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If you are part of the population who experiences pre workout sickness, you can find yourself losing valuable time in the gym and end up not making the progress you hope to see (nevermind wasting money on top of it).
So, how common is pre workout sickness? Approximately 25% of people who take a pre workout drink report nausea as a side effect. The most common reasons for pre workout sickness include reactions to specific ingredients (caffeine, creatine, glycerol), consuming too much or too little water, or mismanaging pre workout nutrition more broadly.
From my experience managing a supplement store for the past ten years, I have seen people miss out on the benefits of pre workout supplements by not understanding the factors that lead to pre workout sickness and how to prevent it.
Let’s dive deeper into:
- Why do people get sick from pre workout?
- 5 ways to prevent pre workout sickness
- What to do if you’re experiencing pre workout sickness already
- Best pre workouts that won’t cause nausea
Why Do People Get Sick From Pre-Workout? (And, How To Fix)
Pre workout supplements typically have anywhere from 5 to 15 ingredients, which can make pinning down a specific reason for someone’s pre workout sickness tricky.
There are, however, some common ingredients and factors which have been shown to contribute to pre workout sickness.
The 6 reasons people get sick from pre-workout are:
- Having too much caffeine or other stimulants
- Having too much creatine
- Having too much glycerol
- Having too much or too little water
- Taking pre workout on an empty stomach
- Going above the recommended dose
1. Having Too Much Caffeine or Other Stimulants
Some signs that you have ingested too much caffeine include upset stomach, nausea, and headache.
For healthy adults, the FDA has cited that up to 400mg of caffeine daily is safe.
Many pre workout supplements now are riding that upper limit line offering between 325 and 400mg of caffeine per serving.
This high dose of caffeine in one quick shot can be a major culprit behind pre workout sickness, especially in individuals who haven’t taken the time to slowly build up their caffeine intake.
If you’re only used to drinking 1 cup of coffee per day, which has 40mg of caffeine, then taking a pre-workout supplement can be nearly 10 times the normal amount of caffeine you’re used to consuming.
Oftentimes, caffeinated pre-workouts are also offering other types of stimulants such as synephrine (or bitter orange extract), theacrine, or theobromine. These can amplify the effects of the caffeine.
This combination of stimulants on its own can be enough to cause stomach upset. If you also consume coffee, cola, or energy drinks at other times throughout the day, the effect of stacking high levels of caffeine could be contributing to your pre workout sickness.
- Related Article: Monster For Pre Workout: Pros, Cons, and Should You Do It?
How to Fix It:
My first recommendation is to figure out exactly how much caffeine is in your pre workout.
Be mindful of checking the serving size on the ingredient label to see whether the ingredient list is based on a half scoop or a full scoop serving.
The sources of stimulants are often grouped together on the ingredient label, making it easier to calculate all possible sources of caffeine.
Knowing the amount of caffeine in your product will help you monitor total caffeine intake throughout the day. If you plan on taking a full serving of pre workout offering between 300mg and 400mg of caffeine, then reduce or eliminate other sources of caffeine in your day.
- Related Article: Caffeine Pills vs Pre Workout: Pros, Cons, & Which Is Best?
Next, start small.
If you are not accustomed to consuming high amounts of caffeine in a day (greater than 250mg daily), start with a quarter to a half serving of your pre workout, and gradually increase it to build up your tolerance.
If reducing your total caffeine intake throughout the day doesn’t solve the issue, look for stimulant-free versions of pre workout supplements like Beyond Yourself SuperSet Stim Free or HD Muscle Pre HD Elite.
2. Having Too Much Creatine
Creatine is an ingredient that is prevalent in pre workout supplements, with many products offering anywhere between 1g and 4g per serving.
Currently, about 40% of pre-workout supplements available contain creatine. Nausea and stomach upset are commonly reported alongside creatine supplementation.
The nauseating effects of creatine supplementation are typically more related to how the creatine is being ingested, and not the creatine itself.
Not only is creatine a common ingredient in pre workout supplements, but it is also a common additional supplement for anyone looking to increase strength.
Therefore, if you supplement with creatine on its own while also taking a pre workout supplement that has creatine in it, it’s possible that your stomach upset and sickness is related to ingesting too much creatine at once.
How to Fix It:
If you suspect creatine is the culprit behind your sickness, the most straightforward option is to choose a formula that doesn’t contain creatine.
If you’ve already invested the money in a pre workout that does contain creatine, you can try manipulating the following factors:
- Make sure that between your pre workout and any other supplements you might be taking, that you are not exceeding 10g of creatine in one serving.
- Stay well hydrated, drinking 30-40ml of water per kg of body weight. For example, if you weigh 100kg (220lb), you should drink 3-4L of water per day.
