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Could a Pre-Workout Keep You Awake?
Everything You Should Know

Isaac Robertson
Published by Isaac Robertson
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: September 16, 2021

As a fitness trainer, I've witnessed the increasing popularity of pre-workouts.

It's no wonder people love using them. They help you reach your fitness goals and give you the much-needed energy to power through strenuous workouts.

But as great as they are, these supplements can still cause some side effects.

And one of which is: will taking pre-workouts keep me awake?

Let’s find out.

Will Pre-Workouts Keep Me Awake?

man struggling to sleep seated on bed

Yes, there’s a chance the pre-workouts you’re taking might cause insomnia.

And this is no joke. Besides leaving you exhausted, it can also affect your gains.

But why does this happen?

Pre-workout supplements are usually packed with caffeine that boosts your energy levels and helps you get through your workout.

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Everyone knows that caffeine keeps you awake, but did you know that it also activates epinephrine and norepinephrine [1]?

You might know these hormones by their other name — fight or flight hormones. They keep you wired as they course through your system.

The half-life of caffeine is how long its effects last, usually between three and five hours.

However, your genetics play a significant role in how quickly your organism will metabolize it.

It's common knowledge that almost everyone will have trouble falling asleep and sleeping if they take a caffeine-packed pre-workout supplement before a late-night workout.

But if your body is slow at metabolizing it, you won't have enough time to clear it out of your system as quickly, so you'll have sleeping issues.

Even taking it at lunchtime could affect your sleep if your body is slow at metabolizing it.

Why You Can't Sleep After Taking Pre-Workouts

woman facing the ceiling while laying down awake

If you have trouble sleeping after taking a pre-workout supplement, the blend is most likely packed with stimulants.

About 20 minutes after taking a stim-packed supplement, the blend hijacks your nervous system to help you power through the exercise program and get the results you're aiming for.

And caffeine isn't the only culprit here.

Most of the pre-workout ingredients will power your workout, but they'll most likely cause insomnia, as well.

Next, let’s talk about these ingredients.

6 Main Ingredients in Pre-Workouts

Caffeine is one of the most common ingredients in pre-workout supplements, but a pre-workout is only as good as the ingredients it contains.

You should always go for high-quality pre-workout supplements that’ll give you the best effects.

They should be packed with top-notch nutrient-rich ingredients, such as:

1. Caffeine

coffee beans inside a small brown sack

Caffeine is an incredible stimulant and the base for all stimulant pre-workout supplements.

Numerous research has proven that caffeine is excellent for boosting your athletic performance.

The most important conclusions researchers have come to are that:

  • Taking an average of 150–200 mg of caffeine will improve the one-rep maximum in a group of weightlifters during bench press lifts and squats.
  • Taking 5 mg of caffeine for every 2.2 lbs of body weight will allow athletes to train harder and longer (or until fatigue).
    This is a high amount, for sure, but researchers have gotten similar results in studies using lower doses, too.

But why is caffeine so effective? During its half-life, caffeine affects your body in several ways:

  • It stimulates the central nervous system
  • Causes the body to release adrenaline, and
  • Banishes fatigue temporarily.

Moreover, it also increases your metabolism and helps you burn more calories during your workout. Caffeine also increases fat oxidation, which enables you to burn off more fat during a workout.

2. L-Theanine

close up image of a green tea leaf

Too much caffeine can leave you feeling irritable and wired, and l-theanine will help you combat these side effects.

The substance can be typically found in tea leaves, but some species of mushrooms also contain it.

L-theanine is an amino acid known for promoting the feelings of calmness and relaxation [2] and stimulating the release of relaxation chemical GABA.

The main aim of L-theanine is to channel the energy of caffeine where you need it most.

It shows caffeine the route to your cells to cause max gains.

Research reveals that L-theanine improves sleep quality, sports performance while promoting a more positive mood and feelings of overall well-being.

3. Creatine

white powder getting scooped from a pink container

When it comes to high-quality pre-workout supplements, creatine is one of the main ingredients.

Nothing beats this supplement for developing bar-crushing strength and power, and building lean muscle mass.

Creatine provides you with these incredible benefits by boosting ATP synthesis, which are the molecules your body needs to make energy.

The more creatine a pre-workout has, the more high-power energy it'll give you.

Taking creatine before your workout will help you:

  • Reduce hydrogen, lactic, and pyruvic acid build-up
  • Get more maximal energy
  • Banish fatigue
  • Build muscle mass, power, and strength
  • Reduce myostatin levels, which is the compound that inhibits muscle growth [3]

Research supports these claims and shows how powerful creatine is for athletes. It provides them with higher anabolic growth and improves their overall performance.

4. Citrulline Malate

opened container spilling white pills on a table

Pre-workout supplements are also great for pumping up your muscles and helping you look swell.

Citrulline malate is the ingredient responsible for that effect.

It's an amino acid that triggers nitric oxide production.

High nitric oxide levels in your blood flow will provide your body with more oxygen, which results in your muscles getting more nutrients.

Pre-workout supplements rich in citrulline malate will supercharge not only your endurance and power production, but they'll also increase protein synthesis, which will give you a more jacked muscle mass.

