Is Pre-Workout Bad For You?

by Nader Qudimat
Updated July 8, 2023

You've probably heard of pre-workout supplements.

They're the hype, the secret weapon some athletes swear by for enhanced performance and stamina.

But as their popularity skyrockets, so does the debate about their safety.

Are pre-workouts bad for you?

Are they a harmless boost or a health hazard in disguise?

Let's find out.

Potential Side Effects of Pre-Workout Supplements

While pre-workout supplements can offer a range of benefits, it's also important to be aware of potential side effects.

These can vary depending on the specific ingredients in the supplement, as well as individual factors such as your overall health, tolerance, and the intensity of your workout.

1. Dehydration

Pre-workout supplements often contain caffeine, which is a diuretic.

This means it can increase urine production, potentially leading to dehydration if you're not careful to replenish your fluids.

Dehydration can impair your performance and recovery, and it can be dangerous in severe cases.

A study found that pre-workout caffeine supplements can increase urine output, potentially resulting in dehydration during intense workouts.

2. Insomnia

Again, caffeine in many pre-workout supplements can interfere with sleep if taken too close to bedtime.

Insufficient sleep can impair recovery and performance, and chronic sleep deprivation can have serious health consequences.

Research has shown that caffeine can significantly delay sleep onset, especially when consumed late afternoon or evening.

3. Increased Heart Rate and Blood Pressure

Stimulants like caffeine and other ingredients found in some pre-workout supplements can increase heart rate and blood pressure.

While this might enhance performance in the short term, it could also increase the risk of heart-related complications, especially in people with pre-existing heart conditions.

This study found that pre-workout supplements can significantly increase heart rate and blood pressure during exercise, which could be risky for some individuals.

4. Digestive Issues

Some people may experience digestive issues such as nausea, stomach upset, or diarrhea after taking pre-workout supplements.

This could be due to various factors, including the supplement's specific ingredients, consumption timing, or individual tolerance.

Research has shown that some ingredients in pre-workout supplements can cause gastrointestinal discomfort in some individuals.

5. Overreliance

There's also the risk of overly reliant on pre-workout supplements for energy and performance.

This could lead to increased tolerance, meaning you need higher doses for the same effect, and withdrawal symptoms if you stop using the supplement.

This study suggests that chronic use of pre-workout supplements could increase dependence over time.

Minimizing or Preventing Side Effects

While these side effects can be concerning, there are steps you can take to minimize or prevent them:

1. Hydrate

To counteract the potential dehydrating effects of pre-workout supplements, ensure you drink plenty of fluids before, during, and after your workout.

This can help to maintain your hydration status and support optimal performance and recovery.

2. Time Your Supplement Intake

To avoid sleep disturbances, take your pre-workout supplement earlier in the day, or at least several hours before bedtime.

This gives your body time to metabolize the caffeine and other stimulants before you're ready to sleep.

3. Start with a Lower Dose

If you're new to pre-workout supplements or sensitive to stimulants, start with a lower dose to see how your body reacts.

You can gradually increase the dose as needed, but avoid exceeding the manufacturer's recommended dose.

4. Listen to Your Body

If you experience uncomfortable side effects like rapid heart rate, high blood pressure, or digestive issues might indicate that a particular pre-workout supplement isn't right for you.

Consider trying a different product, or consult a healthcare provider or sports nutritionist for personalized advice.

5. Take Breaks

Consider taking regular breaks from your pre-workout supplement to prevent overreliance and tolerance. This could mean using it only on particularly intense workout days, or taking a week off every month.

Remember, while pre-workout supplements can enhance your performance, they're not a substitute for a balanced diet, adequate rest, and a well-rounded training program.

Always consult a healthcare provider before starting any new supplement regimen, especially if you have underlying health conditions or are taking other medications.

How to Read Pre-Workout Labels and Common Ingredients

Navigating the world of pre-workout supplements can be overwhelming, especially when confronted with a long list of ingredients that sound more like a chemistry exam than a health supplement.

But don't worry, I've got you covered.

Here's a quick guide on how to read pre-workout labels and understand the common ingredients you're likely to encounter.

Citrulline (3g to 10g)

Citrulline is an amino acid often included in pre-workout supplements for its potential to improve blood flow to your muscles.

It's thought to help delay muscle fatigue and improve exercise performance. A study found that citrulline malate enhances athletic anaerobic performance and relieves muscle soreness.

Betaine Anhydrous (1.25g to 4g)

Betaine anhydrous is a compound derived from the amino acid choline.

It's included in many pre-workout formulas because it may help improve muscle strength and power.

Research suggests that betaine supplementation can improve muscle endurance during high-intensity exercise.

Caffeine (100mg to 300mg)

Caffeine is a staple ingredient in many pre-workouts, and for good reason. It's a powerful stimulant that can help to increase alertness and delay fatigue.

But it's also important to be mindful of the dosage.

The safe dosage of caffeine varies between individuals, but generally, a pre-workout supplement should contain between 100mg to 300mg of caffeine.

Any more than that, and you may be at risk of experiencing side effects like jitters, insomnia, and an increased heart rate.

When reading a pre-workout label, look for these ingredients and consider their dosages. Also, be on the lookout for fully disclosed labels.

For instance, Bulk by Transparent Labs is a clean pre-workout supplement that fully discloses all its ingredient dosages - no proprietary blends here.

