Fit Knowledge

5 Pre-Workout Side Effects and How to Avoid Them

Find out more about pre-workout side effects and how to avoid them for a better experience with your energy-boosting supplement.

Pre-workout supplements are marketed as a way to help you power-up your workout, motivate you and improve endurance levels – ultimately, the goal of a pre-workout is to improve your performance. All in all, they’re sold as something that will help you get more benefit from your workouts.

While this may sound good on paper, the pre-workout supplement market is unregulated, so a lot of products aren’t third party tested and companies are not held responsible for the formulas they create.

Therefore, supplement manufacturers might not want you to know, but pre-workout side effects are far more common than you know.

For example, when you take a pre-workout supplement, you’ll likely feel a sudden rush of energy. If you look at the formula profile, you’ll see that this is the result of taking a portion of caffeine.

This can be beneficial to your performance in a workout, as caffeine is proven to energize you and even increase strength during a workout [1].

However, issues arise when manufacturers begin to compete with each other to offer higher and higher servings of caffeine. Needless to say, too much caffeine can be dangerous and lead to a range of unwanted pre-workout side effects.

Unfortunately, these types of over-served supplements are common throughout the market, making it hard to find a more tolerable option.

Our caffeine point above is just one example of an ingredient that can give you side effects. On top of that, there are some ingredients that can cause reactions within your body, however once you know what they are you can accommodate them easily.

Despite this, don’t be scared of a pre-workout. They can really be super helpful in maximizing performance and improving your motivation – as long as you have a good supplement behind you.

To help you avoid these side effects, and choose an effective and safe pre-workout, we’ve got some hints and tips on what potential pre-workout side effects you need to look out for.

[Related Article: Pre-Workout for Women – Should You Use it? ]

Pre-workout side effects 

1. Interrupted sleep

The caffeine content within pre-workout supplements can have an effect on your sleep. As caffeine stimulates the nervous system, it can leave you unable to sleep. And, if you’re into fitness you’ll know how important sleep is to recovery. Plus missing sleep is just never fun anyway.

While this is undoubtedly one of the most annoying pre-workout side effects, it’s also the one you can easily do something about.

How to avoid interrupted sleep

Our first tip is to take a look at the supplement facts of your product. You don’t want to be taking anything that comes in at more than 200mg of caffeine in one serving. The safe recommended upper limit of caffeine is 400mg a day spread over several servings [2]. So, if you opt for something with 200mg of the stimulant, you’ve reached half your maximum intake in one go. Needless to say, this could have an impact on your sleep.

Our next recommendation is to put as much time between taking your pre-workout and going to bed as possible. We’d suggest leaving a minimum of 5 hours between taking a pre-workout supplement and going to bed. Anything less than that could leave you awake staring at the ceiling for hours.

Finally, we’d suggest adjusting your overall caffeine intake to avoid drinking too much, as too much in your system could impact your attempts to fall asleep. As such, think about cutting back on coffee and tea on the days you plan to take your pre-workout.

2. Diarrhea

Does Pre-workout give you diarrhea is one of the most common questions we’re asked when it comes to this type of supplement.

This is a very unfortunate side effect of some pre-workout supplements. Some ingredients that are commonly used in products in this category can cause diarrhea.

How to avoid diarrhea

To avoid this, simply look out for the following ingredients:

  • Sodium bicarbonate
  • Taurine
  • Arginine
  • Yohimbe
  • Creatine
  • Magnesium
  • Caffeine

While these ingredients may cause this reaction, it doesn’t mean you have to avoid them altogether. Your body may react to them in different ways, or one supplement may offer serving sizes that are too large.

The best thing to do is to compare supplement profiles to see if servings seem large comparably, and to check out reviews to see how others have reacted to the products. If you’re looking at slightly lower portions and good reviews, it’s unlikely you’ll get pre-workout diarrhea – thank god!

3. Headaches, migraines and dehydration

pre-workout side effects headache

Can pre-workout cause headaches? Well, certain elements of pre-workouts may leave you feeling slightly dehydrated if you haven’t had enough water that day, which can lead to headaches and migraines.

This occurs when the protective layer of water around the brain becomes depleted, which can result in your brain bumping against your skull. It can be very uncomfortable and leave you with headaches and in some more extreme situations, even migraines. Lack of water in the brain can also lead to reduced cognitive performance – something we definitely want to avoid.

