Pre-workout supplements can be a great way to improve your workout, but are some supplements dangerous? From caffeine to creatine to amino acids there are plenty of pre-workout supplements to take and it’s important to know the positives and negatives behind what you’re taking. Below we cover some of the dangers of the most popular pre-workout supplements and which ones you should avoid at all costs.
One of the most common workout enhancers is caffeine supplements. In the form of mixes, shakes, pills, and chewable caffeine is boasted on all types of pre-workout products but they pack a way bigger punch than your regular cup of coffee. In fact, pre-workout supplements usually have three to four times the amount of caffeine contained in a cup of coffee. The problem is that caffeine naturally raises your heart rate and combined with the stress of cardiovascular activity it can put excess strain on your heart. Excessive caffeine can increase your heart rate and blood pressure, causing cardiac issues.
Most brands of pre-workout range from 150 mg to 300 mg of caffeine per serving. This roughly translates as one to three cups of coffee. So that label promising increased energy, focus and performance is usually made possible through a jolt of caffeine. Studies have shown that consuming between 0.09 grams to 0.15 grams of caffeinated coffee per kilogram of body weight can improve performance during a workout. One study from the International Journal of Exercise Science found that caffeinated pre-workout supplement “improved peak power output” by an average of 8% compared to the placebo.
Keep in mind that if taken regularly, you will become desensitized to caffeine and require higher and higher doses to feel the effects. This can put a great deal of stress on your adrenal glands and possibly lead to adrenal fatigue.
Creatine Workout Supplements
Creatine is a molecule that’s produced in your body from amino acids. It’s primarily made in the liver, and to a lesser extent, in your kidneys and pancreas. Creatine is responsible for regenerating ATP — the primary energy carrier in your body.
Creatine can help extend the time you take to get exhausted by providing you with more energy. Therefore, the molecule plays a critical role under conditions of high energy demand, such as intense physical or mental activity. So, if you consume creatine before your weight-lifting sessions, studies have shown you’ll experience improvements in both strength and power output. Also, if you’re concerned about packing on muscles, researchers have found that creatine is able to increase lean mass by a modest amount.
However, all of these benefits don’t mean that creatine is a perfectly safe pre-workout supplement for everyone. When taken at the recommended dosage for up to five years, creatine is generally considered safe. However, when taken in high doses, creatine could damage the kidneys, liver or heart. Anyone with a history of kidney disease shouldn’t take this supplement. It may also worsen mania in people with bipolar disease. Creatine also causes muscles to retain more water, so taking supplements can result in weight gain due to increased water retention.
Amino Acid Supplements
You have probably heard that BCAA are a great way to speed up your muscle recovery after a long workout. While that might be true, researchers only have a small amount of evidence to prove it. Results of a small study from 2013 show that adult male participants who took a BCAA supplement during exercise had lower blood levels of substances that indicate muscle damage than those who took a placebo. So, while the recovery benefits of BCAA are not as conclusive as some pre-workout manufacturers would make it seem, there are other benefits that BCAA can offer too. According to a 2009 study, BCAA supplementation can also help improve lean mass and decrease the percentage of body fat. So, if you feel that your BCAA supplement is helping out with your workout performance.
Although BCAAs are effective at growing muscle, new research from the University of Sydney suggests that when taken in excess, BCAAs can have detrimental effects later in life. Excessive intake may reduce lifespan, increase appetite leading to weight gain, and have a negative impact on mood. So, if you are noticing some odd effects after having taken a BCAA pre-workout supplement for an extended period of time it’s best to stop and consult your doctor.
Next is beta-alanine, which is an amino acid involved in the production of carnosine, an intramuscular compound that buffers pH to mitigate muscle “burn” and helps people work harder, longer, during high-intensity exercise. It’s a relatively new supplement for sports performance, and a 2018 review concluded that while efficacy is still up in the air, it appears to be safe over the long-term. That said, it did note acute side effects—most commonly paraesthesia—or a “pins and needles” sensation on the skin, after consumption. Again, the best course of action when taking a pre-workout supplement is to take note of any odd effects and talk with your doctor about what is healthiest for you.
Harmful Pre-Workout Supplements You Should Avoid
One of the biggest threats when it comes to buying harmful pre-workout supplements are the chemicals that hide in the ingredients label. One of the biggest ones you should watch out for is a chemical known as DMBA. In 2014, several pre-workout supplements were found to have DMBA. While DMBA is hailed to provide noticeable muscle growth, this chemical was recently banned by the FDA. Both DMBA and supplements containing it were banned later in 2015 for increasing the risk of heart attacks, bleeding of the brain and even death. While pre-workout supplements, like the ones we’ve mentioned above, have detrimental effects if taken for long periods of time, the DMBA can come on quickly and without much warning.
Pre-workout powders also utilize emulsifiers to help all the ingredients dissolve and mix together smoothly. Unfortunately, these emulsifiers have some pretty nasty side effects, including diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea, and some emulsifiers that have been linked to negative effects on fertility and reproduction.
Pre-Workout Supplement Dangers
While many pre-workout supplements, like caffeine, creatine, and BCAA have scientific research to back up their claims, there are some others out there that can be incredibly detrimental to your health. It’s always important to read the labels of pre-workout supplements carefully and to research any ingredients that you may be unfamiliar with. When in doubt stop taking a supplement and if you are experiencing odd changes like chest pain, headaches, or sudden mood swings, contact your doctor and mention the supplements that you have been taking!