5 Common Pre-Workout Supplement Side-Effects and the Science behind Them

You feel your head pulsating or your toes and palms tingling? You are going to find out why the supplements and shakes you drink sometimes make you feel strange and what you need to do about it. Let’s explore the most common pre-workout supplements side effects and the science behind them.

What are pre-workout supplements ?

Pre-workout supplements are taken by gym goers to boost their performance for the upcoming training session and make it more efficient. So, why is it that sometimes you might feel a throbbing pain in your head, feel your palms itching or sweat profusely?

Numerous studies have shown that this type of supplements is only safe when used for a short amount of time and it is indeed proven to tremendously increase performance in the gym.

However, taking into account that the majority of these supplements have a mix of several different compounds in them, it is no wonder that sometimes the body can react in a non-expected way to some of them.

The most common pre-workout supplements side effects

Sometimes the solution that alleviates the problem is as easy and simple as drinking it with a bit more water or choosing another product that may be better suited for you. In this article, we present to you the science behind many of these pre-workout side effects.

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1. Pre-workout supplements can very often cause headaches

The fact is that the majority of these supplements have all kinds of vasodilator substances or compounds inside that will cause the blood vessels to widen or expand. This goes for the blood vessels in the brain too, which can be the primary cause for a migraine.

The most commonly found vasodilator is arginine, an amino acid that increases nitro oxide levels in your body. The reasoning behind this is that when you are resting, the majority of the vascular beds aren’t open.

If they do get opened, theoretically, one can take in more nutrients or get rid of waste products more effectively because of the larger amount of blood that is circulating. Some supplements advertise this as having anabolic properties, thus causing increased muscle tissue gain.

But, if the migraines keep getting more painful, you should consult with your doctor and think about switching to a supplement that lacks the particular substance. One should read the labels carefully and make sure that the other brand doesn’t contain another vasodilator which could cause the same side-effect.


2. Pre-workout supplements can also cause bouts of insomnia

The fact is that the majority of pre-workout supps are filled with caffeine in order to provide you with enough energy to endure grueling training sessions. It is widely known that drinking caffeine increases alertness and focus and helps to keep you awake, but it’s less known that it’s also an activator of epinephrine and norepinephrine, the so-called “fight or flight” hormones, the ones that will make incredibly energized while they are moving throughout the body.

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Caffeine’s half-life or the amount of time it’s active in your body is around 3-4 hours, but every individual has a different response to how rapidly they can metabolize it.

Rare are the people who wouldn’t have trouble falling asleep after they’ve taken a pre-workout supplement filled with caffeine ahead of their evening training session. But if you belong to the majority of people that don’t metabolize it as quickly, it won’t leave the system for a prolonged period of time which will inevitably impact your sleep.

3. They can cause an itching sensation in the feet and hands

There are two specific compounds in almost any brand and those are beta-alanine, a well-known stimulant, and niacin, otherwise known as vitamin B3. There has been plenty of evidence that beta-alanine can aid you in doing a few more repetitions without the accumulation of too much lactic acid in your muscles which produces the burning sensation.

However, some individuals are particularly sensitive to the substance and can feel a tingling or itching sensation. It is one of the most common pre-workout side effects. This reaction is totally harmless and does not indicate that it’s toxic or can cause any serious problem, but a nuisance nonetheless.


The second compound, niacin has been shown that in doses as high as 500mg which is the standard dose in many pre-workout supplements can cause a flush. The skin starts getting red and you start feeling a sensation of itching or tingling.

Some companies deliberately put it in for that same effect, thinking that combining the tingling sensation with caffeine might cause a dramatic effect on the lifter while working out.

Scientists have also proven that niacin has the potential to prevent the usage of fat as an energy source during working out, which is bad news for people who have weight loss as one of their primary goals.

4. They can cause diarrhea

This is one of the more rare pre-workout side effects and may come as a reaction to a particular compound inside the blend, but it’s much more likely to be caused by not diluting the supplement with enough water. And very often it’s because the manufacturer’s recommendations for the water dose are very low, which will make it very thick. When you consume such a thick liquid, the body will start to get water from other parts of the body so it can be able to process it.

When the body gets the water through the wall of the intestines, it will actually flood the open space within the intestines because of the process of osmosis. This, in turn, will cause an increase in the amount of water in the intestinal cavity which ultimately leads to diarrhea. This can easily be fixed by diluting the powder with more water before consumption.

5. They can make some people nauseous

The main reason for this can be because some people aren’t mixing the supplement with enough water or it can be because of a particular compound in the blend which some cannot tolerate.

The tricky thing about this is that the irritant could be any of the numerous ingredients and it differs in every individual. Always play it safe and mix the supplement with more water than the recommended amount. If that doesn’t fix the problem, then it’s very likely it has something to do with a specific substance in the supplement.

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