How to avoid headaches, migraines and dehydration

To avoid this, there are a few ingredients you need to be aware of. Caffeine is one of them, as it is a diuretic, which means you may need to pee more often than normal, depleting your water reserves.

On top of that ingredients like arginine, citrulline malate and beta-alanine are vasodilators, which means they can cause your blood vessels in your head to expand. This can also lead to headaches, so watch out for supplements with high levels of these ingredients.

Luckily, if you get pre-workout headaches every now and then, it can be a super simple fix.

The best way to avoid dehydration and the headaches from a pre-workout is to ensure you’re drinking plenty of water throughout the day. Also aim to drink a glass before you take your pre-workout, and sip water throughout your training session.

[Related Article: Powher Up Pre-Workout Review]

4. High blood pressure

The very nature of a pre-workout is that it is meant to stimulate your body to work harder – and that includes your heart.

You may feel this when you have coffee and when you work out, which is completely normal. However, this can become a problem if you already suffer from issues that can case high blood pressure.

How to avoid high blood pressure

If you’re in good health and simply don’t like the sensation of having a higher blood pressure, the best way to avoid this may be to look for a stimulant free pre-workout.

However, if you have a pre-existing condition we strongly recommend you seek the advice of your doctor before you decide to take a pre-workout supplement.

If you drink coffee regularly throughout the day and experience the feelings of high blood pressure or anxiety when taking your pre-workout, then we recommend cutting down your caffeine intake around supplementation so you’re not overdoing it.

5. Tingling sensations

One common, and very strange, pre-workout side effect is an itchy, or prickly sensation throughout your body. People mostly feel this in their extremities, for example hands and feet are usually affected the most.

As far as pre-workout side effects go, this one can be pretty alarming if you’re not expecting it! But don’t worry, it’s not something to be worried about at all.

The effects of this can vary from person to person depending on their tolerance and on whether you’re simply just more sensitive to this side effect than others.

While this is a very strange feeling, and may be a little worrying the first time you feel it, this isn’t something you need to be worried about. It’s something called paraesthesia, which isn’t harmful or permanent, it’s simply a side effect of the way the ingredient interacts with your body.

Inside your body, certain ingredients cause your blood vessels to dilate, or get bigger, so more blood can pass through them. As your muscles are ‘fuller’ this can delay fatigue and even lead to increased endurance. It’s the process of the vessels expanding that cause the itching sensation.

The symptoms should subside after about an hour [3].

Often, it’s a response to certain ingredients within the supplement. Look out for these ones if you’re concerned about this:

  • Niacin
  • Beta-alanine

How to avoid prickly or tingly skin

The easiest way to reduce the risk of itchy, prickly skin is to look for a supplement that doesn’t contain niacin or beta-alanine.

However, as beta-alanine in particular can offer some beneficial endurance boosting properties [4], we’d suggest instead looking for something that offers a lower dose. Research has shown that servings over 800mg appear to result in reactions [5]. Therefore, we’d recommend looking for something with a serving lower than 800mg.

[Related Article: What is Whey Protein?]

Final word on Pre-Workout Side Effects

Pre-workout side effects are common, however if you know how to deal with them, it means you can still get the most out of the supplement, without cutting it out completely.

While some of them are straight forward, like caffeine interrupting sleep, others, like prickly skin, might be a little more unexpected, but are still safe and can be handled by finding the right product for you.

The key to staying safe when aiming to avoid pre-workout side effects is to steer clear high amounts of caffeine (more than 200mg in one serving), do your research into the ingredients on the supplements label and avoid proprietary blends at all costs. These are blends many manufacturers use so they can add undisclosed ingredients to the formula.

This is generally not a good practice, as it means you can’t guarantee what’s inside your supplement or how you’ll react to it.

Once you’ve found a product that ticks all those boxes and has some good reviews to back it up, you should have a more enjoyable experience with your supplement, and avoid any annoying pre-workout side effects.

[Related Article: Transparent Labs PreSeries Pre-Workout Review


gymgirlfit was created by health and fitness enthusiasts, with backgrounds in powerlifting and writing. We've written for a number of well-known fitness publishing companies.

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