Have you ever wondered if taking pre-workout before your gym sessions really helps? And if so, what does pre-workout feel like?
As a licensed nutritionist and personal trainer, it’s a question I get asked a lot. So, I decided to write a definitive guide on the matter and answer related questions that often come up.
The impact of pre-workout supplements can vary depending on the specific ingredients and how your body reacts to them. They’re designed to increase blood flow and alertness, which can give you a boost of energy, focus, and even some tingly sensations during your workout. However, some people might experience unwanted side effects such as itching, jitters, or headaches.
For a closer look at these side effects, keep reading!
Table of Contents
What Does Pre-Workout Feel Like? Common Sensations & Reactions
Pre-workout supplements can create several distinct physical sensations, both during exercise and afterward. Here are some of the most common feelings caused by these performance-enhancing formulas.
A common effect of pre-workout is a tingling or prickly feeling on the skin. This sensation is caused primarily by the ingredient beta-alanine. When metabolized, beta-alanine forms carnosine, which reduces fatigue during intense exercise by limiting acid build-up in muscles.
The influx of carnosine can over-stimulate nerve endings in some users, resulting in tingling and pins-and-needles sensations. Although harmless, the feeling can be uncomfortable for those sensitive to beta-alanine.
In addition to tingling, feelings of itchiness are another common side effect of pre-workout supplements. As with tingling, beta-alanine is typically the source of irritating itchiness.
For some users, the prickling sensation from beta-alanine can progress into uncomfortable itching and skin irritation. The itching stems from heightened sensitivity and histamine release in response to high levels of carnosine formed from beta-alanine intake.
Since beta-alanine is a staple ingredient in most pre-workout blends, itching and tingling often go hand-in-hand. While harmless, the dual sensations can be annoying.
Many pre-workout supplements contain stimulants like caffeine to increase energy, focus, and motivation during training.
While moderate doses of caffeine can boost alertness and concentration, excessive amounts often cause jittery side effects like restlessness, uneasiness, and discomfort. Highly stimulatory formulas with large doses of caffeine can over-activate the nervous system, leading to feelings of being over-caffeinated and wired.
The fine line between an optimized energy boost and the jitters comes down to the right caffeine dosage for your body and avoiding untested stimulant blends.
While pre-workouts aim to increase blood flow for better performance, they can also trigger headaches in some users. Certain potent formulas create a rapid rise in circulation, including to the brain. This sudden surge of blood flow to the head causes discomfort, pressure, and pain for those sensitive to rapid changes in blood pressure.
Specifically, the brain may struggle to adapt to the abrupt influx of oxygen and nutrients that come with highly stimulating pre-workouts.
Starting with lower doses and avoiding untested proprietary blends can help prevent headaches in those prone to this side effect.
Muscle Pump Feeling
Pre-workout ingredients increase blood flow and oxygen delivery to muscles. This rapid swelling creates the “pump” sensation, often called a muscle pump— muscles feel larger and more defined, even at rest.
While motivating, the muscle pump effect is temporary and subsides after training. Specifically, it results from enhanced blood flow, not actual muscle growth, which requires hard work over time.
The Role of Beta-Alanine and Carnosine
Beta-alanine is one of the most common and expected ingredients in pre-workout products. This compound can delay or hamper the development of lactic acid in your muscles. Less lactic acid means you don’t feel as tired or exhausted when performing physical work or exercising.
It also produces carnosine in the body. Carnosine is another compound that helps your body deal with feelings of tiredness or fatigue. It’s known for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
However, these ingredients also have strong properties that cause noticeable reactions and effects in the body. In pre-workout products, these effects often include itching or jittery feelings.
Why Carnosine Causes Tingling and Itching
Carnosine is a chemical naturally produced by the body to regulate pH and support physiological processes.
However, it can provoke abnormal responses in some people. Individuals with sensitivities to certain compounds may experience reactions when their bodies generate or consume carnosine.
The unfamiliarity triggers a response that manifests as tingling or itching sensations.
While carnosine is generally useful, it can also potently stimulate nerves in sensitive individuals. The potent effects on the body underlie the tingling and itching carnosine may temporarily cause in these individuals.
How Beta-Alanine Enhances Athletic Performance
Beta-alanine has multiple effects on your body that translate to better physical performance.
Countering Acidic pH Levels
Beta-alanine leads to the creation of carnosine. Usually, carnosine should be present in your tissues for proper health and pH balance. So, a healthy dose of carnosine allows your body to balance its acidic content even as you workout and strain your muscles toward growth.
Beta-alanine can also help fight physical exhaustion, even when your body goes through exertion and exercise.