  1. Look for Fully Disclosed Labels: Always opt for products with fully disclosed labels. This means that all the ingredients and their respective amounts are clearly listed. This transparency lets you know exactly what you're putting into your body.
  2. Consider Products like BulkBulk from Transparent Labs is a good example of a clean pre-workout supplement. It's known for its comprehensive and transparent ingredient list, which includes scientifically-backed components like Citrulline Malate, Beta-Alanine, BCAA, and more. It's also free from artificial sweeteners, coloring, or preservatives.
  3. Avoid Proprietary Blends: Proprietary blends are mixtures of various ingredients that supplement companies use to differentiate their products. The problem is, the specific amounts of each ingredient in the blend are not disclosed. This lack of transparency can be a red flag. Avoiding these blends is best, even if a product or company is hyped.
  4. Beware of Marketing Schemes: Remember that many people might promote a product because they get a commission for each sale. Always do your research, and don't rely solely on marketing hype or promotional material.
  5. Consult a Healthcare Professional: Before starting any new supplement regimen, it's always a good idea to consult with a healthcare professional. They can provide personalized advice based on your health history and goals.

Avoid proprietary blends even if the company is hyped, as many people will spread and market them for a commission. These blends often don't disclose the exact amounts of each ingredient, making it hard to know exactly what you're putting into your body.

Remember, knowledge is power. Understanding what's in your pre-workout can help you decide whether it's the right supplement for you.

Should You Take Pre-Workouts?

Pre-workouts can boost energy and focus for your workout but also come with potential risks.

These supplements often contain high levels of caffeine and other stimulants, leading to side effects like jitteriness, increased heart rate, and sleep disturbances.

Moreover, the long-term effects of many pre-workout ingredients are not well-studied.

Some ingredients, like creatine, are safe and effective in the short term, but others, like yohimbine, can cause serious side effects, especially in high doses.

You should avoid pre-workouts if you have any underlying health conditions, particularly heart disease, high blood pressure, or anxiety.

Pregnant and breastfeeding women should also avoid these supplements.

How to Take Pre-Workouts

If you decide to use a pre-workout, it's essential to use it safely and effectively. Here are some tips:

  1. Start with a small dose: Pre-workouts can be very potent. Start with a half dose to assess your tolerance.
  2. Take it 30-45 minutes before your workout: This gives the supplement time to kick in.
  3. Cycle your use: To prevent your body from becoming accustomed to the pre-workout and to give your body a break from the stimulants, consider cycling your use. For example, use the pre-workout for 6-8 weeks, then take a break for a few weeks.
  4. Stay hydrated: Pre-workouts can be dehydrating, especially those containing caffeine. Make sure to drink plenty of water.
  5. Listen to your body: If you experience any adverse effects, stop taking the pre-workout and consult a healthcare professional.

Safer Alternatives

If you're looking for a safer alternative to traditional pre-workouts, consider the following FDA-approved options (find more safe pre-workouts here):

  1. Transparent Labs PreSeries BULK: This pre-workout is designed for those looking to build muscle mass. It contains a blend of scientifically-backed ingredients, including citrulline malate for improved blood flow, beta-alanine for increased endurance, and BCAAs for muscle growth.
  2. Pre Lab Pro: This supplement contains 60mg of theanine, 400mg of tyrosine, 2.2g of Citrulline, and 1.5g of Red beet powder. It also includes 80mg of natural caffeine for a stimulating effect.
  3. Intensive Pre-Workout: Although the website for this product is not accessible, the ingredients list you provided includes 7g of Citrulline Malate, 2.5g of Beta-Alanine, 1g of Tyrosine, 1g of Taurine, 300mg of KSM-66, as well as 200mg of Caffeine for stimulation, and 100mg of En-Xtra for an extra boost.

Remember, it's always important to research and consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new supplement. You can read and use our Ultimate Guide to Pre-Workouts for more assistance.


Are pre-workout supplements safe? Generally, yes. However, they can cause side effects, especially when misused or overused.

Can pre-workout supplements cause kidney damage? Some pre-workout ingredients can potentially cause kidney damage, especially if you're not drinking enough water.

Can I take pre-workout supplements every day? It's best to cycle pre-workouts to prevent your body from building up a tolerance to the stimulants.

Can pre-workout supplements cause acne? Some people might experience skin irritation or acne from certain ingredients in pre-workouts.

Can pre-workout supplements cause high blood pressure? The stimulants in pre-workouts can temporarily increase blood pressure.

Can pre-workout supplements cause insomnia? If taken too close to bedtime, pre-workouts' stimulants can cause insomnia.

Can pre-workout supplements cause diarrhea? Certain ingredients in pre-workouts can have a laxative effect.

Can pre-workout supplements cause heart problems? Some pre-workout ingredients can increase heart rate and blood pressure, which could be problematic for people with heart conditions.

Can pre-workout supplements cause liver damage? Some ingredients in pre-workouts can potentially cause liver damage.

Can pre-workout supplements cause muscle cramps? Dehydration from pre-workouts can lead to muscle cramps.

Bottom Line

Pre-workout supplements can be useful for enhancing your workouts, but they're not without potential side effects.

It's important to understand these risks and how to mitigate them.

Always consult a healthcare professional before starting any new supplement regimen, especially if you have any underlying health conditions.

And remember, supplements are just that - a supplement to a healthy diet and regular exercise, not a replacement.

by Nader Qudimat

Forged by iron and cold steel, I'm Nader, a mid-30s natural bodybuilder. Once a 100lb skinny guy, I've transformed into a 200lb muscular athlete with over 15 years of lifting experience. Today, I leverage my transformation and extensive experience to guide countless individuals on their fitness journeys.

Click here to check out my 12 year transformation: Natural 12 Year Transformation

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