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Why Do Pre-Workouts Give You the Jitters? The Science Behind Stimulants

Why Do Pre-Workouts Give You the Jitters? The Science Behind Stimulants

April 11, 2024

Why Do Pre-Workouts Give You the Jitters? The Science Behind Stimulants

By Ryan C. 


Should you be taking a stimulant pre-workout supplement or a non-stimulant pre-workout supplement? Know the ingredients in your pre-workout.

Table of Contents


Do You Need a Pre-Workout Supplement?

After more than two decades in the field of health and fitness, I have experienced quite a number of gym fanatics who must have a pre-workout supplement before lifting one weight or taking one step on the treadmill. They need the extra jolt of energy to get them psyched up about their upcoming workout. 

There is plenty of science behind how pre-workout supplements can provide you with substantial gains at the gym. If you have a few days to kill and want to read research studies about pre-workouts, there are plenty out there to look over.

For instance, a small study was performed on a pre-workout whose main energy-boosting ingredient was caffeine. For those who ingested the pre-workout, they showed an improvement in endurance and mean power over those who took one of those tricky placebos. 


Caffeine not only provides energy, but it is the number one nootropic used throughout the world. Nootropics are considered “smart drugs”. They increase focus, learning ability, and memory. It is easy to see how being able to focus more in the gym with a boost of adrenaline from a pre-workout could provide you with serious benefits. 

However, not all pre-workouts are created equal. 

Pre-workouts are generally safe to consume, even on an almost daily basis, but you should keep an idea in your head about how much you should consume at one time. Too much will leave you feeling like your heart is about ready to explode and a leg that won’t stop bouncing. But the right amount will give you that added jolt needed to stay awake, focused, and ready to tackle any workout. Find a pre-workout that will last long enough to fuel your training session by using the right ingredients.  


What Causes Pre-Workout Jitters?

Man wiping face after workout

We’ve all been there. It might not have been in the gym per se, but it has happened to all of us. 

At some point, you have drank too much coffee, too many caffeinated sodas, hit the Red Bulls too hard, or like Jessie from Saved By The Bell, taken a couple of caffeine pills and have gotten the shakes. The jitters. Your hands start to shake and tremble, heart rate goes up a bit, and maybe you get an anxious feeling as well. Plus, when it is time for bed, you might lie awake for an extra hour or two.

It's a common phenomenon, and it's rooted in the science of stimulants.

Stimulants are substances that rev up your central nervous system, increasing alertness, heart rate, and energy levels. Caffeine is perhaps the most well-known stimulant, but there are others like green tea extract, ginseng, and even certain B vitamins. These ingredients work by blocking the action of adenosine, a neurotransmitter that promotes relaxation and drowsiness. By inhibiting adenosine, stimulants keep you feeling awake and alert.

However, the same mechanisms that make stimulants effective at boosting energy can also lead to unwanted side effects, including the notorious jitters. When you consume a pre-workout containing stimulants, your body responds by releasing stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones trigger the "fight or flight" response, preparing your body for action. While this can be beneficial during exercise, it can also manifest as feelings of nervousness, restlessness, and tremors.

Furthermore, stimulants can increase the release of neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine, which are associated with mood and arousal. While this can enhance focus and motivation, it can also contribute to feelings of anxiety and agitation, especially in sensitive individuals.

It's important to note that individual responses to stimulants can vary widely. Factors like genetics, tolerance, and sensitivity can influence how your body reacts to these compounds. Some people may be more prone to experiencing jitters, while others may tolerate stimulants with ease.

In summary, the jitters associated with certain pre-workout supplements are a result of the stimulating effects of ingredients like caffeine and other compounds. Understanding the science behind stimulants can help you make informed decisions about pre-workout supplementation and choose products that align with your individual preferences and tolerance levels.


Do all Pre-Workouts Give You The Jitters? Stim-Free Pre-Workout Supplements

When considering pre-workout supplementation, it's crucial to understand the distinction between stimulant and non-stimulant options. While stimulants can provide a significant energy boost and enhance workout performance for many individuals, they may not be suitable for everyone. Non-stimulant alternatives offer a gentler approach, providing sustained energy without the risk of jitteriness or other side effects.

Non Stim Pre-Workout

Non-stimulant pre-workouts, or otherwise known as non-stim pre-workout to those wanting to feel hip, are pre-workout supplements without the caffeine that still will give you an extra boost in the gym. You may not feel that immediate jolt of electricity in your body after consuming one, but you can also say goodbye to the jitters.  

Many of these non-stim workout supplements contain nitric oxide. Nitric oxide will increase how quickly your blood flow flows through your body. By enhancing circulation, nitric oxide supplementation can lead to several performance benefits, including increased oxygen delivery to muscles, improved nutrient uptake, and enhanced endurance. And for men, more blood flow in the body will also have added benefits in the bedroom (if you are interested in that sort of thing). It is the same science behind Cialis and Viagra. In fact, a personal tale of mine from the weight room, there was a time when almost every guy I trained with took low doses of Cialis as a pre-workout supplement. With that in mind, I always hesitated in having any of them spot me on the bench press.

