quick warm-up routine of stretching and light-intensity cardio can help you to avoid this problem.
This is one of the most common causes of headaches, and one most of us don’t even realize is causing the problem. The vast majority of people go into their workouts slightly dehydrated, due to insufficient water intake throughout the day. Then, when they sweat, they dehydrate themselves further, sometimes to potentially dangerous levels. Dehydration can cause a headache because insufficient water leads to lower arterial blood pressure, preventing those arteries from supplying enough blood to the brain. The key to preventing this is to 1) drink more water throughout the day, and 2) make sure to have a bottle of water to sip throughout your workout. The more water you drink, the less risk of dehydration and related headaches.
This kind of headache develops when you hold your breath during your exercise, a common problem with newbie weightlifters. Holding your breath can make your head hurt and make you dizzy, and your blood pressure may rise as a result of holding your breath and straining your core muscles. That’s why it’s so important for you to breathe with each repetition. Inhale when you’re lowering the weight, then exhale when you’re straining to lift it. You’ll avoid depriving your body of oxygen and unnecessarily raising your blood pressure.
Yes, the food you eat can have an effect on your headache! A lot of people who suffer from post-workout headaches may find that the amino acid tyramine is the culprit. Tyramine—found in soy products, bananas, citrus fruit, and yoghurt—can lead to headaches, thanks to the way it affects the dilation of the blood vessels in your brain. All you have to do to stop this problem is to choose a different pre-workout snack. Try something with no fruit or fiber, but stick with a peanut butter sandwich, milk and berry smoothie, or a pre-workout supplement. Save all those vital tyramine-containing nutrients for after the workout.
Insufficient Strength Headache
It may sound odd, but it’s actually a lot more common than you realize. When you’re not strong or fit enough for a certain exercise you are doing, the surrounding muscles have to compensate. So, for example, if you’re not strong enough to do a pull-up yet, you’ll often feel your lower back and neck pitching in to help your shoulders and upper back. Tension in the neck can trigger muscle spasms—far more common if the muscles aren’t able to handle the intensity or strain of the exercise—and these spasms can lead to headaches. The best solution: take it easier and lift lighter until you build up enough strength!