As the nitric oxygen levels in your body increase, your blood vessels dilate, resulting in those well-known post-workout pumps.

Citrulline malate has a higher absorption rate than other nutrients, which means that you can get greater gains with smaller doses.

5. Maca Root

close up image of a freshly cropped maca root

Maca is a herbal supplement from Peru, known for its numerous health benefits.

But did you know that it also promotes aerobic performance and boosts your brainpower?

Go for a pre-workout supplement that contains maca to get the most out of your exercise.

6. Synephrine

medicine kit with different supplement pills

Synephrine is a molecule very similar to ephedrine and DMAA.

This common stim pre-workout ingredient is the active ingredient in Bitter Orange.

Scientists have discovered that it could enhance fat burning and boost your metabolism.

Moreover, it works incredibly well with caffeine.

However, as great it might be, this ingredient stimulates the heart, which could possibly be unsafe when used for weight loss.

So, the best thing would be to consult your physician before using a pre-workout that contains synephrine, just to be sure.

How To Avoid Insomnia When Taking Pre-Workouts?

hand view of a man checking his wrist watch, man holding a cup of coffee

Take Sleep Supplements

sleep calm

To avoid insomnia when taking pre-workouts, take sleep supplements.

Sleep supplements do not just help you fall asleep faster but they also improve the quality of your sleep.

You will wake up feeling refreshed in the morning by providing the deep rest and recovery that your body needs.

I recommend Sleep + Calm because it has L-Theanine, which has been clinically shown to promote relaxation without drowsiness.

Avoid Supplements that are High in Caffeine

The best way to not mess up your sleep cycle is to avoid caffeine-packed pre-workout supplements.

Yes, I said that caffeine isn’t the only culprit for your pre-workout-caused insomnia, but it’s the main one.

The substance takes some 20–30 minutes to peak in your bloodstream, but it can take anywhere from four to six hours for you to get it out of your system.

Time Your Workouts Right

You should take your pre-workout around 30 minutes before your gym time, and if it messes up your sleep schedule, then it’s best to work out at a time when you can use that extra energy from the stimulating ingredients.

Let’s say you take a pre-workout at 8 pm and hit the gym. It’ll still be in your systems hours later — until about 2 am.

"Keep in mind that having too much caffeine can have serious side effects. You can experience things like a racing heart, tingling, high blood pressure, GI issues and even nausea." - Kate Patton, MEd, RD, CCSD, LD.

Of course, you don't have to use a caffeine-packed supplement. You could try a stim-free pre-workout or change the timing if you decide to keep the stim-packed supplement in your routine.

Should You Use Stim or Stim-Free Pre-Workouts?

man with two handfuls of pills

The decision depends entirely on you. Stim pre-workouts will give you better results and more “bang,” but they may also cause insomnia.

You don’t have to give up on caffeine-based pre-workout. Yes, stim-free supplements are good, but they’re not as good as the regular pre-workout.

The main thing with high-quality caffeine-free pre-workout supplements is that they provide you with that burst of energy caffeine typically gives.

But, they don’t have that “bang” most athletes are looking for.

So, if you decide to stick to the regular supplement with stimulants, don't take them late at night but a couple of hours before sleep.

Researchers conducted a study where they gave the participants 400 mg of caffeine before bedtime, three and six hours beforehand. As you can guess, the group that took caffeine closer to bedtime had insomnia or disrupted sleep.

3 Common Ingredients in Stim-Free Pre-Workouts

spoon filled with white powder and white pills scattered

If you decide that risking insomnia for swell muscles isn’t worth it and that you’d rather take supplements free from stimulants and have a good night of sleep, you should know the most common ingredients used for these supplements:

1. Creatine

No, this isn't a mistake. Creatine is common in stim and stim-free pre-workouts. The reason for this is simple — because it's so helpful!

As I mentioned, creatine boosts power, strength and enhances muscle growth, but it also fights fatigue and increases your energy.

2. BCAAs

Branched-chain amino acids, or BCAAs, are added to non-stim pre-workouts for the wrong reason — increasing the muscle protein synthesis.

Now, BCAAs are excellent for this purpose, but only if your dietary protein is low. However, what people aren’t aware of is that BCAAs are fantastic for reducing fatigue without the added stimulation. They can help you push through those extra couple of reps while working out tired.

3. Beta-Alanine

Beta-alanine is a non-stimulant that can help you fight fatigue, increase your power, and increase your muscular endurance. Moreover, it could also help you a little bit with fat loss.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, stim pre-workouts are much more efficient than non-stim, but they carry some consequences.

However, if you decide on a stim pre-workout, you should limit the caffeine intake to 300 mg to get a faster half-life and take the supplement as early in the day as possible, but still within 30 minutes before your workout, to get the best results and a good night of sleep.

If you're looking for other pre-workout recommendations, we recommend you to check out:

What's your experience with pre-workout? What time of the day do you take it? If you take it at night, did you ever experience sleep problems?

Share your experience in the comments!

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References:

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1356551/
  2. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324120#benefits
  3. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/10-benefits-of-creatine#:~:text=Additionally%2C%20some%20research%20indicates%20that,increased%20muscle%20growth%20and%20size.

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