- Take your creatine with a starchy or high-fiber carbohydrate source like a piece of whole grain toast.
- Related Article: Is It Bad To Take Pre-Workout Every Day?
3. Having Too Much Glycerol
Glycerol is now found in approximately 25% of pre workout supplements (you will likely see it listed as the patented formula, GlycerSize™).
Its increase in popularity is due primarily to its ability to optimize muscle pumps, making it a preferred ingredient in stimulant-free or pump-focused pre workouts like Believe Supplements Pump Addict.
The current standard for glycerol supplementation is 1g/kg of body weight taken 60-120 minutes before exercise. Since most pre workout supplements are taken 30-60 minutes before exercise, ingesting glycerol too close to your workout is a possible reason for pre workout sickness.
Most products with glycerol only contain between 1 and 3 grams of glycerol, making it unlikely that the quantity of glycerol is the culprit.
How to Fix It:
Glycerol does impact total body water levels, similar to creatine, so make sure to stay adequately hydrated throughout the day if you are using a pre workout with glycerol.
Because it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact reason behind glycerol-induced nausea, my key recommendation is to choose a pre workout that doesn’t contain glycerol.
- Getting sick from pre workout frequently? Try one of our pre workout alternatives.
4. Having Too Much or Too Little Water
Pre workout sickness could be caused by something as simple as using too much water to mix your pre workout drink.
The abdominal discomfort could be due to the fact that the belly is too full of water sloshing around, leaving you feeling as though you’ve got a lead ball rolling around in your stomach.
Alternatively, having too little water with your pre workout can cause diarrhea, nausea, or sickness related purely to the strong, undesirable taste.
Many of the ingredients found in pre workouts like citrulline have an extremely sour or bitter taste.
As a result, supplement companies will use high amounts of flavoring to try to mask the taste of the raw ingredients.
In order to keep sugar content in their products low, the majority of this flavoring comes from artificial sweeteners like sucralose, which have been known to cause bloating, diarrhea, and gas.
How to fix it:
Each product will have specific recommendations on how much water to take with their product.
In general, 8-10 ounces of water is standard practice. This will yield the best results for absorption of the ingredients while helping you avoid an upset stomach due to too much water intake.
If you find the flavor of the pre workout is too strong within the 8-10 ounce window, dilute it by adding an ounce or two at a time and drink it slowly to avoid the discomfort from drinking too much.
- Related Article: Pre Workout Before Running: Is It Good or Bad
5. Taking Pre Workout on an Empty Stomach
Consuming pre workout on an empty stomach will allow for faster absorption of the ingredients, but may enhance the negative side effects of ingredients known to cause low blood sugar or nausea.
How to Fix It:
If your last meal was eaten more than two hours before your workout, try adding a small snack about 60 minutes before your workout, or roughly 30 minutes before taking your pre workout.
If you are on a calorie-controlled diet and cannot add an additional snack to your day, take the last meal before your workout and break it into two smaller sized meals. Eat the first one two hours before your workout, and the other an hour later.
If you typically work out first thing in the morning in a fasted state, consider adding a small snack with some carbohydrates and protein before taking your pre workout, like greek yogurt with fruit, or splitting your breakfast into two halves — one pre workout and one post workout.
- Related Article: Pre-Workout Makes Me Pee (Causes & Fixes Explained)
6. Going Above the Recommended Dose
The dosage recommendations on pre workout supplements are in place to maximize workout performance while also being safe.
Going above the recommended dose could put you at risk for not just nausea, but other side effects like headaches, dizziness, heart palpitations, and anxiety (which is related to the overconsumption of caffeine or stimulants).
How to Fix It:
It is important to pay special attention to the serving size listed on the ingredient label, as well as read the instructions for consumption.
Some products are designed to have a limit of one scoop per day and others are designed for two so it is crucial to double check this every time you choose a new pre workout.
For example, ALTRD State by Perfect Sports clearly shows the ingredients listed for both a ½ scoop and full scoop serving with instructions to never exceed one scoop per day.
The Iron Kingdom pre workout, on the other hand, is designed with a smaller scoop and shows the ingredients for both a 1 scoop and 2 scoop serving, with instructions to have a maximum of 2 scoops per day. It is allowed – even encouraged – to start with a dose below the recommendation to assess your tolerance to the product.
Start with ¼ serving, next time go up to a ½ serving, then try ¾ serving.
Experiment with the serving size to find your own personal “sweet spot” where you experience a good performance boost without the negative side effects.
Never go above the recommended dose.
- Related Article: Can You Take Pre-Workout Twice In One Day? (Risks Explained)
What To Do If You’re Experiencing Pre Workout Sickness Already?
