Are Pre-Workouts Bad For You?

by Nader Qudimat
Updated June 13, 2023

You've probably heard about pre-workouts, those magical powders that promise to supercharge your gym sessions.

But have you ever wondered, "Are pre-workouts bad for me?"

Well, you're in the right place.

This article will dive deep into the world of pre-workouts, dissecting the good, the bad, and the ugly.

We’ll dig into the ingredients commonly found in pre-workout supplements, their benefits, potential side effects, and whether or not they are bad for you.

(Read: Is mass gainer bad for you?)

What Are Pre-Workouts?

Pre-workouts are dietary supplements designed to boost your energy and performance during exercise.

They typically contain a mix of ingredients like caffeine, creatine, beta-alanine, and amino acids.

These supplements provide a unique experience that can vary in effects.

But like any supplement, they're not without their controversies. So, let's get into it.

Common Pre-Workout Ingredients


Caffeine is a widely-used stimulant found in many pre-workout supplements.

It has been shown to enhance exercise performance and increase energy levels. [1]

However, excessive caffeine consumption can lead to jitteriness, increased heart rate, and insomnia.

Nitric Oxide Boosters

Ingredients like L-citrulline, L-arginine, and citrulline malate are known as nitric oxide boosters.

They help increase blood flow to the muscles, leading to improved exercise performance and decreased muscle soreness. [2]

Muscle Buffers

Ingredients like L-citrulline, L-arginine, and citrulline malate are known as nitric oxide boosters.

They help increase blood flow to the muscles, leading to improved exercise performance and decreased muscle soreness. [2]

Artificial Sweeteners

Many pre-workout supplements contain artificial sweeteners to add flavor without increasing calorie and carbohydrate content.

While generally safe for consumption, some individuals may experience digestive upset or have concerns about long-term consumption.

There are also pre-workouts without artificial sweeteners.

Amino Acids

Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) and essential amino acids (EAAs) are often included in pre-workout supplements to support muscle protein synthesis and reduce muscle damage during exercise. [4]


Creatine is a well-known supplement for improving muscle strength and performance. [5]

It is often included in pre-workout formulas, but it's important to note that it should be taken daily for optimal results, not just before workouts.

Creatine HCL  is a highly bioavailable form that you can take


Carbohydrates provide a quick source of energy for your workouts.

Including them in your pre-workout supplement can help fuel your muscles and prevent fatigue during intense exercise sessions.

The Benefits of Pre-Workouts

There's a reason why pre-workouts have become a staple in many gym bags.

When used correctly, they can offer several benefits.

For starters, they can enhance your performance, helping you lift heavier, run faster, and push through those tough workouts.

They can also increase your energy levels, thanks to stimulants like caffeine.

Plus, with ingredients like amino acids, they can improve your focus and concentration, keeping you in the zone during your workouts.

Enhanced Energy Levels

Caffeine and other stimulants found in pre-workout supplements can provide a boost in energy, helping you power through your workouts with increased intensity.

Improved Workout Performance

Ingredients like nitric oxide boosters, muscle buffers, and amino acids can enhance your performance during exercise, allowing you to push yourself harder and achieve better results.

Reduced Muscle Fatigue

By providing your muscles with essential nutrients and buffering agents, pre-workout supplements can help delay the onset of muscle fatigue, allowing you to work out longer and more effectively.

Increased Mental Focus

Some pre-workout supplements contain nootropic ingredients that can help improve mental focus and clarity during your workout, leading to better overall performance.

Pre Workout Side Effects

While pre-workout supplements can provide numerous benefits, they may also cause some side effects, such as:


The high caffeine content in pre-workout supplements can cause jitteriness, anxiety, and an increased heart rate in some individuals.

To avoid this side effect, consider starting with a smaller dose or choosing a caffeine-free pre-workout supplement.

Water Retention

Creatine, a common ingredient in pre-workout supplements, can cause water retention, leading to weight gain.

This side effect is typically temporary and can be managed by adjusting the dosage or opting for a creatine-free formula.

Mild Reactions

Some people may experience mild reactions like tingling sensations or skin flushing due to ingredients like beta alanine and niacin.

These reactions are generally harmless and can be managed by adjusting the dosage or selecting a product without these ingredients.

