Whenever a new type of supplement hits the market, it is usually met with a healthy dose of suspicion and fear.
Pre-workout supplements are no different despite being around for quite some time.
People worry about pre-workout side effects and whether or not taking such supplements is safe.
While many athletes and bodybuilders swear by pre-workout benefits and how essential they are to their fitness regime, many people still worry about long-term pre-workout side effects.
These concerns are valid, and it is good to question the pre-workout pros and cons before beginning a pre-workout drink.
However, there is no need to fear as you can easily find the best pre-workout drink for you; it suits your needs and, when used as directed, is free of harmful side effects.
Table of Contents
How Do Pre-Workouts Work?
Pre-workouts work in accordance with which ingredients are used to make the pre-workout.
Overall, the main goal of any pre-workout is to increase your energy levels so that you can power through your workout and still have enough energy to keep you from crashing after your workout.
Improve Nitric Oxide Production
Certain pre-workout supplements contain ingredients that increase nitric oxide production, including citrulline and arginine.
Nitric oxide is a naturally created substance released in the body, and it affects the blood vessels by causing vasodilation. By increasing nitric oxide production, the blood vessels dilate faster and easier, which improves blood flow.
Our blood is what transports much-needed oxygen around the body. Exercising demands increased oxygen consumption; when the body is unable to meet these demands, the body switches to anaerobic respiration leading to fatigue in the muscles due to lactic acid build-up.
Nitric oxide increases the flow of blood and consequently oxygen to the muscle tissues. This prevents the muscles from converting to anaerobic respiration, allowing you to exercise for longer periods, as there is no lactic acid accumulation that causes muscle pain.
The Use of Caffeine and Other Stimulants
Most pre-workout supplements contain caffeine in their formulation. Anyone who can’t start their day without coffee can attest that caffeine is an energy booster.
The main goal of a pre-workout is to increase your energy levels which are generally achieved through the use of caffeine.
Caffeine is a stimulant that mainly affects your neurotransmitters. It increases the release of acetylcholine, an excitatory neurotransmitter.
This neurotransmitter increases muscular contractions in the body, allowing you to exercise with greater intensity and for longer periods.
Another method in which caffeine increases your energy levels is its inhibitory effect. Caffeine can block the effects of neurotransmitters that have an inhibitory effect on the body.
By doing this, the excitatory neurotransmitters have no counteracting effects and can work with greater intensity increasing energy levels.
Although not a necessary aspect of a pre-workout supplement may contain several different amino acids in their formulation, the majority of people that are working out are looking to gain muscle and improve tone along with losing weight.
Hence, the use of amino acids. Amino acids are the foundation of all proteins in the body; regardless of their function, these proteins will serve the body.
The main aspect of muscles is protein, which is why you find people telling you to increase your intake of protein to improve muscle mass; when you are looking to increase your muscle mass, your body’s demand for proteins increases.
Amino acids in pre-workout supplements allow your body to meet these demands. The amino acids are used to increase the production of proteins in the body.
These proteins were then used to increase muscle mass and reduce the time it takes for damaged muscles to heal from exercise-induced injury.
What Are the Benefits of Pre-Workouts?
The following are the benefits of using pre-workouts:
Increased Energy Levels
Life today is busier than anyone can imagine; it doesn’t matter if you are a student, or working, finding the time and energy to exercise can be nothing short of a nightmare.
Sometimes, even when you find time to exercise, you simply do not have the energy; a pre-workout fixes these issues by increasing your energy levels, allowing you to work out.
This is usually done by using a stimulant present in the pre-workout; the stimulant of choice for most pre-workout supplements is caffeine.
There are other non-caffeine options available for people that are allergic to caffeine or are looking to reduce their caffeine intake.
Caffeine is usually the stimulant of choice due to its dual actions on neurotransmitters. Caffeine blocks the effects of inhibitory neurotransmitters, which slow down the body.
Simultaneously, it increases the release of excitatory neurotransmitters. The combination of these two effects provides a boost of energy to help you power through the most intense workouts.
Improved Blood Flow
One of the main reasons why people find themselves unable to exercise for extended periods is due to their muscles becoming fatigued and causing them pain.
This occurs due to the accumulation of lactic acid in the muscles. Lactic acid builds up in the muscles when the muscle cells switch from aerobic respiration to anaerobic respiration.
