Long-term side effects of pre-workout supplements

If you are a sportsperson or a fitness enthusiast, then you have probably taken or heard of pre-workout supplements. They have become popular among athletes, like runners or fitness experts who are interested in taking their game to the next level. While they have many touted benefits, pre-workouts may also have some side effects.

Image of two bodybuilders conversing with one holding a creatine-containing pre-workout supplement

Key takeaways

  • Pre-workout supplements are dietary supplements you can take before starting your workout routine to strengthen and enhance your performance.
  • Possible long-term side effects of using pre-workout supplements include heart complications, addiction, sleep disturbance, and gastrointestinal distress.
  • Proper nutrition and hydration are crucial for boosting your workout performance, irrespective of the pre-workout supplements you use.
  • If, after taking pre-workout supplements, you notice any side effects, the best thing you should do is consult a doctor for the right medical advice.

A pre-workout supplement is a dietary supplement that you can take to enhance your performance and last longer during your workout sessions. They come in different forms, such as powders, liquids, gummies, or pills.

Pre-workout supplements contain active ingredients like creatine, beta-alanine, caffeine, and citrulline, which all affect the body's organs and systems in different ways. People take these supplements for different reasons, such as increasing energy and focus, reducing muscle fatigue, muscle gain, and enhancing mood.

People who swear by pre-workout supplements believe that they help improve their workout performance and results. However, some of the claims about the benefits of some of those pre-workouts are overhyped or not backed by scientific or reliable evidence. There are also concerns about side effects that may come up in the long run.

In this article, we are going to discuss pre-workout supplements and their active ingredients, why most people use pre-workouts, and the side effects that may occur while taking them.

Long-term side effects of taking pre-workout supplements

A 2019 study has shown that side effects may occur while using pre-workouts, and these effects are most likely to differ from person-to-person. This is because of different factors like age, amount consumed, duration, and modes of consumption.

Here are some possible side effects of taking pre-workout supplements:

1. Increase in blood pressure

Studies show that in a few cases, when caffeine-containing pre-workouts are taken in excess, they could cause an unhealthy increase in blood pressure. Most pre-workouts are known to contain high or low amounts of caffeine.

2. Anxiety and sleep issues

Anxiety and sleep problems are also some of the side effects associated with taking pre-workout supplements containing caffeine. This usually happens when you take them late in the afternoon or evening.

3. Bloatedness

Creatine may cause fluid retention and gastrointestinal discomfort in the body. This is because it's osmotic and draws water into your muscles' cells. Your muscles hold on to the water, leading to a bloated and puffy look in parts of your body, like your legs, arms, and abdomen. You may also put on a temporary weight known as water weight.

4. Tingling and itchy sensations

Prickly, tingling, and itchy feelings on the face, also called paraesthesia, are common side effects linked to pre-workouts containing beta-alanine or vitamin B. This, however, does not happen for too long because it usually stops after an hour or more.

5. Gastrointestinal issues

Pre-workouts containing nitric oxide boosters can cause stomach unease and nausea.

6. Flushing

Pre-workout supplements containing niacin, also called vitamin B3, may cause little dilation of the blood vessels. This could cause flushing of the face, chest, or arm.

What is in pre-workout supplements?

Pre-workout supplements come in various brands, but they are most likely to contain similar active ingredients. These active ingredients may include:

  • Caffeine: Caffeine is one of the world's most commonly used stimulants. It's a vital component of most pre-workout supplements. It triggers the nervous system and may help boost exercise performance.
  • Creatine: Creatine is a naturally occurring amino acid usually found in the muscles, liver, kidneys, and some seafood. It's a protein-rich chemical used in making pre-workout supplements. Creatine helps improve your performance during workouts by recharging your Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP), the molecule that carries energy within your cells.
  • Beta-alanine: Beta-alanine is also an amino acid that may improve your athletic performance and ease the sudden occurrence of muscle fatigue.
  • Branched-chain amino acids (BCAA): They are an essential part of your muscle tissue and are sometimes used in making pre-workout supplements. They help prevent muscle damage and also fasten the recovery of the muscle.
  • Citrulline: This is an amino acid that helps in the production of nitric oxide in the body. Nitric oxide is a gas that causes the blood vessels to relax, thereby easing the flow of nutrients and oxygen through your muscles.

Other ingredients that you might find in pre-work supplements are:

  • Carbohydrates
  • Vasodilators
  • L- glutamine
  • Synephrine
  • Electrolytes

Why do people take pre-workout supplements?

People take pre-workout supplements for different reasons, such as:

  • Increased energy and focus: Pre-workouts usually contain different ingredients like caffeine, taurine, beta-alanine, and creatine, which can give you an energy boost and boost your confidence while working out.
  • Reduced muscle fatigue and soreness during workouts: Most pre-workout supplements have active ingredients like beta-alanine, and branch-chain amino acids are known to be effective in reducing fatigue and delaying the impact of sore muscles.
  • Improved nutrient delivery: Active ingredients like citrulline malate and nitric oxide, which are common ingredients in pre-workout supplements, are known for improving the flow of blood and vasodilation during workouts.
  • Mind and mood enhancement: Some pre-workouts contain herbal extracts, tyrosine, and dopamine enhancers that may elevate your mood, keep you focused, and reduce the feeling of stress. These enhancers help you maintain a positive mindset while working out.

