Pre-workout is a broad term that includes all kinds of workout supplements that people take before a workout to boost their performance and maximize gains. The most popular pre-workout is in the form of a powder that includes a blend of different supplements that work together to give you a boost during your workouts – simply mix it with water and you’re done!
That said, even though pre-workout drinks can be incredibly beneficial, plus quick and easy to make, they can also have a few side effects that you should be aware of before trying them. Or maybe you’ve already experienced them yourself! Either way, not every ingredient works the same for everyone, which is why your experience might not be as pleasant as others.
To help you avoid an unwanted experience with your pre-workout, we’ll walk you through some common potential side effects of the ingredients that make up most pre-workouts and a few ways to make them go away and prevent them in the future.
When it comes to getting a quick rush of energy, very few things top caffeine. This stimulant is one of the most common ingredients in pre-workout for a few reasons, one of them being that it helps you stay more alert and react quicker during your workouts, which is why people also use it outside of the gym to stay energized.
Caffeine also helps avoid muscle fatigue and improve your exercise performance, which is why it can be a good idea to have a caffeinated drink or supplement before you hit the weights. But as you may already know, anything in excess is bad, and accidentally going overboard with caffeine is actually easier than it sounds…
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that adults can safely consume 400 mg of caffeine per day, which is about 4 or 5 regular cups of coffee.  Some pre-workouts contain as much as that, some even more, which can heighten caffeine side effects such as feeling jittery, anxious, or having a fast heart rate – and you definitely don’t want this while working out!
What can you do?
Caffeine doesn’t affect everyone the same way. Some people are more sensitive to it, experiencing the side effects even after just one cup of coffee, which means that a caffeinated pre-workout isn’t the best idea. Fortunately, there are non-caffeinated blends that you can try so you don’t miss out on the other workout benefits.
Now, if your sensibility level isn’t as high and you can manage some caffeine, look for pre-workouts with small quantities of caffeine, ideally under 200 mg per serving. Instead of trying it with full scoops right away, start with a small dose first so you can test how your body feels. And try to avoid drinking coffee on days where you’re using caffeinated pre-workout unless it’s decaf!
Having an upset stomach
Another side effect related to caffeine is gastrointestinal issues when drinking pre-workout. This is because caffeine can increase the release of stomach acid, which in turn causes acid reflux, and this isn’t ideal when you’re moving around during your workouts.
Plus, pre-workout contains other ingredients such as sodium bicarbonate and magnesium, which have laxative effects and can upset your stomach if consumed in excess. Still, one of the main reasons why a pre-workout might cause you stomach problems can be as simple as not using enough water!
What can you do?
Since a highly-concentrated pre-workout can upset your stomach and even lead to diarrhea, the best thing you can do to avoid this is to use enough water when mixing your pre-workout. Between 8-12 oz is the ideal amount, so aim for that next time!
And keep an eye on how your stomach reacts to pre-workout. If you’re adding enough water and still experiencing gastrointestinal issues, it might be the caffeine content, or you already have too much magnesium in your diet. Try changing pre-workout formulas to see what works best for you.
Bloating and water retention
Among all pre-workout ingredients, there are a few that may cause mild reactions in your body. One of them is creatine, a popular supplement that helps increase lean muscle gains during your workout, improve athletic performance, and keep your energy levels high while you work out, which makes it a popular pre-workout ingredient.
On the downside, creatine also has a few side effects. It can cause water retention, bloating, and other unpleasant side effects that are gut related and can impact both your workouts and your recovery.
What can you do?
Creatine side effects can be easily prevented by keeping track of how much you consume. As we previously said, anything in excess is bad, including creatine and other beneficial supplements, which is why you need to make sure you’re getting the proper amounts.
For creatine, 3-5 g per day is the recommended dosage. Some athletes try something known as creatine loading, which involves consuming 20 g every day for 3-7 days to ensure their muscles are loaded and then reducing it to the recommended dosage. If you want to try this, start with smaller dosages to see how your body reacts to it.
Feeling tingly or flushed
Other mild reactions that your body might experience with pre-workout are due to ingredients such as niacin and beta-alanine. Niacin, also known as vitamin B3, helps preserve muscle glycogen, which your body uses as fuel, essentially providing you with long-lasting energy, but in high doses, it can have a flushing effect on your skin that can be uncomfortable.
Beta-alanine is also known for providing you with sustained energy and decreased fatigue during your workouts, but the downside is that it might cause an unpleasant tingling sensation, also known as paresthesia, in your face or limbs.
What can you do?
Fortunately, these side effects are not harmful to your health and often go away quickly. That said, they’re still pretty unpleasant and some people might find it annoying enough to just avoid pre-workout entirely. But there are ways around it!
You can opt for a pre-workout that was a lower amount of these ingredients (the daily dosage should be 2-5 g for beta-alanine and under 500 mg for niacin) or none at all. Also, drink plenty of water! Water helps absorb nutrients more quickly and deal with these side effects effectively.
This can be a big problem with pre-workouts since a simple headache can prevent you from working out at all due to how unpleasant it is. Two main ingredients can cause a headache after taking pre-workout – caffeine and citrulline.
The amino acid citrulline is often used in pre-workouts because it helps increase blood flow, which can be incredibly beneficial for your muscles and power output during your workouts, but that blood flow can also affect your brain and lead to a headache.
Caffeine, as we mentioned before, is a stimulant that can have the same effect on your brain. Plus, it’s also a diuretic, so this combined with all the sweating during your workouts can result in dehydration, which can also cause headaches and other unwanted side effects.
What can you do?
Just like with other ingredients in pre-workout, if you’re experiencing headaches or migraines, you can try reducing your citrulline and caffeine intake so that you don’t go overboard. Try to keep it between 4-6 g of citrulline, and around 100-200 mg or less of caffeine – or none at all!
Additionally, make sure you’re drinking enough water to avoid dehydration and prevent any unwanted headaches. You sweat a lot during your workouts, so try to drink enough water before, during, and after you’re done to keep your body well hydrated.
Always keep your health first and your gains second
Pre-workout can be a great way to maximize your performance during your workout, no matter the specific supplements that you choose, but sometimes the wrong ingredients or an excess of supplements can actually have a negative impact on your body.
Most of these side effects aren’t harmful and can go away quickly, but taking care of yourself should be priority number 1 during a workout journey. So if you’re experiencing any of the issues that we mentioned, decrease your dosage or try different formulas until you find what works for you instead of fighting through it!