Author: James O’Sullivan • Fact checked by: Gainful Registered Dietitians • May 19, 2022
Pre-workout formulas are a great way to boost performance in the gym by providing some extra energy and endurance. However, certain formulations of pre-workout can cause negative side effects for certain people. Because many pre-workout mixes contain caffeine and other stimulants, anxiety is a common side effect for those who take pre-workout.
Note that anxiety is not directly related to pre-workout drinks, but popular ingredients in some of the more common brands may cause anxiety as a side effect. Not all users will experience the same effects, since everyone's reaction to a supplement is slightly different.
Specific ingredients to look out for in pre workout supplements include caffeine, yohimbe bark extract, and creatine. Anxiety is a common side effect from these kind of stimulant ingredients. Remember to consult with a registered nutritionist and your doctor or health provider before you start regularly taking any new preworkout supplement.
Pre-workout supplements typically contain just a few different kinds of stimulants – we'll discuss the most common ones and then offer some alternatives to these varieties.
Caffeine is by far the most common stimulant present not only in preworkout drinks but also many other kinds of general supplements, from the ordinary cup of coffee to the most complicated energy drinks.
In many pre-workout mixes, caffeine is present in high amount. One scoop or dose of preworkout may contain as much as 200 or 300 mg of caffeine. According to the Food and Drug Authority (FDA), healthy adults shouldn't consume more than 400mg of caffeine per day. That's the equivalent of between 4 and 5 cups of coffee, depending on how strong it's brewed and how large it's poured.
Remember that because caffeine is present in so many different drinks and even some foods, you should consider how much caffeine you consume throughout the day – not just the amount present in your preworkout. Even a small amount of caffeine – like 3 mg per kilogram of body weight – can help you feel more energized and better prepared for a high-intensity workout.
Unfortunately, in some people caffeine can cause side effects including itching and anxiety. Some people are more sensitive than others to caffeine intake – you'll have to experiment for yourself to determine how much caffeine is enough for you.
Another common ingredient derived from the bark of trees native to Africa, yohimbine is associated with improvements in athletic performance and the treatment of high blood pressure. It's found in a lot of different kinds of preworkout mixes and often marketed as a natural supplement for energy and performance. According to the National Institutes of Health, there is insufficient research data to conclusively say whether or not yohimbine provides all these benefits.
However, yohimbine is another type of stimulant that also has some negative side effects. In certain people it can cause heart attacks, seizures and anxiety attacks – particularly those who already have irregularities or pre-existing conditions related to their heart or anxiety. Another big challenge of monitoring your yohimbine intake is that most manufacturers aren't very clear about exactly how much yohimbine they include in a particular product or dose.
For this reason, you may want to either avoid yohimbine altogether, or try a few different preworkout mixes with it until you can decide which one has a level adequate for your needs that won't also cause negative side effects.
Creatine is commonly used by lifters and others looking to make muscle gains. Research indicates that creatine can increase muscle mass and performance by improving the regeneration of adenosine between intense workouts, especially ones that involve short explosive burst movements. Unfortunately, creatine also comes with some negative side effects for certain people.
Studies have documented creatine causing issues related to mood and anxiety – such as panic attacks or sudden mood swings – among some users. Other negative effects involving creatine include gastrointestinal bloating and discomfort and dehydration. People with pre-existing anxiety disorders may be more vulnerable to these side effects than others.
Generally, around 5 grams of creatine per day is believed to be a safe dose for healthy adults. If your supplement includes any level of creatine, be sure to pay attention to the quantity in each scoop so that you can track the amount you're consuming.
As mentioned, everyone's body reacts differently to different ingredients. However, there are a few different common ingredients that are generally regarded as safe for healthy people to consume without worrying about side effects:
Keep in mind that these ingredients are considered safe only at normal doses, which are often measured in milligrams or ounces. Taking too much of any substance may cause some discomfort in the short-term and have potential negative effects in the long run. As mentioned, it's best to speak with someone licensed in nutrition or a health care professional before making any change to your supplementation or diet program.
Most pre-workout mixes manufactured by reputable companies are safe for the average person to consume. But some people are more sensitive to others when it comes to specific ingredients or ingredient classes.
If you are someone sensitive to stimulants, you probably already know that anxiety, headaches and excessive sweating are common side effects of preworkout ingredients designed to improve your energy levels. Keep an eye out for substances like the ones mentioned in this article, and remember to always pay close attention to ingredients and nutrition labels. You can also try adjusting the dosage until you find a specific amount that gives you the positive benefits of preworkout without the negative side effects.
It's always best to find a preworkout mix – or any supplement – designed specifically with your needs and body in mind. Gainful can help you build a customized preworkout mix that includes as much or as little as you want of popular ingredients like BCAAs, stevia leaf extract, creatine, beta alanine, and organic caffeine. By choosing the exact ingredients and quantities present in your pre-workout mix, you can set yourself up to have a consistent, predictable energy boost before you hit the gym, field or studio without having to concern yourself with negative side effects like anxiety from things that you don't respond well to.
With the right pre workout, you'll be well on track to meeting your own personalized fitness goals.
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