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Fact checked by Andrew Lenau, ISSA CPT & Sports NutritionistFACT CHECKED
Updated On: October 06, 2023
Pre-workout is obviously taken "pre" your "workout." It's a pretty self-explanatory name for a supplement. However, the question arises: can you take it every day? Twice a day? What about if you're just feeling tired?
One of the cruel facts of life is that anything we do that makes us feel better eventually loses its efficacy when we do it too much. We drink too much, and we have to drink more. We work out too much and get less and less return.
Therefore, the real question is if pre-workout can lose efficacy and if there are dangers to taking too much. In this article, we're going to go over what you need to know about how often you should take pre-workout.
Table of Contents:
Pre-workout is a general branch of nutritional supplements that are meant to be taken before a workout (again, hence the "pre"). Its function is to provide energy and focus to help improve a lifter's workout session.
There is no set formula as each brand contains different ingredients as well as different doses.
An awesome pre-workout can greatly improve your workout and increase the effectiveness of your training. It's one of the most used supplements on the market as it has been shown to be very effective for building lean muscle mass through increased output.
That said, you could sabotage its efficacy by overusing it.
Due to its efficacy, individuals will usually take it before every session and even sometimes when they're not working out. This issue is at the heart of this paper.
As mentioned above, different pre-workout supplements can contain a number of different ingredients as well as different doses. Therefore, it's up to you to check the ingredient label to see what exactly is in your brand. However, there are a few different types of ingredients found in every (or many) pre-workout supplements.
If you are going to suffer adverse effects from taking a pre-workout, it's likely going to come from stimulants found in your pre-workout. A general explanation of a stimulant is a compound that acts on the central nervous system to "stimulate" specific physiological issues. For example, a stimulant can cause your heart rate to increase as well as cause general excitement.
The most popular stimulant, without doubt, is caffeine which is also a highly effective ergogenic aid. While caffeine can cause jitters, you can still take a large amount without causing any serious harm.
At the same time, if you take too much too often, your body can build a general tolerance for the drug meaning you will need to take higher doses to get a similar effect.
Nitric oxide boosters are a group of supplements that work in the body to produce more nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is a compound that acts as a blood vessel dilator which means it opens up your blood vessels. This allows more blood flow which can increase performance by allowing more blood flow to the muscles.
Typical beneficial effects are more energy, the ability to produce more work volume as well as decreasing the build-up of fatigue. Further, nitric oxide boosters can increase vascularity and increase one's pump due to the added blood flow. Granted, this pump is mostly a transient effect and likely has little long-term benefit, but it is pretty cool (and produces sick pics for social media)
For the most part, nitric oxide boosters are largely safe and rarely produce any sort of negative effect.
Muscle buffers are various compounds that work through different physiological systems to maintain a neutral pH balance in the muscles. Common ingredients are beta-alanine and sodium bicarbonate. Similar to nitric oxide boosters, these are generally safe to take.
The only exception you need to be careful with is beta-alanine, as it is notorious for causing the uncomfortable sensations of itchiness and tingles on the skin. Still, this is mainly harmless unless it makes you want to bash your head into a wall to make the itching stop.
To be clear, this is not a complete analysis of every ingredient in a pre-workout supplement (you can read about that here). However, it can give you a general idea of how a pre-workout works, as well as the type of ingredients you need to watch out for. If there is an ingredient that is going to cause serious problems, it will be a stimulant as it can cause the heart rate to exceed safe levels. But remember, this is in very high numbers, but if you are worried, choose a pre-workout low in stimulants (or a stim-free pre-workout), or you can just start with a lower dose.
As the adage goes, anything can be dangerous, and that goes for pre-workouts too. That being said, it's very unlikely that you would ever die or have any serious adverse effects. For example, it has been suggested that you would need to take up to 10g of caffeine before it turns deadly. For comparison, you would have to drink about 100 cups of coffee back-to-back to get 10 grams of caffeine.
In fact, we only know of one unfortunate event where a young lifter died. He was taking pure anhydrous caffeine powder and measured incorrectly taking too much.
That being said, we know that there are other dangerous side effects that can occur other than dying, but you would really have to try to hurt yourself and take a lot to experience a severe reaction.
Still, if you are new to performance pre-workout supplements, you should definitely start with half a dose to see how your body responds. Further, especially to start, you should avoid taking pre-workout on an empty stomach.
While you're almost certain to not die from pre-workout supplementation, you could experience some unpleasant side effects from caffeine intake such as:
As we went over above, unless you are very sensitive to caffeine or any type of stimulant, you shouldn't have any issues assuming you take the prescribed amount.
Note: If you are taking very high doses of caffeine every day, and then you stop, it could lead to some caffeine withdrawal symptoms. So, you need to also consider pre-workout intake with your daily caffeine intake from coffee too.
So now we've come to the real answer to this problem, how often should you take pre-workout. To answer this question, we are going to combine any sort of health risks and efficacy issues that may arise when taking pre-workout too often.
Unless you're taking it in exorbitant amounts often, there likely isn't going to be any real serious health issue (NOTE: We really need to emphasize that you definitely can hurt yourself if you do take too much, but this would need to be a ton).
That being said, you want to do your best to preserve the efficacy of your pre-workout. This means that you should take as little pre-workout as possible. In other words, if you're feeling good and you don't really need any pre-workout, don't take it. Or, perhaps you can take a half scoop. Actually, if you are already feeling good, there is a good chance that pre-workout won't even provide that much benefit. Plus, the less you take will increase its efficacy, meaning you will get a stronger and longer-lasting effect from smaller doses.
Another effective way to ensure your pre-workout remains effective is to cycle off pre workout - i.e. use it for a month, then take a week or a couple weeks off. You by no means HAVE to do this. It's just a good way to ensure your tolerance remains low so that when you do take pre-workout, it packs a serious punch. Plus, it'll save you money and it'll give your adrenal glands a little break.
There is also absolutely no reason to take pre-workout on rest days. If you really need a pre-workout to get work done, you probably need to check your diet or sleep as you really shouldn't be needing it.
In all honesty, we know people who take pre-workout before every workout, without fail, and they are perfectly fine and very fit. Taking a break from pre-workout here and there is just a good rule of thumb.
Taking pre-workout for every workout, or even when you don't work out, will eventually decrease the positive benefits that you once enjoyed so much as your body will become acclimated to it.
Further, you can put yourself at risk of using pre-workout products as a crutch rather than a booster. A good portion of guys who use pre-workout have gone through a period where they had to have pre-workout or they just wouldn't go to the gym. Being dependent on anything is never healthy.
The good thing is that there's really no reason to ever have to worry about any adverse effects from most pre-workout supplements. All you have to do is use pre-workout only when you need it. Here are some tips for taking pre-workout supplements or any energy drink.
That being said, just be smart with how and when you take pre-workout. If you’re a smart lifter, a nice pre-workout could be one of the most effective supplements to give your athletic performance, muscle growth, and strength an extra boost. Just make sure you're using your supplements frequently enough to avoid having your pre workout go bad!
Related: How Long Does Pre-Workout Last?
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February 20, 2024
February 20, 2024
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