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Can Pre-Workout Supplements Cause an Anxiety Attack?
What to Know

Isaac Robertson
Published by Isaac Robertson
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: September 15, 2021

Some situations, events, and conditions cause anxiety.

This is a normal feeling that everyone experiences sometimes. However, if possible, we all want to avoid feeling anxious.

After a client came to me with doubts that his pre-workouts were causing anxiety, I started researching the topic more.

I've talked with professional athletes and read anything I could get my hands on related to the topic, and here's what I've found.

How Can Pre-Workout Cause Anxiety?

An anxious woman thinking about something

It’s not that pre-workouts cause anxiety, but certain ingredients they contain can cause side effects.

I’ve already said, but it bears repeating: anxiety is normal, and everyone feels it at least sometimes.

If you’re a professional athlete, you’ll feel some anxiety from time to time, but even if you’re not, it’s bound to happen occasionally.

But, if you take a pre-workout supplement that makes you feel anxious, this can build up over time and become a problem.

Usually, it’s pre-workout supplements that rely on stimulants that are the issue.

Moreover, there are several ingredients you should watch out for. Once you discover which ingredient is causing your anxiety, you can avoid it in the future.

How to Avoid Anxiety in Pre-Workouts

A man holding his head with both arms

To avoid anxiety and side effects in pre-workouts, you should choose safe ingredients.

However, unless you’re a nutritionist, it’s not easy to know which ingredients to avoid and which ones are safe and contribute to your fitness goals.

Doing my research and consulting with experts, I’ve compiled a list of ingredients to watch out for and a list of ingredients that are good for you.

Let’s start with anxiety-causing ingredients.

4 Ingredients That May Cause Anxiety

1. Yohimbe Bark Extract

Close up image of a Yohambe Bark Extract spilled 3 pills

Apart from Yohimbe bark extract, this ingredient is also called Yohimbe and Yohimbine.

Yohimbe bark extract contains a very high amount of Yohimbine, which is a chemical, and it’s banned from anything being used as a supplement.

It’s considered a prescription drug in the US.

However, the FDA hasn't yet banned the Yohimbe Bark Extract, so it’s not illegal for supplement companies to add this ingredient to pre-workouts.

Yohimbe causes various side effects, such as:

  • Insomnia
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Seizures
  • Tremors
  • Heart attack
  • Anxiety

That’s not all. What’s even worse is that Yohimbe should be avoided by people suffering from these:

  • Anxiety
  • High and low blood pressure
  • Chest pain
  • Depression

Yohimbe will make these symptoms even worse.

Yohimbe not only exacerbates anxiety but causes it as well, so it’s best to avoid it in your pre-workout supplements. (1)

2. Caffeine

Coffee beans on a wooden spoon

I’m not saying caffeine is always bad. I’m the first one who wouldn’t function without my 10 am morning coffee hit.

The problem with caffeine and pre-workout supplements is in the dosage.

An average cup of coffee has between 80 to 120mg of caffeine, while an average 12oz energy drink has about 120mg of caffeine.

I’ve checked the available legal pre-workout supplements, and the strongest of them have between 350 to 500mg per serving.

This amounts to 3 or 4 energy drinks taken back to back.

Even the weaker pre-workouts have at least 200gm of caffeine. This means that for people who are very sensitive to caffeine, even the weaker supplements can cause a side effect.

The recommended dose of caffeine for a healthy adult is 400mg of caffeine per day. (2)

So, unless you’re willing to forgo that morning cup of coffee and all other coffee intakes during the day, using a pre-workout with a high caffeine content will mean taking the risk of caffeine overdose.

Caffeine side-effects include:

  • Anxiety
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Dizziness
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Nausea

If you’re prone to anxiety, I recommend sticking to a pre-workout supplement without caffeine or taking one whose caffeine dose is under 200gm per serving. In this way, you’ll still get the energy levels needed for a gym session, but without any anxiety problems.

3. Bitter Orange Extract

Sliced orange on a white background

Bitter orange is very common on the ingredient list of pre-workout supplements. Its main benefit is promoting fat loss.

The reason it’s added to a pre-workout is that it contains Synephrine, which is a stimulant.

However, Synephrine is a banned substance under the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) regulations, and it can cause heart problems, such as heart arrhythmia.

Moreover, because many pre-workout supplements also contain caffeine, there’s a high chance that taking bitter orange extract will increase your anxiety.

4. Other Stimulants

Different kind of supplements spilled outside a container

Taking too many stimulants can cause anxiety.

Think about how you feel when you drink too much coffee. Chances are your heart rate increases, and after, you feel tired.

The same thing goes for consuming a pre-workout with more than one stimulant.

This is why I recommend choosing an organic pre-workout that only has a few proven stimulants because it won’t cause anxiety.

