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Pre-Workout Supplements: 6 Side Effects and How To Avoid Them
*Before getting started, IIFYM would like to point out that pre-workout supplements are not for everyone and can have serious side effects to your overall health if not used as directed. IIFYM recommends that you consult with your doctor before using any pre-workout supplements. Also, IIFYM does not support the use of pre-workout supplements to anyone under the age of 18.
With that said, if you are looking to start tracking macros, click here for our macro calculator!
The World of Pre-Workout Supplements!
We live in a world where we expect to feel something when we use pre-workout supplements. If you don’t feel some sort of energy, tingly sensation, or mental focus, then we consider it a terrible product. Yet, what many of us find out is that these pre-workout supplements also have some drawbacks—specifically, side effects.
At IIFYM, we want you to understand not only your nutrition but how things work and potential consequences (especially if abused). Pre-workout supplements are no exception. Some of us swear by pre-workout supplements and can’t work out without them.
Then on the flipside, we have people who never use pre-workout supplements and they have amazing workouts. The choice is ultimately yours in the direction you care to go, IIFYM family.
On the IIFYM website, we really don’t dabble in pre-workout supplements. In fact, if you did a search, there’s less than a handful that we have mentioned on the site. So, in an effort to bring you information on topics you care about, let’s dig into the topic of some potential side effects and how to avoid them when it comes to pre-workout supplements.
Have you ever looked at the label of your pre-workout supplements? You should. What you find on the back might give you a good indication if the product is for you or not—especially if you use your pre-workout supplements for a night-time training session and they contain stimulants.
In general, pre-workout supplements are slammed with caffeine. I’m not talking about a couple cups of coffee worth, I mean anywhere from 200-400mg of caffeine per serving.
Sure, the caffeine in the pre-workout supplements will help give you energy throughout your workout due to it activating epinephrine and norepinephrine in the body, but if taken at night, it will also cause you to lay in bed staring at your ceiling.
So how can this be combated if you plan on getting a good night’s sleep? The half-life (how long it lasts) of caffeine is anywhere from three to five hours. With that being said, if you plan on hopping into bed around 11 pm, you shouldn’t take your pre-workout supplements after 6 pm or they might affect your sleep.
The Counter Approach
The good news is, everyone metabolizes caffeine at different rates, so in this instance, you might be able to get away with using your pre-workout supplements as late as 8pm.
However, if you metabolize it extremely slowly, you might still be feeling the effects of the stimulant from a lunchtime workout. You could also lower the dose/serving size of your pre-workout supplements so the effects aren’t as drastic as a full serving, which could allow it to exit your system faster.
Don’t forget about post workout nutrition after your workout. If you would like information on how to set that up for maximal results, IIFYM has some great programs to get you on track to making progress through proper nutrition. Simply click on the programs on the IIFYM site.
Ah yes, the runs. Something we at IIFYM would hate to see any of you have. Yet, it happens with certain pre-workout supplements. This can happen for a number of reasons, but most people will find the issue arising from two things in particular.
The first one is some specific ingredients used in the products that can have a laxative effect on sensitive systems that send you to the toilet fairly quickly after slamming down the pre-workout supplements.
These ingredients include high dosages of the following: sodium bicarbonate, magnesium, taurine, arginine, Yohimbe, creatine, and caffeine. But more times than not, it comes down to how you use the product.
A problem in the supplement industry is that sometimes you have people creating pre-workout supplements without truly knowing how they work in the body and how they are absorbed. For instance, and this is the second issue we were talking about above, how much water you use to mix up your favorite pre-workout supplements.
The Reasoning For Adding More Water
Many call for you to mix your powder with around 8 ounces of water and more times than not, this isn’t enough. This can cause a paste to form in your gut.
What then happens is your body will pull water out of your cells to break down the paste and due to osmosis, that water ends up passing through the intestinal wall and when too much water enters, it causes the runs.
A simple fix to the above would be to use more water the next time you use your pre-workout supplements. If you pick up something new and find following the directions on the label had you running to the toilet, next time add more water.
IIFYM also recommends that you drink water during your workout as well. If you drink water throughout the day and consistently, you might not even show any signs of gastrointestinal issues when following the directions. It’s truly a case by case and person by person basis.
It goes without saying that the above (diarrhea) goes hand in hand with dehydration. Certain ingredients in pre-workout supplements can pull water and excrete it causing dehydration.
Some ingredients are put in to do this on purpose (for instance if it has a blend to help with weight loss or included as a diuretic) while others, when consumed in high doses, can cause dehydration.
