how long

How Long Does a Pre-Workout Last? All You Need to Know

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Multi-ingredient pre-workouts appear to be relatively safe (6).

However, pre-workouts contain multiple ingredients that can potentially be harmful if you consume them in excess.

Here are some potential risks of pre-workouts.

Caffeine toxicity

Caffeine can be harmful and even fatal when consumed in excess. When consuming caffeine in a traditional way, such as by drinking coffee or tea, it’s difficult to reach a fatal dose due to the volume of liquid you would need to consume.

However, consuming concentrated powders like pre-workouts that contain high doses of caffeine makes it far easier to consume massive amounts. Thus, these products pose a greater risk than caffeinated drinks.

Individuals who consume multiple caffeinated beverages in addition to pre-workouts may be at risk of a caffeine overdose. People with lower body weights may be more at risk.

One 2019 study looked at consumption habits and negative effects of pre-workouts. Most people surveyed said they took one serving with each use, but 14% took two or more servings. Eighteen percent said they took pre-workouts more than once per day (7).

In the same study, 54% of people who consumed pre-workout supplements reported the following side effects (7):

  • skin reactions
  • heart abnormalities
  • nausea

Females were more likely to experience these side effects, as were people who consumed two or more servings of pre-workout per day.

The heart abnormalities and nausea are associated with the high caffeine intake, while niacin causes flushing in the skin. The magnitude of these effects increases with the dose.

One review of studies in humans found that fatal doses of caffeine tended to be 5 grams or more but were as low as 3 grams in some cases (8).

Pre-workouts tend to contain 250-400 mg of caffeine per serving (7).

To reach a 3-gram dose of caffeine with a pre-workout that contained a high dose of 400 mg of caffeine per serving, you would have to consume only 7.5 servings of pre-workout.

While this is quite a bit more pre-workout than most people would consume, it’s easily possible for a person to take this much in a day. That’s why it’s important to moderate your intake.

Niacin toxicity

At high doses, niacin can cause serious reactions, including (9):

  • dangerously low blood pressure
  • liver damage that can result in liver failure
  • multiple organ failure

Research suggests liver damage happens at niacin doses of around 3 grams per day (9).

Taking much lower doses of niacin — around 30 mg per day — can induce a harmless but uncomfortable condition called niacin flush (9).

This condition causes your skin to become red and itchy and feel warm. It normally goes away within about an hour (9).

Some of the top pre-workout supplements contain 25.8 mg of niacin on average and may contain up to about 41 mg. Thus, it’s possible you might experience niacin flush after taking one serving of pre-workout (1).

To know how much niacin you’re actually taking, check the amount per serving listed on the label of the product, and make sure to take the recommended serving size.

Other safety concerns

Scientists have not studied the long-term safety of taking pre-workout supplements, so it’s not known whether these supplements have harmful long-term effects.

Furthermore, additional ingredients may have different side effects or may increase the side effects of caffeine. That’s why it’s difficult to generalize about the safety of all pre-workout supplements.

Some supplements may even contain banned or harmful ingredients. That’s because, in the United States, pre-workouts are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Supplement manufacturers in the United States don’t have to test ingredients for safety before adding them to a product. Unless an ingredient is specifically banned or forbidden, companies can add it to dietary supplements with little oversight.

Additionally, as long as companies don’t claim that a supplement treats, cures, or prevents a specific illness, they can make any claims they want about the effectiveness of the product.

Thus, it’s really a case of “buyer beware” with pre-workouts and other supplements.

May contain substances banned in professional sports

Banned substances may be a safety issue. Additionally, if you compete in a sport that requires testing for performance-enhancing drugs, it’s important to know that taking some pre-workout products may get you disqualified.

In the past, athletes have tested positive for banned substances after ingesting trace amounts when they took supplements that purported to contain unrelated ingredients.

For example, a study in 2013 found the banned stimulant N,α-diethyl-phenylethylamine (N,α-DEPEA), a methamphetamine analog, in a pre-workout supplement called Craze (10).

In this relatively high profile example, several athletes were disqualified from competition after testing positive for the banned stimulant, ultimately resulting in the analysis and detection of this substance in the pre-workout formula.

A 2020 analysis of 17 supplement brands found several banned substances in various amounts and combinations in the different supplements (11).

Among the substances detected in this analysis were the following prohibited stimulants:

  • deterenol
  • phenpromethamine
  • beta-methylethylamine
  • octodrine

The presence of these banned substances in pre-workout supplements is worrisome, and it’s difficult to say whether the inclusion of these ingredients was intentional or accidental.

Even more concerning is the lack of data around the short- and long-term effects of combining multiple stimulants in varying amounts that aren’t disclosed on the label.

Although these substances are banned, U.S. supplement companies are not legally required to publish test results for these substances, and it’s up to the consumer to ensure a pre-workout supplement has been third-party tested.

These substances have unknown health consequences and, at the very least, can lead to a serious hassle in the short term as coaches and athletes try to prove that a positive drug test was unintentional and caused by tainted supplements.

If you’re a competitive athlete, consider going the extra mile to ensure you get a pre-workout product that has been tested by a third party.

Safety guidelines

If you choose to take a pre-workout supplement, here are a few ways to make it safer:

  • Don’t consume more than a single serving per day.
  • Avoid consuming other supplements containing caffeine or niacin if you plan to take a pre-workout the same day.
  • Look for products that have been tested by a third-party organization, such as Labdoor or Eurofins Scientific.
  • Make sure every ingredient is listed, including the exact amount per serving.
  • Research each ingredient to verify what it is and find out any possible side effects or risks.
  • Avoid pre-workouts with so-called proprietary blends that don’t specify how many grams of each ingredient a single serving contains.
  • Always stick to a single dose of whatever pre-workout you take — half a dose if you’re on the smaller side. This is especially important when you’re trying a pre-workout formula for the first time.
  • If you’re taking medication or have any medical conditions, talk with a doctor about whether a pre-workout is safe for you. It may be helpful to show them the ingredients list of the specific pre-workout you’re interested in.

Summary

Most pre-workouts appear to be safe, but taking more than one dose per day may have side effects or pose health risks from some ingredients. If you choose to take one, stick to one serving and choose a product that’s third-party verified.

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