Digestive Upset

Ingredients such as sodium bicarbonate, magnesium, and caffeine can cause digestive issues like nausea, diarrhea, or stomach cramps in some individuals.

To minimize these side effects, mix your pre-workout supplement with an adequate amount of water and experiment with different formulas until you find one that works for you.


Citrulline, a nitric oxide booster, can cause headaches in some individuals due to increased blood flow.

Decreasing the dosage or choosing a citrulline-free pre-workout supplement can help alleviate this side effect.

Are Pre Workouts Bad For You?

Pre-workout supplements are generally safe for healthy individuals when used as directed.

However, it's essential to consider your individual tolerance to certain ingredients, especially stimulants like caffeine.

It's also crucial to choose high-quality products with transparent ingredient lists and dosages.

If you’ve been training for at least a year, then you should see some benefits from using pre-workouts. [6

If you have any pre-existing medical conditions or are sensitive to specific ingredients, consult with your healthcare professional before incorporating a pre-workout supplement into your routine.

How To Find The Right Pre-Workout Supplement

When selecting a pre-workout supplement, look for products containing ingredients that have been shown to improve workout performance, such as caffeine, nitric oxide boosters, and muscle buffers.

Pay close attention to the dosages of each ingredient to ensure you're getting an effective and safe product.

Consider your individual preferences and sensitivities when choosing a pre-workout supplement.

For example, if you know you're sensitive to caffeine, opt for a caffeine-free formula.

Avoiding Pre Workout Side Effects

To minimize the risk of pre workout side effects:

  • Be aware of your tolerance to specific ingredients, such as caffeine.
  • Choose pre-workout supplements with moderate stimulant doses and avoid products with excessively high doses.
  • Start with a lower dose to assess your tolerance and gradually increase it as needed.
  • Mix your pre-workout supplement with enough water to prevent digestive issues.
  • Experiment with different formulas to find one that works best for your needs and preferences.

Alternatives to Pre-Workout Supplements

If you're sensitive to stimulants or prefer a more natural approach, consider these alternatives to traditional pre-workout supplements:


A cup of coffee can provide a moderate caffeine boost to enhance your energy levels before a workout.

You can read more about the difference between coffee and pre workouts.

Non-Stimulant Pre Workouts

These pre-workout supplements focus on muscle buffers, nitric oxide boosters, and nootropics to improve workout performance without the use of stimulants.

Nootropic Pre-Workout Supplements

Nootropic pre-workout supplements provide a more focused and smooth energy boost through various mushroom blends, vitamins, and herbs.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long before a workout should I take a pre-workout supplement?

Most pre-workout supplements should be taken 20-30 minutes before your workout for optimal results.

Can I take a pre-workout supplement every day?

It's best to cycle your pre-workout supplement usage to prevent developing a tolerance to its effects.

Consider using it on workout days only or taking occasional breaks.

Are pre-workout supplements safe for everyone?

While pre-workout supplements are generally safe for healthy individuals, those with pre-existing medical conditions or sensitivities to specific ingredients should consult with their healthcare professional before using these products.

Can I combine different pre-workout supplements?

It's generally not recommended to combine multiple pre-workout supplements, as this can result in excessive stimulant intake or overlapping ingredients, potentially leading to adverse side effects.

Do I need to take pre-workouts to have a good workout?

No, while pre-workouts can enhance your performance, they're not necessary for a good workout.

A balanced diet, adequate sleep, and proper training are the foundations of fitness.

Are there natural alternatives to pre-workout supplements?

Yes, alternatives like coffee, non-stimulant pre-workouts, and nootropic pre-workout supplements can provide similar benefits without the use of stimulants or other synthetic ingredients.

Are all pre-workouts the same?

No, pre-workouts can vary in their ingredients and concentrations.

It's important to read the label and understand what you're taking.

Bottom Line:

Alright, we've just taken a deep dive into the world of pre-workout ingredients and their potential side effects.

Plus, we've explored the myriad of ways these power-packed supplements can supercharge your workouts.

Sure, there's a chance of running into some side effects, but they're totally avoidable if you follow the golden rules we've laid out for you.

Stick to pre-workouts that boast top-notch ingredients, third-party testing, accurate dosing, and crystal-clear labels.

Do all that, and you're on a one-way ticket to Gainsville, minus the unwanted baggage.

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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