What is a Pre-Workout?
As the name suggests, a pre-workout is a supplement that has been designed to be consumed before a workout. They have been popular for years thanks to added boost they can provide during intense workouts by increasing energy levels and putting off inevitable muscle fatigue.
Typically, pre-workout supplements will contain a mixture of ingredients from muscle primers to stimulants designed to propel you through the tougher stages of your workout and out the other side feeling amazing, like you have left everything out there on the gym floor and absolutely crushed your workout.
The continuous search for more powerful ingredients and combinations has led to some worrying results though. Some supplements walk a fine line between what is legal and what is not. You would be forgiven for thinking that all pre-workout supplements are safe just because you can buy them over the counter in stores, but this just isn’t the case.
How can Pre-Workouts cause anxiety?
Firstly, and this is important, anxiety is a normal thing that most people experience at least some of the time. Certain situations, events or conditions can cause feelings of anxiety, and if you are a competitive athlete then you will almost certainly be exposed to these from time to time.
However, if you are regularly taking a supplement that might cause excessive feelings of anxiety, this can build up over time and become a real problem.
It’s not so much that certain supplements can cause anxiety, but that certain ingredients commonly found in pre-workout supplements can cause anxiety. Formulas that rely heavily on stimulants are generally the ones you want to watch out for, and there is a small number of ingredients that you definitely want to avoid completely.
What to avoid in Pre-Workouts
Keep an eye out for the following ingredients in any pre-workout supplement, as they can cause excessive anxiety and a range of other, even less welcome side-effects. We’ll look at these in detail below and discuss some of the dangers associated with them.
This could be listed in the ingredients list as Yohimbe, Yohimbine or Yohimbe Bark Extract. Whilst it might technically qualify as a natural ingredient, don’t be fooled in to thinking it is automatically safe to take. In fact, yohimbine is considered a prescription drug in the U.S. and the man-made version of yohimbine hydrochloride, one of the active ingredients, is illegal to sell as a dietary supplement.
Why is this? Well, one of the most obvious reasons is the list of possible side-effects of yohimbe. This list includes rapid or irregular heartbeat, tremors, sleep problems, seizures, kidney failure and even heart attacks. And yes, anxiety makes the list of possible side-effects too.
What is perhaps even more concerning about yohimbe is the list of people that are recommended to avoid using it altogether. WebMD advises not to take yohimbe if you have any of the following pre-existing symptoms;
- Chest pain
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Low blood pressure
Taking yohimbe will make all of these much worse. The fact that Yohimbe can both cause and exacerbate anxiety means it is best avoided by just about everyone. Do not take any pre-workout supplement that contains this ingredient!
Another one that sounds innocent enough on the surface – what harm could orange do, right? Well we have already seen how much damage a bit of bark extract can do, so let’s take a closer look at bitter orange and see what we find out.
Firstly, there is almost no evidence at all that bitter orange improves exercise performance. In fact, evidence suggests that when combined with caffeine, bitter orange can cause heart arrythmia and increase the risk of anxiety.
The active ingredient, synephrine, has been linked closely with heart problems and is a banned substance under NCAA regulations. The effects of synephrine are very similar to ephedra, which was banned by the FDA back in 2004. Remember when we said that some pre-workouts walk a fine line between the legal and illegal? Bitter orange is one of the reasons why this is true.
Let’s just get this out there right away – we are not saying that caffeine is not safe. Most of us couldn’t get past 10am without a decent hit of this stuff. The problem with caffeine and pre-workouts is the serving size.
Your morning cup of coffee might contain between 80 and 120 milligrams of caffeine. Remember this is what you take first thing in the morning to start the day off right. A 12 ounce can of energy drink contains around 120mg of caffeine.
The strongest (legal) pre-workout supplements available generally contain anything from 350 to 500mg per serving. That’s like drinking 3 or 4 energy drinks back to back! Even the tamer pre-workout supplements contain upwards of 200mg per serving. Some people are extra-sensitive to caffeine too, so even these lower servings may cause issues.
The Mayo Clinic recommends that healthy adults consume no more than 400mg of caffeine per day. Using a pre-workout that has a high caffeine content could put you at risk of overdosing unless you’re willing to cut all other caffeine out of your diet.
One of the most common side-effects of too much caffeine is, you guessed it, anxiety. Add to this, symptoms like nausea, dizziness, irregular or rapid heartbeat and insomnia and you could be putting yourself at serious risk, especially if you like to hit the gym after work. Good luck getting any sleep at all with that much caffeine pumping through your system all night!
As with caffeine, it’s not so much that other stimulants commonly found in pre-workout supplements are bad in themselves, it is the dosage sizes that you should be careful of.
Whenever you are considering buying a new pre-workout, do yourself a favor and research the formula. Look at the ingredients list. Unless it is a proprietary blend (and our advice would be to avoid those!), you should be able to see what the ingredients are and in exactly what amounts they appear in the daily serving size.
Check out any unfamiliar ingredients online and be wary if you notice you are getting hundreds of times the recommend daily dose of something.
How can you stay safe?
Obviously, research is helpful, but if you want to be really safe then the best thing you can do for yourself is to stick to formulas that use only the best quality ingredients and as few stimulants as possible.
