Can Pre-Workout Kill You? (Here’s What You Need To Know)

There is a lot of focus on dietary and nutritional supplements these days. Everything from pre-workouts to energy powders and drinks claim to give you mental focus and increase your workout capabilities.

Many are tempted to speed up the results by taking far more than the recommended daily serving sizes. But the real question is how much harm can this cause? Can a pre-workout kill you?

In this review, we look at all of the possible causes and factors that lead to the answer being yes.

Let us start off by saying that death from high-quality pre-workouts is very unlikely.

You have to go out of your way to do any long-term harm to yourself, just as with any other supplement, vitamin, or food.

However, there are some health risks because of the interactions with natural body compounds, amino acids, and blood oxygen levels.

As with any dietary aid, even if you are in peak physical health, there will be some danger.

Can Pre-Workout Kill You? (Here’s What You Need To Know)

Likewise, if you know you have certain medical conditions, you should always talk to your doctor before beginning any supplementation regimen.

Caffeine Overdose

Caffeine is a stimulant that increases heart rate, improves blood flow, and provides mental alertness. Like most stimulants, though, it must be taken in moderation.

Caffeine affects everyone differently, so you must be cautious about your intake levels. Some people are hypersensitive (highly affected), and others are hyposensitive (almost no effect). Regardless of how it makes you feel, you should still limit your daily intake to 400mg or less.

To put this in perspective, a single cup of coffee contains about 90 mg of caffeine. Most quality pre-workout mixes (like C4 pre-workout) contain about 150 to 300 mg per serving. This means if you are one that wakes up to a cup of coffee, has another cup on the way to work, and then takes one scoop of a pre-workout with high caffeine levels before your workout, you may already be over 400 mg.

However, too much can be a problem. Some studies find that an overdose can lead to heart palpitations, high blood pressure, and even cardiac arrest. Taking a pre-workout on top of other caffeine sources may put your caffeine tolerance too high and cause major issues.

While it is rare, it does happen. Reports of teenagers going into cardiac arrest or having a full-blown heart attack are linked to energy drinks and too much caffeine.

To avoid an overdose, you need to know how much you are taking at one time as well as throughout an entire day. As long as you stay below the 400 mg recommended limit, you should be fine. Studies show that more than 5g can be fatal. [1]

Related Article - How Much Caffeine Is In My Pre-Workout?

Dry Scooping Leading To Choking Or Heart Attack

One of the newer trends is to take your pre-workout without mixing it with water. A term called dry scooping, this can cause a lot of problems, and it is highly recommended that you do not follow this trend.

The biggest concern with dry scooping is that the powder mix can congeal in your mouth or throat and become lodged, blocking air passage. You can easily choke on the powder with no way to get it down or back out. You may cough and sneeze, or you could faint and eventually suffocate.

Dry scooping has no advantages and only comes with potential disadvantages. It is easily avoided, and to remain safe, as well as ensure you get the full benefits of your pre-workout, always mix with proper amounts of water.

dry scooping pre-workout

What Happens If You Take Too Much Pre-Workout?

As we mentioned before, if you take too much of a pre-workout powder, you will have some side effects. You can feel anxious, become jittery or even experience a small rash and tingling sensations known as a niacin flush.

All of these symptoms are temporary and will subside in a few minutes. You can also take the mix with more water to help dilute it further or take less than the serving suggestion until your body is acclimated to the ingredients.

Taking too much, though, may have negative short-term and long-term consequences, which we look at below.

Learn More - What To Do If You Take Too Much Pre-Workout?


Negative Short-Term Side Effects Of Some Pre-Workouts

Even if you follow the recommended dosage amounts, pre-workout consumption over the long term can have some powerful side effects.

Adrenal fatigue

Known as HPA-Dysfunction, or HPA-D, stress on the adrenal glands can lead to adrenal fatigue. This is a central nervous system dysfunction that can leave you feeling exhausted, having a cloudy mind, or experiencing rapid mood swings. [2]

Insomnia

There is little doubt that caffeine can lead to sleepless nights and tossing and turning until you do finally fall asleep. Sleep is one of the crucial elements of a proper workout routine, including a proper diet and monitoring your calories.

With a stimulant like caffeine in such high doses within a single scoop or pre-workout, you may find yourself staying awake far longer than you want.

On average, caffeine has a half-life of about 5 hours. With high-intensity workouts, though, you can cut this down to about 2 hours. Hypersensitive people, though, may feel the stimulating effects of the drug up to 9 hours later. If you take the pre-workout late in the day, it can affect your sleeping habits.

Read More - Does Pre-Workout Keep You Awake At Night?

Headache

Headaches are one of the most common side effects reported with these supplements. Caffeine is a reason, but other ingredients list headache as a side effect, too.

Whey protein is known for causing headaches. So are other ingredients like arginine, L-citrulline, and even creatine.

Because these ingredients cause vasodilation, or the opening of small blood vessels, these vessels expand and contract. Blocking or sudden rushes of blood to your brain can trigger a headache or migraine.

Dehydration

Taking these workout supplements can cause frequent urination. If you do not drink water, you may also find yourself with gastrointestinal distress that can lead to diarrhea. Combined with the frequent trips to the bathroom, you may experience dehydration.

Replenishing bodily fluids, electrolytes, and of course, just water, will help combat these symptoms.