If you are reading this while currently experiencing pre workout sickness and wondering what you should do next, try these steps:
- Have a small snack
- Start slow
- Go home and rest, and strategize for next time
Have a Small Snack
It’s possible that you just got hit with too many ingredients too quickly.
Have a small snack with some protein and starchy carbohydrates to try to settle your stomach.
Some convenient options to settle a nauseous stomach include crackers, toast, or bananas. If you are already at the gym, see if they have any protein bars or a vending machine with granola bars. If a small snack settles your stomach, feel free to carry on with your workout.
If the nausea is mild and seems to be subsiding quickly, you are probably good to start your workout, but start slow.
Do a light walking or cycling warm up and begin with some light warm up sets.
If the nausea goes away, carry on with your workout, but note that it may be best to avoid heavy compound lifts that exert pressure in the abdomen like barbell squats.
If you start warming up and the nausea does not subside or it gets worse, stop exercising for the day.
Go Home and Rest
If your nausea persists even after a snack and a light warm up, go home and rest.
Pre workout sickness generally lasts between 30 minutes and three hours and will eventually pass.
Use the strategies outlined above for your next workouts to see if that alleviates the pre workout sickness.
Ultimately, you may have to try a few different formulas to find the one that’s right for you.
- Related Article: Can You Take Pre-Workout On Keto? (What To Watch Out For)
Best Pre Workouts That Won’t Cause Nausea
I get to talk to dozens of people every week about their pre workout supplement experiences: What they like, dislike, and which ones cause the most adverse reactions.
That being said, these four pre workouts have been documented as being some of the top products that offer great workout enhancement benefits without the negative side effects.
This product is generally well-tolerated because it is lower in caffeine (at 200mg per serving) and doesn’t contain a majority of ingredients that are associated with GI distress.
Instead, it uses a blend of mushrooms to help with strength, power, cardiovascular endurance, and mental focus.
This specific blend, called PeakO2®, is non-allergenic and light-tasting which makes it easy to consume without excessive flavoring.
PeakO2® allows for great energy enhancements without adding more stimulants so you can easily and safely integrate it into your daily routine.
Alani Nu Preworkout is a simple formula with only 5 ingredients that will offer energy, pump, and mental focus.
This product is not overly sweetened and is widely accepted as being gentle on the stomach and is one of the top rated products for taste.
This product is a stimulant-free formula that would be ideal for anyone who works out late in the day, or for the lifter who wants to keep drinking coffee or energy drinks throughout the day.
If you suspect that caffeine or stimulants are causing your pre workout sickness, this is the product to try.
It contains the easily digestible PeakO2® blend for energy and focus, and doesn’t contain creatine which we know can contribute to nausea.
If training fasted is a non-negotiable part of your training program, this option provides good energy and fat burning ingredients without being too high in caffeine and containing no extra ingredients known to contribute to pre workout sickness.
This is also a great option for individuals who have to take their pre workout within 30 minutes of their workout because many of the ingredients start working inside just a few minutes.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Long Does Pre Workout Sickness Last?
Pre workout sickness can last anywhere between 30 minutes and 3 hours and can range from mild stomach discomfort to nausea and vomiting.
Does Taking Pre Workout On An Empty Stomach Cause Sickness?
While it doesn’t happen 100% of the time, taking pre workout on an empty stomach can be a key cause of pre workout sickness. Two ingredients specifically, creatine and caffeine, tend to cause discomfort on an empty stomach.
Do All Pre Workouts Cause Nausea?
Not all pre workouts cause nausea. If you are experiencing nausea after taking your pre workout, you can try reducing the amount you take, altering how much water you drink with it, or adding a small pre workout snack. If none of these solutions help, you might consider switching to a different product.
Should You Stop Taking Pre Workout If You Get Sick?
If your nausea is mild and passes quickly, you can keep taking it and monitor your symptoms after adjusting factors like water intake and pre workout nutrition. If you experience vomiting or persistent nausea, try a different option. If you feel sick after trying different formulas, stop taking pre workouts altogether.
Will A Stimulant-Free Pre Workout Still Make You Sick?
Stimulant-free pre workouts may still cause stomach upset, but they are less likely to. While stimulants are common ingredients contributing to nausea, other ingredients like creatine, sodium bicarbonate, or glycerol could be causing the sickness.
About The Author
Jennifer Vibert is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, Nutrition Coach, and supplement store manager. She has a Bachelor of Kinesiology with a major in Fitness and Lifestyle and a minor in Psychology from the University of Regina. She is a Certified Nutrition Coach through Precision Nutrition, with a passion for helping clients learn the fundamentals of nutrition and supplementation in order to build healthy, sustainable habits.