Pre-workout supplements are multi-ingredient products used for exercise enhancing purposes. They’re available in a powdered form, which you can mix with water and drink before exercise. These supplements contain amino acids, B vitamins, caffeine, creatine, and a mixture of several ingredients, each with a specific role in performance improvement. The amount of these nutrients varies depending on the brand. However, some people develop negative side effects after using pre-workout supplements.
Beta-alanine is a non-essential amino, acid, meaning your body can produce it. It is the key ingredient in many pre-workout supplements. Beta-alanine helps produce another chemical in the body known as carnosine. Carnosine aids in muscular endurance during high-intensity exercise, which can help you keep your workout going for longer. The recommended dosage for beta-alanine is 4-6 grams per day. However, taking 6 grams of beta-alanine pre-workout supplement may cause side effects, a condition called paresthesia, which is a sort of tingling sensation in your hands and feet. While it is a harmless, nervous system reaction, it may disturb some people. The most effective way to reduce beta-alanine-related tingling is to divide the 6-gram daily dose into 2 separate 3-gram doses. (1, 2, 3, 4)
Beta-alanine is an ingredient of various pre-workout supplements. Taking 6g of beta-alanine per day may produce a condition called paresthesia, tingling in the hands and feet.
Niacin (vitamin B3) one of the eight B vitamins, is another ingredient in many pre-workout supplements can produce minor side effects. Taking 500 mg or more niacin per day can trigger rushes on the surface of your skin, resulting in red patches. Niacin plays an important role in energy production and metabolism. However, if you consume a well-balanced diet, niacin supplements do not provide additional benefits. If you think niacin is affecting you, buy pre-workout supplement that is niacin-free. (5, 6, 7)
Taking 500 mg or more of niacin per day can cause rushes on the skin’s surface. Niacin is essential for the production of energy and metabolism.
Caffeine is a psychoactive stimulant and primary ingredient in many pre-workout supplements. According to some studies, caffeine can increase energy output while reducing fatigue during exercise. However, pre-workout supplements that contain caffeine can have downsides if you consume too much. These include insomnia, nausea, increased heart rate, drowsiness, headaches, and anxiety. Majority of pre-workout supplements can provide up to 500 mg caffeine per 10 to 30 grams of serving size. If you compare coffee with pre-workout supplements, there is only 95 mg of caffeine in 1 cup of 240 ml of coffee. Caffeine can affect each person differently, as some people tolerate it better than others. (8, 9, 10, 11)
Caffeine has a variable effect on each individual, since some people tolerate it better than others. The best way to reduce side effects of caffeine is to start with a small dose of a pre-workout supplement that contains caffeine, increasing your dosage to see what you can tolerate.
Related article: 8 side effects of consuming too much caffeine
Citrulline is an amino acid that is found in some foods like watermelons. The primary benefit of citrulline is that it works by increasing your blood’s nitric oxide levels. The recommended dose for citrulline malate is 6 to 8 grams, although many pre-workout supplements offer smaller amounts and may not provide potential benefits. Pre-workout supplements that provide a high dose of citrulline may increase in blood flow, which affects both your brain and muscles, leading to side effects such as headaches and migraines during exercise. Decreasing your dosage is the most effective way to reduce citrulline side effects. If you find you are still struggling with headaches, find a pre-workout supplement that does not contain citrulline. (12, 13)
Citrulline works by boosting the levels of nitric oxide in your blood. Some pre-workout supplements that provide a high dose of citrulline may enhance blood flow, which can influence both your brain and muscles, leading to headache.
Another popular ingredient in many pre-workout supplements is creatine. Creatine supplements increases power and muscle mass. It is most often part of a pre-workout supplement and does not cause side effects. However, some mild side effects such as water retention, bloating, weight gain, and digestive problems have been noticed. By ensuring proper dosage, you can reduce any adverse symptoms. While taking creatine, it may be hard to avoid a moderate weight gain of 4 to 6 pounds because of the increased water retention in your muscles. (14, 15, 16)
Creatine is widely researched supplement and can improve workout performance and muscle gain. Although creatine has a safety profile, but it can cause mild side effects such as increased water retention and bloating.
Several pre-workout supplements formulas may cause adverse effect such as stomach upset. These include sodium bicarbonate, magnesium, creatine, and caffeine. Magnesium, as magnesium citrate, may have laxative effects. Taking too much can, therefore, lead to diarrhea. Mixing your pre-workout supplements with less water may also upset your stomach. A liquid, which is too concentrated, may lead to diarrhea. You can minimize side effects by mixing your pre-workout supplement with at least 8–12 ounces of water. (17, 18, 19)
It’s hard to determine which ingredient causes digestive problems, try different formulas of pre-workout until you find one that you can better tolerate.
If you are taking pre-workout supplements, you may experience side effects, including headaches, skin conditions, tingling, and upset stomach. By decreasing your dosage or avoiding supplements with specific ingredients, you can minimize many of these side effects. Always start taking pre-workout supplements if have trained for at least six months.
Suggested article: 9 exercise enhancing supplements to gain muscle
- Effects of β-alanine supplementation on exercise performance: a meta-analysis. Amino Acids. 2012.
- β-Alanine supplementation for athletic performance: an update. J Strength Cond Res. 2014.
- The mechanism and mitigation of niacin-induced flushing. Int J Clin Pract. 2009.
- Niacin. Adv Nutr. 2016
- International society of sports nutrition position stand: Beta-Alanine. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2015.
- Effects of caffeine on human health. Food Addit Contam. 2003.
- The effect of nitric-oxide-related supplements on human performance. Sports Med. 2012.
- Increased nitric oxide stress is associated with migraine. Cephalalgia. 2010.
- Can Magnesium Enhance Exercise Performance? Nutrients. 2017.
- Evaluating the patient with diarrhea: a case-based approach. Mayo Clin Proc. 2012.
- International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: creatine supplementation and exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2007.
- International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2017.