My advice: when you’re buying a new pre-workout supplement, always check the table of contents at the back.

Avoid proprietary blends because you can never know what they contain, and check which ingredients are in the supplement, and most especially, check their serving size.

If there are any ingredients you aren’t familiar with, check online for any side effects they may have and the reviews of other users.

5 Supplements That Don’t Cause Anxiety

I’ve covered what you should avoid. Now let’s have a look at which supplements won’t cause anxiety.

1. BCAA

A small black container of BCAA

Branched-chain amino acid, or BCAA contains:

  • Leucine
  • Isoleucine
  • Valine

All of these are good for muscle growth. (3)

Leucine helps stimulate muscle protein synthesis, which is the muscle-making process. Good quality BCAAs will have a high dose of leucine for potency.

Isoleucine helps increase glucose uptake, and this restores glycogen stores. When glycogen stores are full, your body won’t steal energy from the muscle tissue.

Valine helps create muscles by synthesizing protein. Because this is an essential amino acid,  the body can start building once it’s in your bloodstream.

“BCAAs are of interest to those who want to build muscle because of their role in protein synthesis and turnover and energy regulation. BCAAs also play a role in glucose metabolism and immune and brain function." - Ashley Leone, sports dietician 

As for the BCAA and anxiety, a study done on 3000 adults found that a higher intake of BCAA reduces the chances of anxiety and depression.

We can conclude that BCAA is one of the supplements that’s good for the body.

See the best BCAA brands

2. L-Citrulline

L-Citrulline on a plain white container

L-citrulline is another amino acid but non-essential. However, it can be essential for your training.

L-citrulline helps the exercise performance by increasing the blood flow.

The kidneys change L-citrulline into L-arginine and nitric oxide.

Research showed that L-arginine helps reduce anxiety symptoms, so if you suffer from anxiety attacks, you’re safe with taking L-citrulline as a pre-workout.

Apart from lessening the possibility of an anxiety attack, L-citrulline helps with nitric oxide production in the body.

Nitric oxide helps improve the blood flow and relaxes the arteries, which help treat and prevent some diseases, such as high blood pressure.

We recommend you to check out the best pre-workouts for vascularity since they contain lots of L-Citruline among other pump-increasing ingredients.

3. Creatine Monohydrate

A bottle of Creatine with dumb bells on its side

Creatine gives you fuel for a gym workout session.

It’s good for:

  • Improving strength
  • Increasing lean muscle mass
  • Helping the muscles recover more quickly when you exercise

Creatine also helps the possibility of achieving bursts of speed and energy and have better performance, especially during some of the high-intensity activities, such as weight lifting and sprinting.

When it comes to creatine and anxiety, studies done on people who have posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and people battling depression found that they benefited and had better gym performance when taking creatine.

See the best creatine supplements.

4. Beta-Alanine

A spilled supplement from a white bottle container

This is another amino acid, but non-essential.

The body uses it to produce carnosine, which is stored in the skeletal muscles and helps achieve better athletic performance.

Its benefits include:

  • Increases time to exhaustion — Different studies found that it helps exercise for extended periods of time.
  • Benefits Shorter-Duration Exercises — Because muscle acidosis limits high-intensity exercises, it helps achieve better work results during high-intensity and short-duration exercises.
  • Increases muscle endurance — Boosts training volume for a bit and improves strength.

Most importantly, this supplement has an anti-anxiety effect. Studies found that it achieves this effect by increasing BDNF levels, which is the growth factor in the central nervous system.

What’s more, studies found that this supplement helps improve mood in general. (4)

5. Niacin

Pouring different supplements on someone's hand

Niacin is another name for Vitamin B3, and you can take it through food such as beets, fish, peanuts, eggs, and milk.

You should make sure to take enough niacin, as its deficiency can lead to depression and anxiety in a person’s life. (5)

You can try over-the-counter niacin supplements or take more of the food that’s rich in vitamin B.

A word of caution: I recommend taking niacin with caution.

Some of its side effects include:

  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diabetes
  • Liver damage

However, if you don’t have any existing medical problems, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t try niacin.

Can Pre-Workout Supplements Cause Anxiety? The Verdict

Yes, pre-workout supplements may cause anxiety depending on the ingredients.

This is why you should choose supplements that are healthy and won't give you anxiety.

Always check the supplement’s formulas, and research if there are any ingredients you aren’t familiar with.

If you notice you have more frequent anxiety attacks, stop using the pre-workout for a while or switch to another.

If you have some experience with pre-workouts and anxiety, let me know your experience and opinion on the topic in the comments below.


References:

  1. https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-759/yohimbe
  2. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/caffeine
  3. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/benefits-of-bcaa
  4. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00726-015-1952-y
  5. https://www.healthline.com/health/niacin-for-depression#causes

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