Your tissues produce lactic acid whenever the muscles undergo physical strain or stress in the form of exercise. Beta-alanine counters this acidic content and helps delay the immediate effects of tiredness.
Therefore, supplementing with beta-alanine allows you to train harder and longer before fatigue sets in, enhancing your workout capacity and intensity.
Building Muscular Potential
Beta-alanine enhances the “muscle pump” effect, providing a prolonged pumped sensation during workouts. This pumped feeling results from increased blood and oxygen flow to working muscles.
Although temporary, repeated exposure to these pumped conditions triggers anabolic signaling that promotes muscle growth.
Over time, your muscles adapt to achieve a pumped, engorged appearance even at rest. Beta-alanine supplements help sustain the pumped state to spur these favorable muscular adaptations. Your muscles develop greater size and definition as if pumped all the time.
When combined with other common pre-workout ingredients like caffeine, beta-alanine can provide a synergistic effect, giving you even greater energy and stamina during your workouts. This extra boost enables you to push past prior limitations in your training.
For example, if you normally struggle through 3 sets of 10 reps of an exercise, beta-alanine may give you the endurance to complete 5 sets instead. Or add additional cardio time without hitting that wall of fatigue as quickly.
Alternatives for a Different Pre-Workout Experience
Beta-alanine offers a host of benefits as a pre-workout boost. However, the associated side effects and discomforts of itching or tingling can be unpleasant.
So, finding products that can offer the same benefits without the uncomfortable symptoms of beta-alanine can be crucial to your use of pre-workouts.
L-citrulline offers a natural pre-workout alternative to beta-alanine that enhances performance without side effects.
The amino acid L-citrulline promotes proper blood and oxygen circulation in the body. Therefore, it provides comparable benefits to beta-alanine, including greater endurance and stamina during exercise.
However, L-citrulline does this without causing unpleasant tingling or itchy skin sensations. By widening blood vessels and clearing ammonia, L-citrulline boosts workout capacity and energy, minus the drawbacks linked to beta-alanine.
Opting for Citrulline to Avoid Discomfort
Products like L-citrulline work well because they don’t rely only on the production of carnosine to delay fatigue or depend on temporary “muscle pump” sensations.
Instead, L-citrulline creates additional amino acids that balance your blood’s composition without harsh discomforts or side effects.
L-arginine is the go-to pre-workout for many athletes and bodybuilders who want genuine, lean mass without the hassles of artificial enhancements.
L-arginine is also another amino acid that your body uses to carry out physiological development and muscle growth. Weightlifters or those looking to gain impressive mass may enjoy this pre-workout.
Most users experience improved blood circulation and a boost to immunity as additional benefits.
L-arginine is an amino acid that, when taken as a supplement, can enhance athletic performance and support muscle growth through natural mechanisms.
Unlike synthetic pre-workouts that provide a jolt via caffeine or cause side effects like beta-alanine, L-arginine works by giving your body the raw materials it needs to optimize biological processes.
Specifically, L-arginine boosts nitric oxide levels in the body, which allows for greater oxygen and nutrient delivery to working muscles during exercise.
With more fuel to power through intense training, you can push harder and lift heavier without hitting fatigue as quickly.
Opting for Arginine to Avoid Discomfort
L-arginine also aids protein synthesis post-workout, facilitating faster recovery and lean muscle gains over time.
So, rather than overstimulating the body, L-arginine enables it to perform at its peak through optimal circulation and nitrogen balance.
Athletes looking for safe, natural performance enhancement can benefit from this amino acid supplement.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do You Feel Pre-Workout Right Away?
Some pre-workouts with high concentrations of caffeine may energize you right away. However, others operate more subtly, taking time to process and cycle its effects through your body.
Does Pre-Workout Give You A Buzz?
Pre-workouts can provide a stimulant buzz from ingredients like caffeine. However, taking excessive doses may cause disorientation or unhealthy effects. It’s best to stick to recommended servings.
How Long Does The Pre-Workout Feeling Last?
The effects of pre-workout supplements typically last 1-2 hours. However, the exact duration depends on the specific formula and your response. Some users feel the benefits for less than an hour, while higher doses may last up to 3-4 hours. Optimal timing is taking pre-workout 30-45 minutes before your workout.
What Does A Crash After Pre-Workout Feel Like?
Excessive reliance on pre-workouts gets your body running on borrowed energy and endurance. So, you feel even more drained and exhausted when the effects truly wear off.
The effect of pre-workouts differs depending on the person and the dosage taken. However, the ingredients remain the key elements that determine how they react and how your body responds.
I hope you’ve found some valuable answers and insights into the question, ”What does pre-workout feel like?”
Remember to select pre-workouts with the right products and take them at the recommended dosage and frequency to get the best results!