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5 OTC Medications That Impact Your Workout

Thought popping pain relievers or sucking down cough syrup when you’re feeling sick wouldn’t hamper your workout? Think again.

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If you reach for a swig of Nyquil to put the kibosh on your cold symptoms or pop an ibuprofen before a workout, listen up. Most likely, half of the meds in your bathroom cabinet will make you sleepy and impair your workout. Imagine the worst: you drop a dumbbell on your foot, you injure yourself because you’re not noticing your body’s true limits...you get the picture. The point is, some over-the-counter meds may change the way your body responds to exercise—and not always in a good way. Here's the scoop on the most common OTC meds and expert tips for avoiding potential problems when you hit the gym.

Cold & flu meds / decongestants
You're not going to let a little head cold stop you from working out, right? Problem is, some cold and flu medications (e.g. Sudafed, which contains pseudoephedrine) can make your brain a bit foggy, which can lead to injury—so experts say it’s probably best to take a few days off while under their influence. "The entire class of OTC cold and flu medications have some sedating properties," says Michael Lanigan, MD, clinical assistant professor and director of the urgent care center at Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York. Plus, taking decongestants may increase your heart rate and blood pressure, which could put you at a higher risk of stroke or other cardiovascular issues.

[See: Are your sleeping pills killing you?]

Sleep medications
Tossing and turning all night? Taking a sleeping pill on occasion can help, but its effects may spill over into your next morning's workout. The key is when you took the medication and how much sleep you got, says Lanigan. "If you took an OTC sleep aid and didn’t get a full night of sleep (seven to eight hours at least) you'll probably be drowsy the first hours that you are awake, and exercise during that time may not be a good idea,” he says. “Work out later in the day after the effects of the medication have worn off.”

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