While looking for the best pre-workouts, you probably have encountered a wild mixture of insights about DMAA pre-workouts.
On the one hand, this metabolism-boosting stimulant can be dangerous and has been removed from many products.
On the other hand, serious lifters still seek it out because of its unique ability to boost athletic performance.
So, exactly what is a DMAA pre-workout? This article discusses the risks of using DMAA pre-workouts, then guides those seeking a DMAA pre-workout alternative.
What IS DMAA?
1,3-DMAA (1,3-Dimethylamylamine) is a synthetic nervous system stimulant with structural and effectual similarities to various compounds, most notably adrenaline, ephedrine, amphetamines, and caffeine, making it extremely popular with stim-junkies and various other gym-goers.
While similar and arguably more (or at least as) potent as some of the above, DMMA does not operate through the same mechanisms in the body as those do. However, we also don’t have a complete understanding of DMAA’s complex mechanism of action and its pharmacokinetics.
What we do know is that DMAA was first used as a nasal decongestant back in 1940s, and was used as such for several decades.
But due to its potent stimulant nature, DMAA has found its way into dietary supplement industry in the late 2000s and early 2010s. According to some sources, at the time, there were over 200 different supplements containing DMAA.
However, in 2012, the US military reported problems with DMAA as a pre-workout supplement, as it was linked to a fatal heart attack in service members.
It was subsequently not allowed in any part of the US military, and in 2013, the FDA warned against its use in pre-workout and weight-loss supplements.
Most companies complied, but the pre-workout and fat-loss supplement company USPlabs fought back until 2020, when it finally took its DMAA products off the market.
To this day, the USPlabs maintains that DMAA is a herbal supplement, geranium extract, but the FDA counterargues that it is an amphetamine derivative, not a dietary supplement.
As you can probably imagine from that, DMAA can still be found in various pre-workout and fat burner formulas around the world, even though it is banned in most places.
Now, while there is still a way to get your hands on DMAA, due to its structural resemblance to amphetamines, that could also be a one-way ticket to a false positive in drug test for amphetamines.
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Why Is It Used In Some Pre-Workouts?
DMAA-containing products are considered the strongest pre-workout formulas on the market. This is because DMAA works with caffeine and other ingredients to raise energy levels, improve physical performance, enhance fat oxidation, improve focus, etc.
Basically, it makes it easier to get through a harder workout.
Harder workouts, along with sufficient food and proper nutrition, lead to faster bodybuilding and better athletic performance.
That said, exactly what does DMAA do in pre-workout products? Why not just add more caffeine, since they have similar effects?
We don't know exactly, but seeing how DMAA's effects are comparable to those of ephedrine or adrenaline, it is safe to assume that the effects of DMAA "feel" a lot stronger compared to caffeine. It likely feels like you're a lot stronger than you actually are.
Users seem to like the duration and robustness of its effect, and most do not experience mood disruptions or severe side effects.
DMAA increases metabolic rate, so many have used this pre-workout as a weight loss supplement.
While many safely use a pre-workout with DMAA, no research suggests it is actually good for your health.
Common Side Effects When Using DMAA
There are several common side effects associated with DMAA use, and most of them revolve around cardiovascular system.
You see, as a central nervous system stimulant, DMAA works the body into an excited state. The heart rate increases, and the blood pressure rises as vessels tighten to expedite the delivery of blood to muscles.
If blood vessels become overly constricted, however, blood flow becomes compromised. According to the FDA, DMAA side effects include a tight sensation in the chest and difficulty catching breath.
As with other stimulants, you could find you have too much energy or are otherwise uncomfortable, to the point that you cannot focus on your intended activity. In such cases, you will likely feel anxious and jittery.
In more extreme cases, this effect can produce cardiovascular problems, like arrhythmias, systolic blood pressure increase, or even heart attack, which is what made it a banned pre-workout supplement ingredient in the first place.
The worst part is that there are reports of young adults using DMAA recreationally - often combined with the caffeine in energy drinks or as a party drug.
On the other hand, some might use DMAA alone or with other medications as an energy booster or a focus enhancer during midterms.