As much as these pre-workout supplements offer a lot of benefits, you must know that they may not be suitable for everyone. So, before using any of the pre-workout supplements, you should consult a doctor.

Are pre-workout supplements safe?

Yes, pre-workout supplements are considered safe. Pre-workout supplements have been generally marked as safe and effective for use. However, just like every other supplement sold in the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn't test the safety and quality of these pre-workout supplements before they're pushed into the market.

Who should use pre-workout supplements?

Pre-workout supplements are typically designed for people who engage in regular exercise or physical activities. They can be suitable for athletes like runners, bodybuilders, weightlifters, or people looking to enhance their workout performance and energy levels.

However, it is important to note that pre-workout supplements may not be necessary or recommended for everyone who falls under the above category, especially those with certain medical conditions or people who are sensitive to caffeine or other ingredients commonly found in these supplements.

Always check product labels before purchasing your supplements because sometimes, the manufacturers also indicate on the label if the supplement is not safe for certain people. If you have diabetes, speak with your dietitian or doctor to help recommend the best pre-workout supplements for people with diabetes.

Additionally, it is always advisable to consult a doctor before starting any new dietary supplement regimen.

Are you wondering what to eat before and after your workout session? Find out:

Best foods to eat before and after workout

What happens when you stop taking pre-workout supplements?

When you stop taking pre-workout supplements, you may experience a few changes in your body and workout routine:

1. Decrease in energy levels: Pre-workout supplements often contain ingredients like caffeine and other stimulants that give you an energy boost during workouts. Without these supplements, you may feel a decline in energy levels, which could potentially reduce your performance and intensity during workouts. [4]

2. Reduced focus and mental alertness: Pre-workout supplements often contain ingredients that enhance mental focus and alertness. When you discontinue their use, you may experience a decrease in concentration and mental awareness during your workouts.

3. Decreased blood flow and pump: Some pre-workout supplements contain ingredients like citrulline that enhance the flow of blood, leading to increased muscle pump and performance. When you stop taking these supplements, your body may experience a reduction in pump and smooth blood flow through the blood vessels during your workouts.

4. No tingling or dermatological reactions: Certain pre-workout supplements contain ingredients like beta-alanine that cause a tingling sensation or mild dermatological reactions. When you cease their use, these effects may disappear.

5. Balanced hydration status: Many pre-workout supplements contain diuretics like caffeine, which can lead to increased fluid loss through urine. After stopping their intake, your hydration status may stabilize, preventing excessive fluid loss during workouts.

Precautions for using pre-workout supplements

To ensure maximum performance and a reduced risk of side effects, here are things that you should do or consider before or while using pre-workout supplements:

  1. Consult a doctor: If you have plans to start or change any supplement regimen, you should consult a doctor, especially if you have underlying health conditions or are taking medications or other supplements.
  2. Read the instructions on the labels and study the ingredients: Take your time to learn about the ingredients used in the pre-workout supplement before you use them. Look for reputable brands that disclose all their ingredients and dosages. Study the effects, potential side effects, and interactions between the ingredients and your medications.
  3. Start with a low dosage: Start with a lower dose to know how well your body's tolerance and sensitivity to the supplement are. Gradually, you can increase the dosage if you have to, following the recommended guidelines provided by the manufacturer.
  4. Always stay hydrated: Pre-workout supplements can cause dehydration, so you must drink enough water throughout the day, particularly before and during exercise.
  5. Lower your caffeine intake: Most pre-workout supplements in the market contain high amounts of caffeine, which can lead to jitteriness, an increased heart rate, and sleep disturbances.[1] Be mindful of the amount of caffeine you ingest to avoid an overdose.
  6. Avoid taking them close to bedtime: Due to their possible stimulating effects, it is best to avoid taking pre-workout supplements too close to bedtime to avoid sleep disturbances.
  7. Pay attention to your body's response: Pay attention to how your body responds to the supplement. If you experience any side effects such as nausea, increased heart rate, or allergic reactions, discontinue use and consult a doctor.
  8. Take breaks: It is recommended to occasionally stay off pre-workout supplements to give your body a break from the stimulants. This will help prevent you from depending on them and also ensure long-term effectiveness.
  9. Avoid mixing pre-workout supplements with other stimulants: Do not mix pre-workout supplements with other stimulants, such as energy drinks or excessive amounts of coffee, as this can increase the risk of side effects and strain your cardiovascular system.
  10. Use pre-workout supplements as supplements only: Don’t rely on Pre-workout supplements as a substitute for a balanced diet or proper hydration. They are meant to improve your workouts, not replace fundamental macro- and micronutrients 

Wrap up

It's important to note that the side effects of pre-workout supplements may vary depending on individuals, how their bodies react to the ingredients, and the dose and duration of pre-workouts. Speak with your doctor if you notice any of the side effects.

Also, remember that proper nutrition and hydration are crucial for boosting your workout performance, irrespective of the pre-workout supplements you use.