Pre-workout supplements are the fitness industry's most marketed sports supplement, often aimed at bodybuilders and strength athletes.
Pre-workouts are usually taken to boost your strength and energy before a workout, thus leading to an increase in workout intensity and duration, which helps increase muscle growth and decrease body fat.
While this does sound appealing—a supplement that essentially enhances your results—there are some risks and potential side effects that must be considered beforehand.
This article outlines some of the more common side effects of most pre-workout supplements, how to avoid these side effects, and a discussion on whether a pre-workout supplement is suitable for you.
What is Pre-Workout?
If you’re finding your workouts are sluggish and you’re feeling fatigued, your performance and recovery may be suboptimal, thus leading to poor results. If you experience this, the most important factor to consider would be your nutrition.
However, if your nutrition is dialled in, you may find a pre-workout supplement would help boost your energy, motivation, and focus, thus driving your performance and recovery.
Pre-workouts are often in powdered form that you add water to, which then creates a drink. Pre-workout powders often contain ingredients such as caffeine, amino acids, and creatine to help increase energy and improve muscle performance.
Knocking back a pre-workout drink about 30-60 minutes before your workout will essentially provide you with a boost of energy ready for your workout.
While a pre-workout supplement is a great option for combatting fatigue during workouts and enhancing energy and performance, there are certainly some drawbacks and precautions that we need to consider before going ahead.
Pre-Workout: Possible Side Effects
Itchy and Tingly Skin
This is often an alarming side effect of some pre-workouts, though it is actually the most harmless one. If you’ve ever felt a tingly sensation, particularly on your neck and hands, beta-alanine is the culprit!
One of the common yet harmless side effects of beta-alanine is paraesthesia, which causes an itchy, tingling feeling on the skin. This normally subsides after an hour or two, and only really occurs when a large dose is taken.
Onto the more serious potential side effects of pre-workouts, insomnia is definitely one you do not want to experience yet is probably the easiest one to avoid.
Insomnia can occur as a result of the high caffeine content in many pre-workout supplements. Taking a pre-workout with high caffeine in the late afternoon will only make this side effect worse too, as taking caffeine shortly before bed is known to wreak havoc on your sleep schedule.
Additionally, chronic high doses of caffeine may also cause issues with sleep and inducing insomnia.
Taking pre-workout supplements may cause digestive upset via two means:
1) Some ingredients contained in a pre-workout may have a laxative effect, examples include high doses of magnesium, sodium bicarbonate, taurine, and caffeine.
2) Digestive issues caused by dehydration, which we will come onto next!
More often than not, digestive issues experiences after taking a pre-workout are often down to how you take the supplement.
Sticking to recommended dosages and guidelines, as well as staying hydrated throughout your workout, would all help towards preventing the severity of this side effect.
Dehydration and Headaches
Some ingredients contained in pre-workouts may act as diuretics, which can lead to dehydration if enough water isn’t consumed alongside.
This is often made worse by the fact that we sweat during a workout, which also contributes to dehydration.
Dehydration can lead to digestive issues, headaches, and overall poor performance and recovery, which can be easily avoided.
It’s key to drink plenty of water alongside taking a pre-workout and during your workout to help prevent dehydration.
As previously mentioned, high doses of caffeine are often the culprit of many of the possible side effects associated with taking pre-workouts. This also includes making you feel jittery.
Caffeine is a stimulant which has been shown to boost strength and performance during exercise, as well as reduce feelings of fatigue. Though, precautions must be taken when considering supplementing with pre-workouts and caffeine.
Alongside dehydration, headaches, insomnia, and digestive upset, caffeine may also cause anxiety, jitters, and restlessness.
Pre-Workout: How to Prevent Side Effects
The side effects that may be experienced after taking a pre-workout supplement are often associated with the dose, how it is taken, and the overall quality of the product.
Some common reasons you may experience side effects include:
While it’s wise to follow the guidelines and directions on your supplement label, that’s often disregarded among some users as they are seeking more potent effects.
However, is rare that more means better, and in some cases taking more than the recommended dose can actually cause the opposite effect to what you’re looking for.
Overdosing on pre-workout supplements can be dangerous and really set you back during your workout and beyond, so take extra care in following the recommended dosage and how to take.
Commonly referred to as proprietary blends, this is a method that manufacturers use to create formulas of ingredients within their supplement.
While this sounds harmless, the downside is that you may not actually know the amounts of each ingredient are contained within this blend.
These blends are known to contain high amounts of caffeine or amino acids, which can cause side effects if taken in high doses.
High content of stimulants
Speaking of excessive amounts of stimulants, this can also be a major downside and a common cause of taking pre-workout supplements.
While high doses of caffeine are often recommended for athletes, this isn’t a one-size-fits-all recommendation. Everybody reacts differently to a high caffeine dose, and this could be detrimental to someone’s performance and recovery if this point isn’t considered and approached with caution.
So, the bottom line to avoiding the side effects of pre-workout supplements would be to:
- Follow the dosage guidelines on the label
- Avoid proprietary blends
- Avoid excessively high doses of caffeine or other stimulants
- Do not take after around 2pm, as the caffeine content may affect your sleep
- Mix your pre-workout with the recommended amount of water and follow the instructions on the label
- Drink plenty of water before, during, and after your workout and throughout the day
- Ensure you consult your doctor before taking any new supplement, especially a pre-workout
- Consider an effective, clean, and safe alternative such as Pre Lab Pro
Pre Lab Pro is the most effective pre-workout formula currently available.
This powerful pre-workout combines a nitric oxide stack for boosting and sustaining blood flow to the muscles, 80mg of natural caffeine and nootropics to enhance energy and focus, and also tops you off with vital nutrients needed to allow you to train and recover at your peak.
This results in improved muscle performance, cardiovascular performance, and cognitive performance with minimal side effects due to the safe, clean, and effective formula.
Final Take-Home: Is Pre-Workout Bad for You?
Pre-workout supplements are often a combination of the most effective ergogenic aids for exercise performance.
While the common ingredients such as caffeine, creatine, and beta-alanine are considered some of the most effective sports supplements available, combining these powerful substances into one powder can often come with drawbacks.
Though, the most common side effects of pre-workouts are often caused my improper use and poor-quality supplements. This is easily avoided!
When looking for a pre-workout supplement, excessive stimulants, proprietary blends, and unnecessary ingredients should be considered “red flags”.
Pre-workouts should include a moderate dose of caffeine, effective ingredients, and no hidden formulas or blends, which indicates a clean, safe supplement that is unlikely to cause any nasty side effects.
A good example of this would be Pre Lab Pro—a clean and effective pre-workout formula that helps boost muscular, cardiovascular, and cognitive performance with minimal side effects.
To ensure you are suitable to supplement with a pre-workout, consult your doctor for advice!
So, in summary, pre-workouts are not necessarily bad for you provided you follow the instructions on the label, opt for a high-quality supplement, and be sensible with other nutrition strategies such as maintaining hydration.