There are a few supplements out there that manage to provide a powerful cocktail of pre-workout goodness without relying on stimulants. These are the ones you want to get hold of as most of them should be safe for most people to use on a continuing basis with minimal side-effects.
We recommend choosing a pre-workout designed to be stimulant-free from the beginning, rather than one that simply removes the hardest-working part (the stimulant) and offers an inferior product.
Of course, everyone is different, and we recommend you consult a doctor before taking any supplement.
Below we’ll take a close look at one of the most outstanding stimulant-free pre-workout supplements.
The Safest & Most Effective Pre-Workout: Performance Lab Pre
Our top pick amongst the many stimulant-free pre-workout options available is Performance Lab SPORT Pre-Workout. Performance Lab stand out for their commitment to the highest quality ingredients that support the natural processes and rhythm of your body.
This formula does not contain caffeine or any of the potentially unsafe ingredients we looked at earlier – to help you avoid the risk of jitters altogether. We’ll take a quick look at all the elements of the formula and explain how they go together to create a powerful and safe pre-workout supplement.
Creatine (Creapure® pH10) (1250mg)
Generally considered to be one of the safest of all supplements, creatine has been used by athletes from all walks of life in just about every competitive sport there is. Decades of research support its safety and effectiveness. It is a natural compound that people can ingest from fish, meat and eggs.
It works by converting the by-products that are created when we use energy back into a state where they can be used to create energy again. When we lift weights or sprint or perform any explosive muscle action, our bodies convert ATP (adenosine triphosphate) into ADP (adenosine diphosphate), a process that produces energy. Creatine converts ADP back into ATP which increases energy levels and improves exercise performance.
Creapure® is the purest form of creatine you can get, which demonstrates Performance Lab’s commitment to quality and safety.
Setria® Performance Blend 2200mg
This is a proprietary blend that combines two of the most powerful nitrous oxide (NO) boosters, Setria® Glutathione and L-Citrulline to reduce fatigue during exercise and speed up recovery.
Setria® Glutathione is a natural antioxidant that helps to reduce damage caused to cells during exercise. This specific form of glutathione, produced via a patented process, is quickly absorbed into your body to provide protection during longer, harder workouts.
L-Citrulline is a naturally occurring amino acid that helps your body produce NO whilst also supporting creatine absorption. Having this in the formula alongside Creapure® Creatine effectively turbo-charges your body’s natural energy production process to propel your muscles through intense gym sessions.
Here we have another third-party ingredient in the formula. Like Setria® Performance Blend though, CarnoSyn® is a very high-quality product that is backed up by some compelling science. It is beta-alanine, a non-essential (meaning it occurs naturally in our bodies) amino acid that increases the level of carnosine in your muscles.
What is carnosine? Well, it’s a useful little molecule that prevents damage to brain and muscle tissue and improves athletic performance by reducing the build-up of lactic acid in the muscles.
CarnoSyn® is distributed by Natural Alternatives International, a global company with nearly forty years’ experience in researching and producing the very best nutritional supplements in the world.
Himalayan Pink Salt (350mg)
At first this might seem like a weird thing to include in a pre-workout formula – but this highly pure form of salt does have some interesting properties that make it worthy of a spot in the formula.
Sodium is important in keeping your body properly hydrated, supports muscular action and has even been linked with positive effects on the symptoms of depression. So, forget causing anxiety, this may actually help you feel less anxious and more relaxed during your workout!
Maritime Pine Bark Extract (100mg)
Very different to the yohimbe bark extract that we looked at earlier, maritime pine bark extract is generally considered to be very safe to use in doses more than 4 times what you get in Performance Lab SPORT Pre-Workout and has been shown to act as an antioxidant as well as increasing the production of NO which helps maintain healthy blood flow around your body.
Alongside the rest of the ingredients of SPORT Pre-Workout that offer cutting-edge nutrition from sometimes surprising sources, iron may seem like a bit of a dull thing to include. Not so, it is actually incredibly beneficial as a pre-workout supplement because iron is essential in ensuring your red blood cells are capable of transporting enough oxygen around your body to feed your muscles during a workout.
Getting enough iron in your system before a workout can help to reduce your heartrate and unlock your potential to push past previous best efforts as well as assist in the breakdown of carbohydrates to produce more energy.
Take more iron to pump more iron – makes sense really, doesn’t it?
When you have pre-workout supplements like this from Performance Lab’s SPORT range, it just doesn’t make sense to continue to rely on potentially damaging supplements that come loaded with stimulants and could leave you feeling anxious or even depressed.
No one goes to the gym because they want to walk out feeling anxious and not confident – in fact working out should have the exact opposite effect to that! You go to the gym to feel great about yourself, to work hard and reap the rewards. So, choose a supplement that will help you achieve that and not one that could leave you feeling anxious, depressed and doubting whether you should be working out at all.
Athletes and gym enthusiasts shouldn’t have to rely on short term rushes to boost them through their workouts, but that is what they have come to expect from many of the pre-workout supplements on the market today. We need more companies like Performance Lab to lead the way and offer natural, sustainable alternatives like Performance Lab SPORT Pre-Workout.