Does Pre-Workout Cause Anxiety? (How They Relate)

So, you’ve decided to take pre-workout supplements, but instead of improved focus and energy, you end up with a racing heart and jitters.

With high quantities of caffeine (like that found in many pre-workouts), it's not uncommon to experience increased heart rate, restlessness, anxiety, and other side effects.[1]

By selecting pre-workout supplements with ingredients that work for you, you can boost the positive side effects and reduce the negative ones.

This guide will show you exactly how, so don’t go anywhere!

The vast majority of reputable pre-workout supplements include high quantities of caffeine, along with various other ingredients.

The combination of them - or even just the caffeine - can cause symptoms of anxiety. Here are the common side effects of pre-workouts:

  • Jitters
  • Increased Heart Rate
  • Nervousness
  • Sweating
  • Difficulty Breathing
  • Restlessness
man ready to take pre-workout

Pre-Workout Ingredients That May Contribute To Your Anxiousness

Yohimbe Bark Extract

You may see it referred to as Yombimbe bark extract, Yohimbe, or Yohimbine. Used to help improve gym performance, weight loss, and even treat high blood pressure, Yohimbe bark extract does have its own set of benefits.

The ingredient increases blood flow and is used to boost mood as well. However, it can also cause chest pain, racing heart, and headaches.[2

Caffeine

Often used as the main ingredient in pre-workout supplements, it’s no surprise that most of the most popular brands include high caffeine content.

It’s not only used to increase focus and boost energy levels, but it has also been shown to help improve mental alertness and memory, reduce body fat, reduce fatigue, and improve athletic performance.

How Much Caffeine? As much as 200 or 350 mg (or even more) per serving! 

To put that in perspective, there’s around 80 to 100 mg of caffeine in a cup of coffee. Energy drinks have around 120 mg per 12 oz can.

At these high quantities, you could experience racing heart rate, dizziness, nausea, headaches, jitters, sweaty palms, anxiety, and even a full-blown panic attack. Sleep problems are not uncommon either, especially when taken within 5 hours or less before bedtime.

Bitter Orange Extract

Native to Asia, bitter orange and its extract are prevalent in Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat digestive issues and symptoms of dysentery. Also known as Citrus Aurantium, other parts of the world have used it to treat anxiety and epilepsy.

However, bitter orange has found its way into many pre-workout supplements due to containing an active ingredient called synephrine, which is very similar to ephedra. In 2004, ephedra was banned due to its dangerous side effects.

Synephrine is also considered a banned substance by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and many other associations.[3] This is because of its potential to cause irregular heartbeat and other heart complications.

You’ll see bitter orange extract in many pre-workout supplements due to synephrine’s ability to suppress appetite, increase caloric expenditure, and boost thermogenesis, which can help promote fat loss.

Other Stimulants

It’s no secret that consuming large quantities of stimulants can cause you to feel anxious. Has there been a time when you’ve accidentally drank too much coffee?

At some point, the energy and focus the coffee provided you with hits a limit, and you start feeling distracted, shaky, nauseous, and other anxiety symptoms. A similar situation occurs when you consume a pre-workout supplement with more than one stimulant.


How To Treat Pre-Workout Anxiety? (Simple Steps)

Stay Hydrated

If you’re dealing with anxiety caused by an energy drink or pre-workout supplement, the best thing you can do is drink water. Consuming high amounts of stimulants can cause anxiety issues, but drinking water will decrease their effects within a short period of time.

While it’s not a rule, staying hydrated can stop pre-workout anxiety in its tracks. If you’re dehydrated, you may notice that the effects of the pre-workout actually increase.

Don't go overboard with drinking water, though. A good rule of thumb is to drink two glasses of water for each cup of pre-workout you've consumed.

man in orange sweater staying hydrated at local park

Exercise Everyday

If you’re taking a pre-workout and not exercising, you’re setting yourself up for a pre-workout anxiety attack! 

After all, these supplements are designed to help you push through intense athletic sessions and count on your body utilizing these certain ingredients to maximize performance.

They’re not designed to be taken when in a sedentary state. In any case, the increased levels of these ingredients could cause negative effects, like anxiety. Physical activity is known to combat these feelings, which can bring you to a healthy state. 

Stretch and Meditate

If you've taken a pre-workout supplement and it's causing anxiety, sitting still can feel overwhelming. It can even trigger your fight or flight response, sending you into a panicked state. If you can, the best thing to do in this case would be to stretch or meditate.

Relaxing the mind and body are equally important. Stretching can feel great to the muscle tissue, and if you've already consumed pre-workouts, it can create a notably strong mind-muscle connection.

Aside from that, active stretching can improve your range of motion and decrease muscle tension and tightness.

Drink Herbal Drinks

If taking pre-workouts can cause anxiety, drinking chamomile tea can cause calmness. Even a single morning cup can help neutralize the effects of caffeine and other stimulants.

In addition, it can help reduce inflammation, help promote relaxation, lower blood sugar, and many other positive benefits.


How To Avoid Anxiety In Pre-Workouts?

First, it’s important to identify and acknowledge the root of your anxiety.

Many times, it's high caffeine consumption or the combination of that, along with anxious thoughts. So if you're already dealing with anxiety or a panic disorder, opt for low caffeine pre-workouts or avoid pre-workout altogether.

Sometimes we expect too much of ourselves at the gym or compare ourselves to others. By setting small goals for yourself and building up those successes over time, you'll start feeling more confident and less stressed.