Skin Rash and Paresthesia

Beta-alanine and niacin are both known to cause vasodilation, flushing of the skin around the face, extremities and back, as well as a burning or tingling sensation. While these side effects are typically mild and only last a few minutes, they can be cause for concern in some individuals.

Known as Paresthesia, the tingling or burning sensation along with the splotchy rash can become long-term and take longer to disappear. To avoid this, you want to use a pre-workout with low levels of beta-alanine or niacin, and remember to cycle pre-workout ingestion.

Also Check Out - Why Does Pre-Workout Make Me Itchy?

headache from taking pre-workout

Negative Long-Term Effects Of Pre-Workouts

Your workouts, fitness goals, and weight loss concerns may push you to reach that next level of performance. Using a pre-workout to help you obtain those goals is typically fine. However, with repeated, long-term usage, there can be some nasty, negative long-term side effects.

Risk of Cardiovascular Disorders

Heart disease lives on the dark side of the pre-workout debate. The leading cause of this is due to higher doses of caffeine and other stimulants to get you motivated to perform.

Whether you exercise daily or once a week, you can take too much caffeine, and that little extra boost may lead to long-term heart conditions.

Increasing blood pressure or causing irregular heartbeats may lead to a heart attack, especially for those sensitive to caffeine or who already have coronary disease risks.

Risk of Liver Damage

Most pre-workout brands will tell you what ingredients are included (as they are required by law to do so). However, they aren’t required to always tell you exactly how much of an ingredient is used. Known as proprietary blends, their manufacturing process and exact recipe are protected.

However, if you can't monitor the amount of niacin you ingest, you can easily overdose—tolerable limits of niacin fall between 30 and 50 mg per day. Anything higher can lead to liver failure, acute hepatitis, and even diminished liver function.

To note, many brands have 15 to 25 mg of niacin per serving, which is already near the daily limit. If you double your single serving size or take in a manner not recommended, you can easily reach or surpass the tolerable daily limit.

Digestive Issues

Having to stop your gym session and run to the bathroom isn’t part of your plan. While it may happen from time to time, it shouldn’t happen because of your pre-workouts.

High levels of niacin, as well as creatine, L-arginine, and other additives, can cause major cramping, upset stomach, diarrhea, and make it dangerous to work out.

Learn More - Why Does Pre-Workout Make You Poop?

Psychological Dangers

Another often overlooked aspect is the addiction side of things. These supplements are on the market and advertised to help you gain performance and muscle in the gym. Once you take pre-workouts and feel the effects or have a single great gym session, you may want more. [3]

Over time, you can come to rely on the pre-workouts to give you that boost, and you may not be able to perform without taking pre-workout. In some cases, highly addictive personalities have been known to stop their workout and take another scoop.

Pre-workout supplements are designed to be taken once a day and only on days you go to the gym. It is also advised that you run a pre-workout supplement cycle, taking a few weeks off to let the product flush completely from your system before starting again.

Along with getting enough sleep, drinking lots of water and avoiding fatty foods (while increasing proteins and carbohydrates) will only help you feel better, perform higher, and become less dependent on dangerous substances that might kill you.

See Also - Can You Get Addicted To Pre-Workout?

man drinking pre-workout from a shaker bottle

How Much Caffeine Is Safe To Drink?

Caffeine consumption is a hot topic and will be a debate for years to come. The simple answer, though, is that there is a recommended limit for daily intake. What the supplement industry may not want you to know is that there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.

Like an energy drink, coffee, tea, and other drinks already contain a lot of caffeine. And while your daily caffeine intake may start out minimal, the effects wear down over time, requiring you to take more.

To stay within the recommended dosage of 400 mg or less per day, you need to closely monitor your intake levels. [4] A single cup of coffee contains about 90 mg; your pre-workouts can have as much as 300 mg.

That irregular heartbeat may tell you it is working, but if caffeine content levels are too high, it can kill you.


Common Pre-Workout Danger Questions

Are pre-workout supplements bad for your heart?

Those susceptible to caffeine or with a pre-existing heart condition may experience life-threatening levels of the substance. Not all pre-workouts include banned ingredients, but caffeine, while not a banned substance, is commonplace in almost all brands.

Along with nitric oxide, caffeine can lead to severe coronary disease, if you are predisposed, and it can kill you.

How old should you be to take pre-workout supplements?

Anyone can head to the local market and buy pre-workouts. This doesn't mean that anyone of any age should ingest them. While the FDA doesn't regulate supplements, vitamins and minerals too much, it is recommended that only adults of legal age in their area (typically 18) take supplements for their exercise routines.

Learn More - Is Pre-Workout Safe For Teens?

Can pre-workout cause your energy levels to crash quicker?

Pre-workouts have an effect on the body, and high stimulation comes with a crash. However, because you are hitting the gym and performing vigorous exercises, the crash isn't as strong or as noticeable.

However, once the ingredients are flushed from the body or diluted enough, you can crash faster than if you weren't on them in the first place.


Conclusion

Your pre-workouts should stay pre-workout. Taking them once a day and only on days you have workouts scheduled will be plenty. Most of the ingredients are safe to consume daily and even in moderate levels.

Avoid banned substances, eat a healthy diet, and get plenty of sleep. Leave the pre-workouts on a cycle and only take them when your body needs them, and you will see the long-term benefits without the long-term side effects.

References:

1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15935584/

2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3860380/

3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4500887/

4. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/how-much-caffeine-is-too-much/

Last Updated on September 5, 2022