The switch to anaerobic respiration is due to a decrease in oxygen delivery to the muscle tissues.
Aerobic respiration requires oxygen; when the body is unable to meet the increased oxygen demand in the muscles, the switch to anaerobic respiration is made.
Unfortunately, this form of energy production has limited use as lactic acid accumulates in the muscles causing fatigue and pain.
Pre-workout supplements counteract these issues by providing the body with a way to meet the increased oxygen demand. They contain ingredients that increase the production of nitric oxide.
This increase causes the blood vessels to dilate and improve blood flow to the muscles, increasing oxygen delivery to the muscle tissue.
Increased Muscle Mass
Among the many reasons for working out is increasing muscle mass.
Some people, like professional athletes and bodybuilders, are looking for a massive increase in muscles, while for others, the goal is to have larger and more toned muscles without looking bulky.
The main component of muscles is proteins.
The larger you want your muscles to grow, the more protein your body needs to make.
Usually, your diet is not enough to meet the demands of your muscles. This is where a pre-workout supplement with amino acids comes into play.
The amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. The amino acids in pre-workouts are used to increase the production of proteins in the body.
These proteins are then used to increase the growth of muscles. They are also used to repair damaged or torn muscles; this decreases the time needed to recover after each workout, increasing muscle growth speed.
What Are the Risks of Taking Pre-Workouts?
The following are the commonly associated risks with taking pre-workouts:
Jitters And Crashes
As we now know, the vast majority of pre-workout supplements contain caffeine as the stimulant in their formulations.
While caffeine has several different benefits, from increasing your energy levels to improving your mental focus, it is not without its downfalls. These side effects can be particularly prominent in people who are sensitive to caffeine.
Caffeine, as we have established, is a substance that not only increases the release of excitatory neurotransmitters but also blocks the effects of inhibitory neurotransmitters in the body.
While this is a perfect way to increase your energy levels, it does not come without its consequences.
One thing that people may experience with the use of pre-workouts is that their hands may develop tremors or jitters.
This is due to the uncontrolled excitation of the body and an increase in energy levels. Another issue that arises with caffeine usage is the sudden crash that occurs after the effects of caffeine have worn off.
Keeping your body well hydrated is necessary on most days but is especially important on days when you are taking pre-workout supplements.
There are many reasons for this.
Firstly caffeine is known to cause dehydration, and as we know, caffeine is a staple in many pre-workout supplements.
Secondly, pre-workouts contain numerous substances that need to be filtered and removed via the kidneys after carrying out their function in the body.
If there is not enough fluid in the body, the kidneys can not do their job efficiently, and substances may remain in the body that could potentially cause other issues.
Thirdly, a recent trend has developed where people have begun to use pre-workouts in their powder form known as “dry scooping” rather than following the given instructions.
Ingestion of large quantities of powder is bound to lead to dehydration when combined with high-intensity exercise.
A side effect of pre-workouts that may come as a surprise is headaches. However, the presence of ingredients that increase nitric oxide production has been known to cause headaches in users of pre-workout supplements.
It sounds odd as nitric oxide causes vasodilation and improved blood flow, which is seen as a positive, but this vasodilation causes the problem.
Vasodilation is not limited to the muscles; it also affects the rest of the body, including the brain. When vasodilation occurs in the cerebral vessel, there is a change in blood pressure. This change in blood pressure in the cerebral vessels can lead to headaches.
While most pre-workout supplements aim to create products that are free from adverse effects sometimes, certain issues can not be helped or avoided.
There are certain ingredients used in pre-workout supplements that can cause gastrointestinal issues in people who are sensitive to specific ingredients. These ingredients include caffeine, sodium bicarbonate, magnesium, and creatine.
Usually, these ingredients are harmless, but in certain groups of people, they can cause digestive upset. Large quantities of sodium bicarbonate, for example, can cause stomach issues.
While magnesium can lead to diarrhea if taken in large quantities. Additionally, high doses of caffeine can also lead to diarrhea.
While a pre-workout is not the main factor for kidney issues, it can play a major role in kidney problems.
For people who already have pre-existing kidney problems, their use of pre-workout supplements must be monitored closely to prevent any exacerbation of the disease.
