Pre-workouts are a supplement that you mainly take before exercise in order to boost energy levels and maximize gains. They are therefore frequently used for added motivation or before a particularly difficult workout – like leg day!
Due to the popularity of pre-workouts, they come in a variety of forms including powders, drinks, and pills. These products contain different ingredients depending on their manufacturer, but some of the most common ones include caffeine, L-Carnitine, and creatine.
Although pre-workouts give a boost of energy which makes them popular amongst gym goers, these products do have some potential side effects.
If you’ve ever taken pre-workout, you may have experienced what some people call ‘pre-workout sickness’. But, can pre-workout make you sick, or is it just coincidental?
Below, I’ve answered these questions and discussed whether pre-workouts can make you sick and what you can do if you are experiencing side effects when taking them.
Also, check out this video which gives a great overview of what pre-workouts are and how they work:
Table of Contents
Can Pre-Workout Make You Sick?
Pre-workout products can make you sick. Side effects from pre-workout products include insomnia, heart palpitations, and gastrointestinal issues like nausea and diarrhea. These side effects can be caused by the ingredients that these products contain, as well as the dosage of these ingredients.
To expand on this more, taking a pre-workout supplement can cause side effects.
If you follow the correct dosage guidance, then these side effects are unlikely to be harmful and most are relatively mild and short-term. If however, you take too much pre-workout or have a bad reaction then side effects are very much possible.
One possible side effect of pre-workout supplements is gastrointestinal issues which people have described as ‘pre-workout sickness’.
This may be due to the high levels of caffeine that pre-workout supplements contain. Caffeine may cause higher levels of stomach acid, particularly if you have a sensitive stomach. Stomach acid plays an important role in the body, enabling it to break down food.
However, when levels become too high it can irritate the stomach. This can lead to gastrointestinal issues such as nausea and abdominal cramps.
As caffeine is a stimulant, it can also trigger your digestive tract. This can cause contractions which can have a kind of laxative-like effect. This is why many people need the toilet soon after having a caffeinated beverage. This obviously isn’t ideal when you’re planning to workout!
While it’s a serious topic, I bet you (or someone you know) have had a case of a bad stomach in the gym after taking one scoop too many of a potent pre-workout and needed to run to the toilet mid-set.
Funny story, just not funny at the time!
As many of these gastrointestinal symptoms have been associated with caffeine, you might think a stimulant-free pre-workout wouldn’t cause pre-workout sickness.
Related – Stimulant vs stimulant-free pre-workout
However, you can also experience gastrointestinal symptoms from other ingredients in pre-workout supplements. Ingredients like sodium bicarbonate, magnesium, and creatine – all of which are popular in pre-workout supplements – can also cause digestive upset.
Overall then, pre-workout supplements can make you feel sick as they can cause side effects that affect your digestive system, such as nausea.
In the next section, I’ll explain how long these effects typically last, as well as what you can do about them.
How Long Does Pre-Workout Sickness Last?
Pre-workout usually kicks in about an hour after taking it and the effects can last for one to several hours. Pre-workout sickness can last for the same amount of time. Depending on the ingredients, pre-workout sickness can also last for longer than the effects of pre-workout.
To expand on this slightly more, after you’ve taken a pre-workout it can take about an hour for the ingredients to reach their full effect. These effects usually peak and then wear off over time.
If you’ve experienced side effects after taking your pre-workout then you’d expect these to also wear off as the pre-workout does. As I mentioned earlier, pre-workout side effects are usually mild and short-lived.
However, it can vary. The time it takes for these ingredients to kick in and to wear off again depends on the type of ingredient, the dosage, as well as your body’s reaction to them.
Caffeine, for example, has a half-life of about 5 hours. So you might notice that you still feel jittery hours later, particularly if you’re sensitive to caffeine.
How To Get Rid of Pre-Workout Sickness
You can reduce the risk of pre-workout sickness in a few ways. This includes reducing the dosage that you’re taking, identifying and reducing ingredients that make you feel sick and taking pre-workout after or with food.
There are different things you can do to reduce the side effects of pre-workout supplements and avoid pre-workout sickness.
Firstly, it’s important to follow the guidance on how much pre-workout you’re taking and how often you’re taking it. The manufacturer’s guidance such as recommended doses is there for a reason.
Taking pre-workout improperly, meaning taking higher doses than you’re supposed to or taking it more often than you’re supposed to, is going to increase the risk of serious side effects and it’s not necessarily going to have a bigger impact on your workout.
Secondly, consider reducing the dose you’re taking. If you’re taking a large amount then that may be why you’re feeling sick afterward and this can also lead to a tolerance to pre-workout which only encourages you to take more to feel the effects.
Reducing the amount of pre-workout you’re consuming reduces the quantity of the ingredients that you’re consuming so may help to minimize feeling sick afterward.
Thirdly, consider different ingredients. Pre-workout supplements contain different ingredients and different quantities of these ingredients. As digestive symptoms are usually associated with caffeine, sodium bicarbonate, magnesium, or creatine it’s a good idea to eliminate these.
If a certain ingredient seems to be making you feel sick then it’s best to go for a pre-workout without this ingredient included.
There are plenty of pre-workouts on the market today, so finding an alternative that doesn’t contain the ingredient you’re trying to avoid shouldn’t be difficult.
Fourthly, consider taking your pre-workout with food. Taking pre-workout on an empty stomach can cause nausea as when stomach acid levels increase there’s nothing else in your stomach to be digested, leading to nausea and stomach cramps.
If you’re going to do an intense workout afterward, then having a huge meal might not be ideal but trying your pre-workout supplement with a snack may help.
Lastly, if you’re continuing to feel sick from your pre-workout then consider avoiding them altogether.
Although pre-workouts are a popular supplement, this doesn’t mean you need them to work out. Plenty of people work out without the aid of pre-workouts and still see significant results!
A good option or substitute you can take is coffee (check out our coffee vs pre-workout comparison or an energy drink) which both contain caffeine for an energy boost, you just won’t get the additional performance-enhancing effects that you would with a pre-workout.
Pre-workouts are potent supplements designed to stimulate you for a workout. As a good example, check out the pre-workout I’ve been using from Protein Works (use code BYRNE15 at checkout for 15% discount on Protein Works supplements).
The label specifically says it uses potent ingredients.
Therefore, it’s important to be careful with the ingredients you use and the dosages you take. People often wonder if pre-workout can make you sick and the answer is definitely yes!
Due to the potent ingredients and stimulants used in a pre-workout, people can experience a range of side effects which include sickness, nausea, diarrhea, lightheadedness, and heart palpitations. This is why you should always take the recommended manufacturer’s dose and no more.
Everyone is different but provided you don’t get carried away and have too many scoops of a pre-workout, it should be rare that you experience any sickness. Just remember if you do then it would be best to seek medical attention and opinion to play it safe.
This isn’t the only issue you could face with pre-workouts though. If you have some time, check out how pre-workouts could cause other side effects like acne or whether or not it’s bad to have pre-workout at night.