Of course, neither are examples of safe DMAA usage.
So, is DMAA bad for you? It's likely, but it also depends. Either way, it is not a form of nutrition, nor is it a supplement.
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What Are Some Safer Alternatives?
Yes, it is possible to get similar results with other supplements. Create your own pre-workout regiment with these powerful alternatives:
Consider non-stimulant pre-workout ingredients–vitamins, minerals, electrolytes, and amino acids.
Be aware of macronutrients–healthy fats, slow-release sugars, and high-quality protein–for healing, recovery, and long-term nutrition.
Also, remember antioxidants and natural anti-inflammatories.
It is arguably the most popular pre-workout performance enhancer, a famous central nervous system stimulant and the star ingredient of most pre-workouts (even those containing DMAA).
While generally viewed as a safe way to gain energy and focus, it, too can be dangerous at high doses.
Learn More - Pre-Workout Vs Caffeine Pills
Also known as p-synephrine, it is a naturally occurring compound in bitter orange; it has very similar effects (and side effects) to DMAA.
It naturally occurs in Kucha tea and Cupuacu (a South American tree).
A 2015 NIH research article suggested that Theacrine has a negligible effect on blood pressure and heart rate but still makes people feel like they can focus, work with more energy, and get happier–even outperforming caffeine in these areas.
It is hard to find scientific evidence, but many assert that cacao promotes weight-loss and enhanced performance, along with boosting mood.
This is usually attributed to the components of theobromine and caffeine. An added plus: cacao does not typically cause adverse blood pressure effects.
As with cacao, there is little hard science supporting the benefits of kola nuts.
However, like cacao, they contain caffeine and theobromine, which likely explains their effectiveness as an energy booster.
3 Things To Keep In Mind When Buying DMAA Pre-Workout
1. Thoroughly Examine Ingredient List
2. Avoid Proprietary Blends
Proprietary blends usually will not disclose ingredient proportions (supposedly to protect themselves from copycats).
The upshot is that you could be getting way more or way less of a given ingredient than you assumed.
3. Check Correct Dosages
When taking any substance to increase energy, there is always a temptation to overdo it–especially if you are going through a tough time physically or emotionally.
While DMAA 1,3 dimethylamylamine is not an illegal drug, it definitely creates some health risks.
So, if you still want to use DMAA pre-workouts–be careful: start small and work up gradually. Definitely cut back if you notice nausea, headaches, irregular heartbeat, or chest pain.
Bear in mind that many great athletes get through their workouts without anything containing DMAA. Some just have a cup of coffee or tea, amino acids, and vitamin supplements.
Learn More - What To Look For When Buying A Pre-Workout?
Frequently Asked DMAA Pre-Workout Questions
There is not much risk of becoming physically dependent on a DMAA pre-workout, but some people love the energizing effect enough for there to be some psychological addiction.
OxyELITE Pro and Jack3d, both from USP labs, are the most popular DMAA pre-workout and weight-loss supplements, respectively. Supposedly, they have been reformulated, but OxyELITE Pro’s formula shows “geranium extract.” Furthermore, Jack3d is on the market with DMHA (a similarly banned stimulant). So, possibly the company is not using appropriate DMAA pre-workout alternative substances.
Often, yes. Professional athletes have been disqualified for testing positive. Most athletic organizations do not allow DMAA pre-workout supplements. It usually will not cause a false positive on a test for a different drug, unless it is for another amphetamine derivative.
The US is one of several countries that have banned DMAA. "Illegal" is not its status, though. In fact, alternative terms for DMAA make it easier to keep it on the market. A 2021 NIH article describes some products that were caught recently. Jack3d still has a reputation as the best DMAA pre-workout, despite some uncertainty about its actual ingredients.
You can still buy DMAA pre-workout supplements; they are mostly safe with judicious use.
However, there are health (and other) risks that can be avoided by choosing from the variety of alternative supplements instead.
Be smart: Weigh risks and benefits; consider your short- and long-term goals; and, most of all, listen to your body, even when you are seriously pushing yourself.