IIFYM always recommends consuming water throughout the day, even when you aren’t thirsty. If you find after taking any pre-workout supplements that you are urinating more than normal, be sure to replenish what is lost by grabbing some water.
When exercising, not only do you sweat and lose water, but the water being shuttled to your muscles, especially if creatine is present in the pre-workout supplements, it’s pulling water from other areas of the body to flood those working muscles. This can cause dehydration depending on the severity. Again, be sure to drink plenty of water to prevent this side effect.
If you’re following along you can see how some of the side effects mentioned in this IIFYM article involving pre-workout supplements are tied together. The side effect of a headache is no different. When your body becomes dehydrated such as in the example above, it can cause a headache. Your brain is surrounded by a sack full of fluid. When dehydration occurs, that fluid surrounding the brain is decreased which can cause the brain to bump into the skull. This in itself can cause a headache.
When vasodilation occurs, the blood vessels throughout your body expand, including the vessels in your head. This expansion can cause headaches.
Some pre-workout supplements have ingredients that help promote vasodilation (the pump we strive for). Many of these ingredients are forms of arginine, citrulline malate, or beta-alanine.
In order to minimize the effects, if you are getting headaches, you can either stay away from pre-workouts that include vasodilators if you’re consistently getting a headache, or lower the dosage/serving size you are using to see if that changes anything. It’s also advantageous to consume water both before and after taking any pre-workout supplements.
5) High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is something we can have even if we aren’t using any form of pre-workout supplements. At IIFYM we try to help you lead a healthy lifestyle to minimize the negative effects poor exercise and nutrition habits can have on the body.
For that reason, we have several IIFYM programs to suit your individual needs. Such as the Custom Macro Blueprint to help those dial in their macro numbers.
Another thing that some people might not realize is that the simple act of high-intensity, short duration exercises like what takes place when you are weight training or doing HIIT, can increase your blood pressure.
Now, the levels can go back to normal, but during that timeframe even without the use of pre-workout supplements, your blood pressure can become elevated. If your doctor told you that you have high blood pressure, you should stay away from pre-workout supplements that have stimulants altogether.
Finding Another Avenue
All stimulants increase your blood pressure. That’s the nature of the ingredient (such as caffeine). This can be problematic if you already have an underlying high blood pressure issue that you might not be aware of. Again, for that reason, IIFYM recommends consulting with your doctor before starting an exercise program or using pre-workout supplements.
If you have an underlying health issue such as high blood pressure, one way to not exacerbate the issue would be to find pre-workout supplements that don’t have stimulants or that are very mildly dosed. There are plenty of pre-workout supplements out there which aren’t stimulant heavy to choose from.
IIFYM does not have a personal favorite that we stand behind, so you may need to do some trial and error to see what works for you. If a brand has samples of their pre-workout supplements that would be a great place to start to see how your body reacts to a specific product before opening your wallet.
6) Tingly or Prickly Sensations
A common side effect of many pre-workout supplements is a tingly or prickly sensation throughout your body. Everyone is different and it depends on your sensitivity to certain ingredients found in the pre-workout supplements. While a “side effect” it really isn’t anything to be worried about. If the pre-workout supplements contain ingredients such as niacin, beta-alanine, or vitamin B3, you’re more than likely going to get this sensation.
Have one of our coaches build your Custom Macro Blueprint, which will help you see and feel the difference!
Many pre-workout supplements include niacin in a higher dose just for that very reason. They want you to feel something after taking their pre-workout supplements. It comes back to people equate something working if they can feel them. High dosages of niacin can also cause a flushing effect on the skin where it can become red, blotchy, and even itchy as if you have hives (but not as severe).
Preventing the Side Effect
The tingly and prickly sensations you get from some pre-workout supplements is harmless and nothing to be concerned about. Eventually, what you are feeling will subside and you’ll go back to feeling normal. The sensation is simply due to a reaction within the nervous system.
If you aren’t interested in this particular side effect, it would be recommended that you stay away from pre-workout supplements that contain these ingredients. You can also isolate certain ingredients to stay away from as well.
If you don’t like the flush of niacin, then find a product that doesn’t contain niacin. Or pay close attention to the dosages of the above-mentioned ingredients and find a product with lower doses or simply take less of the product per workout and see how your body reacts.
If you have questions regarding IIFYM please feel free to click on the IIFYM FAQ tab on the website. Also, if you are looking for some great IIFYM guides, IIFYM recipes, or even IIFYM meal plans, check out the IIFYM programs available on the website.