If you don’t feel comfortable working out in front of others, try staying active on your own. If you have the space at home, try in-place jogging, bodyweight squats, push-ups, and tricep dips to get that metabolism running. Walking is also a great fat-burner and is wonderful for the cardiovascular system.

Many gymgoers feel the need to do a certain exercise, machine, or routine because their workout buddy or fitness influencer told them to. Instead, try a physical activity you enjoy doing! A nice yoga session or a picturesque jog outdoors can really improve mental health.


Supplements That Don’t Cause Anxiety

BCAA

Branched-chain amino acids,  often abbreviated as BCAA, contain leucine, isoleucine, and valine. They've been shown to help improve muscle strength and mass while decreasing muscle fatigue and soreness.

They also help metabolize glucose, improve immune and brain function, and even help reduce the chance of anxiety attacks and depression!

You’ll likely see improved exercise performance, thanks to optimized workout recovery. If your muscles aren’t sore, you’re likely to have a better workout.

Learn More About: BCAAs Vs Pre-Workouts (Key Differences & Which Is Better)

L-Citrulline

Yet another amino acid, this one is non-essential but is great to take as a pre-workout before a gym session. It can help increase blood flow while relaxing the arteries. This can help reduce the chance of developing high blood pressure while improving the pump during lifting!

Not only that, but L-citrulline converts into L-arginine and nitric acid once consumed. The former helps reduce anxiety, while the latter aids with nitric oxide production.

Ultimately, if you’re looking for natural ingredients to help with vascularity, L-citrulline should be at the top of your list.

Creatine Monohydrate

Creatine is a fantastic supplement to take as a pre-workout! Taking creatine can help improve raw strength, lean muscle mass, and muscle recovery and can even help deliver bursts of speed and energy during high-intensity exercises.

So if you're trying to reach your fitness goals, creatine is a supplement that can help you get there.

These side effects stem from the way creatine helps produce ATP, which is our cells’ most basic form of energy. If you’re a weight lifter or sprinter, the benefits are obvious. Did you know it’s been suggested that creatine can even help those dealing with PTSD or depression?

The only negative side effect that's been reported from taking it is short-term water retention.

Related Article: Creatine Vs Pre-Workout: Which Is Best For Lifting?

Beta-Alanine

We bring you yet again another non-essential amino acid - this time in the form of beta-alanine. It’s found in many pre-workout supplements and natural food products, like meat and fish. Our bodies use it to help synthesize the dipeptide carnosine.

Carnosine functions as a buffer against the onset of lactic acid, essentially reducing muscle fatigue while improving muscle endurance and recovery. If you’re looking to add lean muscle mass, it can also be a valuable tool.

Aside from muscle-related benefits, BA also has antioxidant, immune-enhancing, and anti-aging properties. It also works by boosting BDNF levels, which are crucial to a healthy central nervous system. Evidence suggests this not only yields anti-anxiety effects but also helps improve overall mood.[4]

shirtless man with headphones taking pre-workout at gym

Niacin

Also known as vitamin B3, niacin is crucial for our bodies to function properly. You can get it naturally through beets, fish, peanuts, eggs, milk, and other foods.

It's commonly found in pre-workout supplements, as it promotes vascularity, a better pump, quickened muscle recovery, and improved metabolism.

Symptoms of a niacin deficiency include fatigue, depression, anxiety, digestive upset, rashes, and much more. As you can see, you probably don’t want to be low on niacin - especially if you’re already dealing with anxiety problems!

However, taking too much can also cause some negative side effects. For healthy adults taking the recommended dose, the most you should experience is a temporary tingling sensation.

If you do have health conditions, you could experience more serious side effects such as rapid heart rate and nausea, among others.


Frequent Pre-Workout & Anxiety Questions

Why do people get anxiety before the gym?

There are many reasons why. Pre-workouts can cause anxiety - particularly if it's one of those proprietary blends. However, there are many people who go stimulant free and still experience anxiety.

Perhaps they are comparing themselves to others or aren't comfortable exercising in a public place. There are many potential root causes.

Can caffeine sensitivity have an impact on a person’s pre-workout anxiety?

Absolutely! Stimulants can cause blood pressure and heart rate to increase, which are actually symptoms of anxiety.

What are the recommended treatments for curbing anxiety?

Online therapy is a great tool, no matter who you are. Having someone to talk about things with is important - especially a professional who can give you ways to better cope with anxiety.

Weighted blankets offer a feeling of security and can let you fall asleep faster and have better-quality sleep. Amber light therapy can help boost melatonin production, further helping you sleep better.

Can I safely take a pre-workout every day?

In many cases, yes. However, it’s important to take things slow and see how you react first. You may also develop a tolerance to pre-workouts if you take them every day.

How long does pre-workout anxiety usually last?
How long does it take for exercise to help reduce anxiety?

It can help in as little as 10 to 15 minutes!


Conclusion

So, can pre-workout supplements cause anxiety? That is a resounding "yes"! The key is to avoid potentially-damaging supplements and instead use supplements that will improve your health. Who knows, you may even find a pre-workout that doesn't give you anxiety at all!

However, you now know that there are plenty of supplements that can help you achieve your goals that aren't pre-workouts. We recommend trying those and customizing your workout routine so that you look forward to working out!

References:

1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12519715/
2. https://www.health.harvard.edu/vitamins-and-supplements/in-the-journals-yohimbe-supplements-found-to-be-dangerously-strong
3. https://www.ncaa.org/sports/2015/6/10/ncaa-banned-substances.aspx
4. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00726-015-1952-y

Last Updated on September 29, 2022