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Workout Warnings
Strange Symptoms from Intense Workouts

New fitness programs can be challenging. It’s tricky balancing the right foods with appropriate levels of exercise. Sometimes our bodies warn us there’s a problem; we just haven’t learned how to recognize what’s happening. Here are three of the more unusual warning signs and what to do about them.


Smelling ammonia after exercise can happen if you’re on a low-carbohydrate or high-protein diet.

Your body’s first source of energy is carbohydrates. When you eat food with carbs in it, your body breaks it down into glucose. The glucose then circulates in your blood and gives you energy. If you eat a low-carbohydrate diet, you may not be getting enough carbs to make the glucose. Exercising for long periods can also use up the stores of glucose your body has.

You still need energy to move, so your body turns to protein. Typically when you eat protein, your body breaks it down and uses it to repair muscles, bones and skin. It’s also used to make enzymes that digest food. But if you haven’t eaten enough carbs, your body breaks down protein for energy, and one of the byproducts is ammonia. If you need a lot of energy and protein is the only source, eventually, your liver can’t dispose of the excess ammonia fast enough, so you start sweating it out.

When you’re running outside, you usually can’t smell it because the air’s movement around you takes it away. But when you stop or move indoors, suddenly the smell will hit you.

Should you smell ammonia after a run, check your diet and make sure you’re getting enough carbohydrates. A well-balanced diet is usually around 50% carbs. If the smell or condition persists, call your doctor. Genetic disorders can also cause the problem, as well as alcohol-related liver diseases like hepatitis and cirrhosis.


Craving solid food during a workout means you’re not eating enough.

When you exercise, your body deliberately tamps down feelings of hunger. The more vigorous or intense the activity is, the less hunger you feel. The same thing happens to people who exercise for long periods, 90 minutes or more.

What’s happening is the hormone ghrelin that causes hunger is reduced. Hormones that cause hunger can stay suppressed for up to an hour after especially intense or long workouts.

If you start to crave regular food during intense or prolonged exercise, your hunger signals are so strong they’ve overwhelmed the hunger-suppressing hormone leptin. That typically happens only when you’ve severely under-eaten and your brain sends out an emergency signal.

Be careful not to confuse thirst with hunger. Drink water when you think you’re hungry. Then wait for 60 seconds and reevaluate how you feel. You may not have been hungry at all, just thirsty.

If you’re still hungry after taking a drink, it’s time to end the workout. Then, before you exercise the next time, eat more an hour or two before you start.


Tasting metal after an intense run can happen when you push yourself too hard.

It’s sometimes called “tasting the penny,” and it used to be regarded as a rite of passage for long-distance runners. What you’re tasting is the result of ruptured blood cells.

During intense workouts, your heart may be forced to work harder than usual. That can lead to a buildup of fluid in the lungs, known as pulmonary edema. The pressure from that fluid causes leaks of red blood cells into the lungs’ small air sacs.

As the red blood cells release hemoglobin, it moves through the bronchi to the mouth. The metal you taste is iron from the blood.

When it’s cold outside, the cause can be icy air. Your mouth, nose, and throat dry out, become irritated and crack. Small amounts of blood can leak out onto your taste buds.

For ordinarily healthy people without other symptoms, it’s not a big deal. Rest up and lower the intensity of your workouts until you’re in better shape. If it’s happening because of the temperature, consider wearing a mask to warm up the air and keep moisture in.

Experiencing a metallic taste in your mouth outside a workout is something you should talk to a doctor about. It can be something as simple as hay fever or as severe as kidney damage. It’s best to get help from a professional.

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CAUTION: Check with your doctor before
beginning any diet or exercise program.