Most don't work out for the pure joy of being drenched in sweat. They do it for the side effects: shed pounds, sexier muscles, and a longer, healthier life. But most don't know that itching, the runs, coughing, headaches, and a snot-covered face are all just as common side effects. Luckily, you can keep the good side effects without the (literally) crappy ones. Here's how:
You expect your skin to get red from your workout, but if it also gets splotchy, itchy, or covered in hives, a ton of different things could be ticking off your epidermis: tight workout clothes, chemicals contained within them, or a condition called exercise-induced urticaria. All three can stress out your body, causing it to produce histamines, antihistamines, and finally itching, says exercise physiologist Pete McCall, CSCS. It's basically an allergic reaction.
Skip the side effect: If you develop hives or rashes during or after exercise — and they also tend to pop up when you take hot showers, eat spicy foods, or get really ticked off — exercise-induced urticaria is likely to blame. Talk to your doc about your symptoms and find out if it's safe for you to take an antihistamine before hitting the gym.
Meanwhile, to prevent any skin irritations that your clothes can cause, try switching to looser-fitting clothing and make sure to wash everything with a fragrance-free detergent and no fabric softener, as both can irritate skin, says Michael Shepard, MD, a sports-medicine specialist with the Hoag Orthopedic Institute and team doctor to the Los Angeles Angels. Also, some people don't get along with polyester, spandex, or Lycra, so if you notice that you commonly have problems when you wear synthetic fabrics, stick with cotton.
Funnily enough, this one is most common in runners. "When you go for a long run, your body has to shuttle blood to your muscles and away from your digestive system for an extended period of time," Shepard says. So any food in your gut just sits there and rattles around with every step, making diarrhea a real and ever-present threat.
Skip the side effect: Carbo-load the night before, not hours before, a long run, Shepard says. It will help guarantee that by the time you hit the trail, the food is already out of your stomach and the carbs are ready to go, packed away for safe keeping in your liver and muscles. You should still eat a small carb-rich snack within a couple hours of working out, but some runners can't stomach more than Jell-O. Meanwhile, if your long runs aren't mandatory, breaking them up into shorter intervals can help ease stomach upset.
You finished your workout strong. Then all of a sudden, you can't breathe. Congratulations: you have exercise-induced bronchoconstriction. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, the condition, which causes a narrowing of the airways in the lungs, causes shortness of breath, wheezing, and coughing in about one out of five people and nine out of 10 people with asthma. It's believed that, in people who suffer from the condition, the body reacts to airborne irritants by constricting its airways.
Skip the side effect: Exercising indoors may help keep your airways moist (dry air can make them clam up) and clear of pollutants. Upping your vitamin C intake can also help prevent inflammation in your airways. In one 2013 study published in BMJ Open when exercisers popped a vitamin C supplement, they cut their symptoms in half.
During exercise, to keep your blood pumping, blood vessels throughout your body — including your brain — dilate. Especially in people who are prone to migraines, these expanded blood vessels can trigger headaches, Shepard says. And on the opposite end of the spectrum, holding your breath while you crank out reps can deprive your brain of oxygen-filled blood and bring on pain.
Skip the side effect: Exercise headaches are most frequent during strenuous exercise, especially when exercisers are pushing themselves too hard. Mastering moderate-intensity workouts before you start hitting high-intensity ones can help prevent headaches, according to the Migraine Trust, a UK-based research charity. Warming up before any workout can also help by preventing a sudden rush of blood through your brain.
By dilating blood vessels in your nose, and constricting others, exercise can open the floodgates that are your nasal passages. Called exercise-induced rhinitis (EIR), it's most common in people with nasal allergies, but is anything but rare in people who don't generally have the sniffles, according to research from the Allergy Asthma Immunology Clinic of Colorado.
Skip the side effect: Outdoor EIR is more common than its indoor counterpart, causing experts to believe that outdoor irritants like pollen and nitrogen dioxide in car exhaust may make things worse, McCall says. If your symptoms start getting in the way of your workout, you can talk to your doctor about possible nasal sprays that can help.