Two of the most popular times to hit the gym are early in the morning (5 am – 7 am) before work or in the late afternoon (4 pm – 6 pm) after work. For those who prefer training early in the morning, it can be quite challenging to get in a proper pre-workout meal.
However, most fitness enthusiasts have enough time to take a pre-workout supplement because they are quick, convenient, and efficient. Not to mention, pre-workout before a morning workout may be just what you need to boost exercise performance and gain more lean muscle mass.
But have you ever wondered… is it okay to take a pre-workout supplement on an empty stomach?
In this article, we are going to address that question, so you can decide whether or not taking a pre-workout supplement on an empty stomach is beneficial or detrimental to your health and performance.
Can you take a pre-workout on an empty stomach?
Taking pre-workout supplements on an empty stomach is completely fine, but there are a few things that you should consider.
The primary difference between taking a pre-workout supplement on an empty stomach versus after a meal is the amount of time it takes for the pre-workout to express its effects. Since you don’t have any food in your system, the pre-workout ingredients will get digested and absorbed much faster. You’ll start to feel the pre-workout shortly after taking it.
On the other hand, if you eat food beforehand, the pre-workout will take longer to get digested, absorbed, and utilized. This rate of absorption mainly affects the timing of your pre-workout. If you don’t eat anything, you can consume the pre-workout in as little as 10-15 minutes before training.
Whereas if you have food in your system, you may want to take the pre-workout 30 minutes before training. Experiment with the timing to see what works best for you!
Ingredients to watch out for when taking pre-workout on an empty stomach
Taking pre-workout supplements on an empty stomach is not necessary. You will still get the benefits of the pre-workout formula whether you eat beforehand or not. With that said, some pre-workout ingredients may cause gastrointestinal distress, which can quickly blunt your training performance. Instead of running another mile or getting another rep, you may be searching for the bathroom.
Here are some ingredients that are commonly used in a pre-workout formula that may cause cramping, bloating, pain, diarrhea, and other side effects when taken on an empty stomach. The severity of the side effects will depend on the person, dose of the ingredient, and pre-workout formula.
- Stimulants, such as caffeine, theacrine, alpha-yohimbine, Yohimbe, synephrine, dicaffeine malate, caffeine citrate, DMHA, DMAA, synephrine, halostachine, hordenine, etc.
- Stimulatory ingredients may lead to rapid heart rate, shortness of breath, nausea, diarrhea, and upset stomach.
- Beta-alanine seems to be very promising for increasing exercise endurance. One of the most common side effects of beta-alanine is paraesthesia, which is often described as a tingling or “pins and needles” sensation in the hands, face, and feet. The beta-alanine tingles strengthen when taken on an empty stomach. Paraesthesia is harmless and temporary, but if you don’t like the feeling, definitely avoid taking pre-workout, especially one that contains 2-4 grams of beta-alanine, on an empty stomach.
- Creatine is one of the most well-researched supplements. It’s been shown numerous times to be both safe and effective for increasing muscle growth and exercise performance. Unfortunately, some people experience gastrointestinal distress when taking more than the recommended dose of creatine (3-5 grams per day). Bloating, water retention, and other side effects commonly appear during a loading phase, which consists of taking 20 grams of creatine per day. Loading phases aren’t necessary and if you experience any GI distress from creatine, try taking 3 grams at one time.
- Glycerol is technically sugar alcohol, and it draws in a lot of water. From a performance standpoint, glycerol helps with muscle pump and hydration. Taking large amounts of glycerol may result in headaches, thirst, nausea, bloating, and diarrhea. Loading up on glycerol early in the morning may not be ideal.
- Consuming more than 4-5 grams of betaine may cause mild side effects, such as upset stomach, diarrhea, and nausea.
- Is very likely to cause diarrhea when taken on an empty stomach.
There are several pre-workout ingredients not listed above that may also cause problems, but the ones listed above are the most common culprits.
It’s important to note that every dietary supplement has its potential benefits and side effects. Not to mention the type of training you’re doing (high-intensity exercise vs. low-intensity exercise) and your primary goal (fat burning, endurance training, or muscle building) may also play a role in the way the pre-workout affects you when training on an empty stomach.
Before taking pre-workout supplements, speak with a qualified health care professional to ensure there are no contraindications.
Pre-Workout Ingredients That Are Likely Fine to Take On an Empty Stomach
The following pre-workout ingredients are less likely to cause issues when taken on an empty stomach. However, there’s always a potential for side effects, so just be cognizant of that.
- Amino Acids (branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) and essential amino acids (EAAs)
- Highly branched cyclic dextrin
- Choline Bitartrate
- Lion’s Mane
- Beet root extract
The Best Way to Take Pre-Workouts on an Empty Stomach
Regardless of when you train, whether you ate or not, always mix pre-workouts with at least 8 ounces of water. Mixing is especially important if you are training early in the morphing and haven’t had much fluid. Proper hydration is key for optimal performance.
Furthermore, it’s a good idea to take pre-workout supplements at least 15 minutes before you train to allow the ingredients to be digested and absorbed. Check out the suggested use section on your pre-workout supplement for further instructions.
Pre-workouts are incredibly popular and often touted for the array of benefits they may provide, such as increased focus, better energy levels, bigger pumps, and more lean muscle mass growth. However, even the best pre-workout supplements have the potential to cause issues, especially when ingested on an empty stomach.
In general, it’s fine to take most pre-workout supplements on an empty stomach, but there are a few factors to consider. First, pre-workouts express their effects much quicker when taken on an empty stomach.
Secondly, several pre-workout ingredients are more likely to cause side effects, most notably stimulants. Thirdly, training on an empty stomach may not be ideal for muscle growth because of the heightened muscle catabolism. So depending on your goal (fat burning, muscle building, endurance, etc.), consider eating beforehand anyways.
Since there are so many factors to consider for this question, such as the type of pre-workout, individual’s goals, training style, etc., the best way to find out is to test it out for yourself and see if taking a pre-workout on an empty stomach suits you or not.