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Why Do Some Athletes Get A Pre-Workout Headache?

Isaac Robertson
Published by Isaac Robertson | Co-Founder & Chief Editor
Last updated: July 27, 2023
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Pre-workout supplements are one of the products I get all my clients to take who want to make sure that they maximize their muscle growth during training.

But I have had a few clients complain about a headache after they take certain pre-workouts. It certainly doesn't affect every person the same, but it seems like some people are more sensitive to how these products dilate blood vessels.

So, I spent some time with a nutritionist to get to the bottom of which products and ingredients to look out for and if there are ways to avoid such a headache.

Quick Summary

  • Pre-workout supplement headache is triggered mostly by a reaction to some ingredients, or increased water loss.
  • L-arginine, caffeine, and L-Citrulline are some ingredients in pre-workouts that can cause headaches.
  • To avoid headaches caused by pre-workout, drink plenty of water, reduce your dosage, and avoid overstimulation.

Can Pre Workout Cause Headaches?

Drinking a pre-workout

When taking pre-workout supplements, it's essential to be mindful of the potential effects they can have on the body.

While pre-workout formulas are designed to boost energy levels and enhance athletic performance, they may also lead to certain side effects, including headaches.

One common reason for headaches after consuming pre-workout supplements is the increased loss of water due to the diuretic effects of some ingredients.

Staying hydrated is crucial to avoid this issue, as dehydration can cause the liquid around the brain to become thinner, leading to headaches [1].

Additionally, certain ingredients in pre-workout supplements, such as L-citrulline, can elevate nitric oxide levels and cause the dilation of blood vessels throughout the body, including those in the head.

This dilation may result in severe but temporary pain, contributing to the occurrence of headaches.

To minimize the risk of headaches while taking pre-workout supplements, it is advisable to stay well-hydrated before, during, and after workouts.

Being aware of one's individual tolerance to the supplement and gradually introducing new products can help identify any adverse reactions and allow for better customization of pre-workout intake.

Always consult with a healthcare professional before incorporating new supplements into your fitness routine to ensure safety and optimize performance.

What Ingredients Could Cause The Pain?

Here are some common ingredients in pre-workout supplements that seem to cause a headache.


This amino acid has been proven to help with increased nitric oxide levels in the body. And nitric oxide has a direct impact on how easily blood flows through the body [2]. The negative effect of this is that some people are more sensitive to the reaction and will suffer some discomfort.


L-arginine is also common in pre-workouts and has been linked to reduced blood pressure and easier blood flow. However, this can also impact the blood vessels in your head and cause temporary pain [3].


And finally, caffeine can work great for your exercise performance, but if you’re sensitive to stimulants or drink a lot of coffee, then too much of it in your body can cause a headache.

This can especially impact people who suffer from migraines, and it can mainly trigger after the effects of the caffeine wear off [4].

3 Ways To Avoid Pre-Workout Headaches

Woman having a headache, and another drinking water

You can avoid pre-workout headaches by focusing on three things around your exercise routine.

1. Reduce The Dose

If you’re having trouble with a specific pre-workout supplement, then it can be worth taking a smaller dose to see if that’s the cause. It might impact your exercise performance as well, but at least you’ll know that it’s dose-dependent, and you might need to find a different product.

2. Drink More Water

One of the most common reasons for pre-workout side effects during exercise comes down to not being prepared for hydration. Ideally, you need to drink a lot more water before and during your exercise routine.

I suggest drinking about three cups of water 20 minutes before you head to the gym, and then take regular small sips between sets.

Post you may like: Should I Drink Water While Working Out?

“The exact reason why dehydration causes headaches is unknown. The brain does not have pain receptors. A dehydration headache is possibly triggered by pain receptors in the lining around the brain, called the meninges.”

- Howard E. LeWine, MD, Chief Medical Editor, Harvard Health Publishing

3. Avoid Overstimulation

Some pre-workouts contain a lot of caffeine. And when the caffeine wears off, one of the side effects can be a headache. If you’re not a big coffee drinker or you know that you're sensitive to stimulants, then maybe choose a caffeine-free pre-workout supplement.


How Long Do Pre-workout Headaches Last?

Pre-workout headaches typically last less than an hour. In most cases, you can avoid them by drinking more water, but if they last a lot longer, then you should avoid your current supplement altogether.

Should You Seek Medical Help If You Have Pre-workout Headaches?

No, you don’t need to seek medical help from a doctor if you have pre-workout headaches. The effect should wear off quickly, and if they last for a long time, then stop taking a product.

Avoid Unnecessary Pain With Your Pre-Workout Supplement

Boosting your muscle growth shouldn't come at the expense of suffering from headaches every time you head to the gym.

The best thing you can do is reduce your dose and drink more water. And if that doesn't help, then you probably need to switch to a different product.

Our team has researched and tested dozens of men's pre-workout that actually work, and the ones we recommend have given us practically no negative effects.

Check them out today, and see if they can solve your issues.


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