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Fact checked by Andrew Lenau, ISSA CPT & Sports NutritionistFACT CHECKED
July 10, 2023
There are two types of people in this world. Those who have had to run to the bathroom after taking pre-workout and those who lie about having to run to the bathroom after taking a pre-workout. Nothing to be ashamed about, shit happens! Alright people, let’s be mature about this. Let’s get it all out now so we can talk about poo like adults, go - poop, poop, poop, diarrhea, poop, fart, doo doo, poo. Ok, now that got that out of the way, let’s talk about what’s going on and why pre-workout makes us poop.
While usually never a huge issue (we’re gonna assume you always made it to the toilet on time), it can be a bit of an inconvenience and can sometimes cause a bit of discomfort. In this article, we’re going to talk about:
Ok…let’s talk poop.
Knowing what a pre-workout is, is the first step to finding out why it makes us poop. In a nutshell, a pre-workout is any sports supplement that is designed to take before a workout to increase performance. Generally speaking, a pre-workout is made up of numerous different compounds rather than a single ingredient. These various ingredients will provide slightly different yet synergistic benefits. For example, caffeine is a prevalent pre-workout ingredient that acts as a stimulant to provide energy. At the same time, a muscle buffer, such as sodium bicarbonate, will be used to mitigate “the burn” and allow you to perform more work before reaching fatigue.
While the pre-workout does have many different ingredients, stimulants are the most popular as that’s what the people want: to get psyched up before hitting the gym. To be clear, there has been an influx of non-stim pre-workouts released on the market lately, but there’s an excellent chance your pre-workout is loaded with stimulants. Again, that’s what the people want and pre-workouts give them it in huge amounts.
As mentioned above, caffeine is easily the most popular and sought-after ingredient in pre-workouts. The reason being is that caffeine works; in fact, it’s one of the most highly effective ergogenic aids we know of. Caffeine works as a powerful stimulant of the nervous system, and studies have shown it to elicit numerous benefits in both aerobic and anaerobic nature. However, this lovely little compound can also cause you to run to the bathroom. This can occur through multiple mechanisms, such as over activation of the colon.
While most people are aware that a strong cup of joe can similarly also make you poop, consider that an average cup of coffee has 80mg of caffeine. In comparison, your average pre-workout caffeine content will be anywhere from 150-300mg! Aaaaaand we’re pooping.
In reality, researchers still aren’t entirely sure by what mechanism this happens. For example, a study found that while caffeinated coffee did stimulate the colon 23% more than decaf coffee, the decaf still stimulated the colon to a higher degree than water. This shows that while caffeine plays a large part in activating the colon, there are other reactions going on. The only thing we don’t understand is who drinks decaf?
Another likely culprit is all of the artificial sweeteners they put in most pre-workout. That’s how supplement companies get their pre-workout to taste like razzle-dazzle extreme strawberry punch with 0 calories. Unfortunately, that distinctly chemical-induced flavor wreaks havoc on your digestion system. Due to the makeup of artificial sweeteners, excessive gasses can be produced and accumulate inside the stomach causing discomfort. Combine this with excess sweetener being absorbed into the colon which causes overstimulation and you get an unplanned, but much-needed trip to the toilet. To make matters worse, if taking your pre-workout on an empty stomach, your urge to go the bathroom may be even more significant. No food to soak up the caffeine equals more urgency when headed to the toilet!
While caffeine and artificial sweeteners are the primary reason for your BM (trying to think of other words to use other than poop), there could be some other ingredients lurking in your powder that could be contributing to the issue.
Yohimbe is a common stimulant found in many pre-workouts and has been praised for its effects on human performance. While mainly anecdotal, its effects have led it to be added to many pre-workouts, usually in addition to caffeine! Unfortunately, like caffeine, it can often leave you running to the bathroom. Reportedly, this issue is elevated when taking Yohimbe on an empty stomach. If this is an issue, be sure to eat something beforehand.
If you are sensitive to specific vitamins and minerals, something else to consider. While not common, certain micronutrients can cause a rush to the loo in certain people. This would include nutrients such as vitamin C, Magnesium, and some B vitamins. These are often added to pre-workouts. They can help with various performance variables such as hydration or immune support. Again, while unlikely, if you know you are sensitive to certain nutrients, stay away from these.
The problem that arises is what do you do if you still wanna get hyped for the gym but don’t feel like crapping your pants? The most obvious answer would be to try some stimulant-free pre-workouts that we spoke about above. These mainly function by adding nitric booster and beta-alanine. For some people, this is enough and works fantastic. However, as mentioned above, most people are looking for that energy.
In this case, there are a few options. The first is to lower the dose and try to gradually increase the amount over time. Ideally, this will allow your body to acclimate to the ingredients and not let loose. This can be very effective but you’ll have to deal with a little less hype for a few weeks.
At the same time, be sure to always have some food in the stomach before taking your pre-workout. This can slow the absorption and prevent the stimulants from hitting your colon like a bomb. Taking a pre-workout without food in the stomach is often reported to have less damage on the digestive system, so definitely give this a shot.
Finally, you can try different pre-workouts and see how your body reacts. As mentioned, there could be various ingredients affecting you. However, everyone reacts differently to these compounds, so it’s difficult to say what it is exactly that is affecting you.
Therefore, try some different brands of pre-workout and pay attention to their ingredients. Doing so can help you pinpoint which one is the issue, and you can then decide what you want to do.
Other than that, if you know that pre-workouts make you go poo, we would suggest staying close to a toilet before you hit the gym.
At the end of the day, you might just have to learn to run to the john after you double scoop your favorite pre-workout at the end of the day. To be honest, working out after cleansing your bowels doesn’t necessarily sound like a bad thing, so think of it as a good thing.
Anyway, this is why pre-workouts make you poop. The same ingredients that get you hyped for the gym are also the ones getting you hyped for the bathroom. It’s like a yin and yang, sweet and sour, crushing new PRs and going poop. Pre-workouts can help with both.
Looking for more great information on pre-workouts? Check out our article on Why Pre-Workout Makes You Tingle & Itch!
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