Pre-workouts that contain large quantities of protein can lead to increased production of uric acid. When there are very high uric acid levels in the kidneys, it can precipitate out of urine instead of being excreted.
This can then lead to the formation of kidney stones which can range from small and harmless to large and painful. High levels of minerals like calcium in pre-workouts can also lead to the formation of kidney stones.
Additionally, when pre-workout supplements are taken, and adequate hydration is not maintained, this can cause kidney issues. In certain cases, misuse of pre-workout supplements can lead to the progression of chronic kidney disease.
Weight Gain/ Bloating
Not a side effect you would expect with a supplement that is catered toward working out, but as it turns out, one issue that people have experienced with pre-workout supplements is weight gain or bloating.
This can be incredibly frustrating, especially if you are looking to lose weight while exercising, and your pre-workout supplement is making matters worse rather than better.
Some people may experience weight gain or bloating due to the presence of creatine in pre-workout supplements.
While creatine is a powerful ingredient used to increase muscle endurance, strength, and mass, it is not without its side effects. The main issue that arises with creatine is an increase in water weight which causes bloating or apparent weight gain.
How To Avoid These Risks?
The following steps should be followed to avoid the risks linked with consuming pre-workouts:
Maintain Adequate Hydration
When taking any pre-workout supplements, it is key to maintain hydration.
When there is adequate fluid in your body, your kidneys can function at their maximum capacity, reducing the chances of kidney stones from forming and decreasing the occurrence of other kidney diseases that may arise or progress with pre-workout supplements.
Additionally, by ensuring that you are drinking enough water throughout the day, your body can minimize any gastrointestinal effects that minerals like sodium bicarb or magnesium can have.
Furthermore, staying hydrated prevents dehydration from occurring due to the use of caffeine in pre-workout supplements.
Monitor Caffeine Your Intake
Let’s be honest many of us can’t function without a cup of coffee, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, if you are prone to having multiple cups in a day, it may be wise to track your caffeine consumption.
When you forget to factor in the caffeine you have already taken and then take a pre-workout supplement, you increase your chances of experiencing jitters and post-caffeine crashes.
If you are planning on taking a pre-workout supplement during the day, it may be best to cut down on the amount of caffeine you are taking beforehand.
This allows you to receive the benefit of the pre-workout supplement without worrying about any of the side effects that come with caffeine usage.
Control Protein Intake
We have some form of protein in our diet for many of us regardless of whether or not we are taking a pre-workout supplement. When using a pre-workout supplement, this protein intake can increase substantially.
While protein is an essential nutrient, too much of anything can be harmful. Increased protein intake leads to increased protein breakdown and uric acid production, which can cause kidney stones.
When taking pre-workout supplements, it is important to keep your protein requirements in mind so that you do not overload your body with protein.
It is best to stay within the recommended guideline, but if you want to increase your protein intake, ensure that it is enough to enhance muscle growth without any adverse effects.
Use Recommended Creatine Doses
An unwelcome and unfortunate side effect accompanying creatine usage is water retention leading to bloating or weight gain. This is not what someone who is aiming to lose weight is looking for in their pre-workout supplement.
Of course, you can not completely cut creatine out from your pre-workout as it is a key ingredient in increasing the endurance, mass, and strength of muscles,
The best way to reduce your chances of creatine-related side effects is to carefully control your creatine intake. It is best to maintain the recommended dose of creatine.
Although it may be tempting to increase your intake, the results may be disappointing due to bloating.
Reduce Nitric Oxide Dosage
If you are experiencing headaches with your pre-workout supplements, it may be wise to reduce your nitric oxide intake. This reduces vasodilation in the cerebral vessels and prevents blood pressure changes in the brain.
Effective Usage of Pre-Workouts
According to the manufacturer’s recommendations, the best and most recommended way of using pre-workout supplements.
Each pre-workout has instructions on its label describing how to use the product, reducing the chances of any adverse effects occurring.
You can also consult your trainer if you want to achieve a specific goal with your pre-workout; they can tailor the product to best suit your individual needs.
Pre-workouts may have certain adverse effects, but nothing in this world is perfect.
As long as the pre-workout is taken according to the instructions on the label and all steps are taken to reduce adverse effects, pre-workout supplements are a great way to boost your fitness journey.