Do you know what’s in your pre-workout supplement?

Today it isn’t unusual for anyone from bodybuilders to once a week gym goers (like me) to seek a little extra help when working out. And for most people that extra edge seems to come in the form of powdered, concentrated supplements. So taking something that claims to help boost your energy and extend your endurance seem just like a dream come true, right? But it has been of great controversy in the news recently as reports of soldiers dying after consuming pre-workout supplements raise questions about health risks associated with usage. So just how safe are these workout enhancers exactly?

Throughout bodybuilding forums it is common to see that many strength trainers use these pre-workout enhancer supplements daily, if not more often. For some, it has given them the edge they need to do that extra rep or run the extra mile. Most pre-workout supplements on the market today typically contain the following ingredients:

  • Caffeine – A stimulant that is often used for a temporary energy boost, increase in fat burning, and greater muscle endurance. Studies have shown that an overdose can lead to blood toxicity and death.
  • Creatine – A nitrogenous acid that is synthesized in the liver and kidney, this naturally occurring compound allows for greater muscle growth, stamina, and fat loss. Long-term usage has been linked to abdominal pain and kidney failure.
  • β-Alanine – An amino acid that allows for improvement in physical stamina and delay of muscle fatigue. No undesirable side effects were noted from extended use.
  • L-Arginine – An amino acid that increases nitrogen oxide production which permits greater tolerance for high-intensity workouts and the ability to sustain longer muscle contractions.

When taken as directed and in moderate dosage, most of the aforementioned ingredients can have positive ergogenic effects. They are generally found to be naturally occurring in everyday food sources except for one substance in particular:

  • 1,3-Dimethylamylamine (DMAA) – An amphetamine related substance that was found to be contained in the products Jack3d and OxyElite Pro. DMAA increases the body’s ability to sustain energy and improve stamina with fatigue over long periods of time. Overuse has been linked to death and liver failure.

While taking this non-FDA approved supplement, a few bodybuilders have had their careers ended from drug tests that were reported positive for DMAA. This additive has been linked to heart attack and stroke and has consequently been banned in many countries.

There have been warnings issued by the FDA about adverse effects reported in association with pre-workout supplements include gastrointestinal symptoms, cardiac arrhythmia, hypertension, and potential effects on blood glucose. Although the FDA dispatches warnings about many supplements, it does not regulate or test products marketed as dietary supplements before allowing them to be sold to consumers. The New York Times states two soldiers died while performing routine health examinations with 1,3-Dimethylamylamine present in their autopsy reports.

Despite these reports, a few studies performed on athletic, collegiate-aged men and women indicated that certain pre-workout supplements could have a positive effect on muscle growth and endurance. As these supplements were taken as directed, there were no adverse effects pertaining specifically to heart, kidney, or liver function. One research study even revealed that creatine use in combination with caffeine can have ergogenic effects.

With all of the newly emerging data on studies performed pertaining to pre-workout supplements, it is entirely up to the user if these supplements are worth the possible associated health risks. Most workout enhancing products have not been tested or FDA approved to ensure the safety of use. However, research has shown that, when taken as directed, certain pre-workout supplements can have amazing benefits obtained without excessive side effects. So is the extra advantage in your workout worth your liver or maybe even your life? As always it is best to consult your doctor before taking any type of supplements, especially as part of a regiment. But for me, as enticing as limitless amounts of energy sounds, I think I’ll just be sticking to my cup of coffee every morning.


  1. Efficacy and safety of ingredients found in preworkout supplements – American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy
  2. Ingesting a preworkout supplement containing caffeine, creatine, β-alanine, amino acids, and B vitamins for 28 days is both safe and efficacious in recreationally active men Research Journal
  3. The effects of a pre-workout supplement containing caffeine, creatine, and amino acids during three weeks of high-intensity exercise on aerobic and anaerobic performance – Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition
  4. Caffeine and Creatine Use in Sport – Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism
  5. Army Studies Workout Supplements After Deaths – The New York Times
  6. Role of beta-alanine supplementation on muscle carnosine and exercise performance – Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise
  7. Acute l-arginine supplementation reduces the O2 cost of moderate-intensity exercise and enhances high-intensity exercise tolerance – Journal of Applied Physiology
  8. Feature: Revealing the hidden dangers of dietary supplements – American Association for the Advancement of Science
  9. DMAA in Dietary Supplements – US Food and Drug Administration

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