One of the primary advantages of non-stim pre-workouts is their ability to provide sustained energy without the rollercoaster ride associated with caffeine consumption. Rather than experiencing a rapid spike in energy followed by a crash, users can enjoy a more gradual and consistent increase in vitality throughout their workout session.

Additionally, non-stimulant pre-workouts are often favored by individuals who prioritize cardiovascular health or have concerns about excessive caffeine intake. By bypassing the stimulating effects of caffeine, these supplements offer a gentler option for those with sensitive cardiovascular systems or pre-existing medical conditions.

For athletes looking to optimize their performance without the jitters, stimulant free pre-workout presents a compelling alternative. With their focus on promoting enhanced blood flow, sustained energy levels, and the inclusion of other energy-boosting ingredients, these formulations offer a smoother and more predictable pre-workout experience.


Ingredients to Look For in a Caffeine-Free Pre-Workout

beet roots on a table

There are plenty of other key ingredients you should be looking for when reading the back of the bottle of your pre-workout. Here are a few of the more important ones where research has dictated that they will indeed help you maximize your effort in the gym. 


Creatine will allow you to go longer and harder in the gym. After a couple of weeks of taking it, you should notice the improvements. It will increase your endurance and strength. It is safe to use and your body produces a supply of it naturally. A little extra through supplementation is a good thing. Your muscles will take that creatine and store it until it is needed for energy. 

If your pre-workout does not have creatine, don’t fret. Plain creatine powder is very inexpensive. You can almost get a year’s supply for about 30 dollars. 


This is one ingredient you do not hear mention enough when discussing supplementation. Beetroot not only has been shown to maintain healthy blood pressure (discuss with your doctor if needed), but the nitrates have been linked with enhanced oxygen uptake and improved athletic performance. Basically, to break it down, it will help you train harder and reduce fatigue before it sets in. As an added bonus, beetroot is packed with antioxidants and is also an antitumor food. 


Another ingredient technically classified as a nootropic that positively affects alertness, focus, and energy. EnXtra is unique in that according to studies, this study enXtra was used with and without added caffeine, it increases alertness and promotes calmness. Plus, it doesn’t disturb sleep patterns. 

Ginseng Powder

Ginseng has been touted for decades to be beneficial for a person’s overall health. It has been said it can reduce stress, strengthen the immune system, improve mental cognitive abilities and help with diabetes.

Furthermore, it has been extremely beneficial for those who physically feel weak and tired on a chronic basis. With this in mind, it is easy to see why it should be in your pre-workout. Many gym rats will experience routine fatigue if they are training hard enough day in and day out. Supplementing with ginseng powder in your pre-workout could stave off some of these issues. 

Vitamin B12

Your body does not produce vitamin B12 on its own, so modifying your diet to make sure you absorb enough of it should be a priority if you have any deficiency symptoms. If you are constantly feeling lightheaded, weak, tired, have shortness of breath, gut problems, and even mood, you could be lacking vitamin B12. You should talk to a doctor if you are concerned and exhibiting these symptoms. 

B vitamins in general, niacin included, ensure cells are firing on all cylinders (including brain cells dealing with mental focus). They will also improve metabolism by converting food into energy. Check to see if your pre-workout has plenty of B vitamins. 

Choosing the Right Pre-Workout Supplement

What Might Be Right For You, May Not Be Right For Some

Did I just steal a line from the old theme song from Diff’rent Strokes? Yes. I did. 

After taking plenty of pre-workouts over the years, I have compared and contrasted them with my training partners’ opinions about which ones are the best. But the truth is that everyone has a different opinion.

Selecting the right pre-workout involves more than just picking a product off the shelf. It requires careful consideration of the ingredients and their potential effects on your body. Whether you opt for a stimulant or non-stimulant formula, transparency is key. Look for products with clear ingredient labels that disclose the exact amounts of each component. Avoid proprietary blends, as they make it difficult to gauge the effectiveness and safety of the supplement.

Find out which ones work best for you. If you're prone to jitteriness or have a low tolerance for stimulants, you may want to explore non-stimulant alternatives. You may need extra vitamin B or nitric oxide more than the caffeine. Test a few out and see which ones you like the best. 

And remember, it is not only the ingredients that are important, but consider the exact time you are taking it before the workout. Some of my fellow athletes insist on taking it half an hour before doing anything so it can get fully into their system. Others will drink it during their workout instead of water. 

All of this is a little bit of experimentation and a whole lot of mad chemist science. Enjoy the process!


Staying Safe with Pre-Workout Supplements

Let's talk safety when it comes to pre-workout. Sure, they promise to amp up your energy and performance, but there are some risks you should be aware of to keep yourself in top shape.

Watch Your Heart: One big concern is how pre-workout can mess with your heart. Some of the ingredients, like caffeine, can jack up your heart rate and blood pressure. If you've got a history of heart issues or high blood pressure, this could be trouble.

Stay Hydrated: Another thing to keep in mind is dehydration. A lot of pre-workout can make you sweat like crazy which can lead to dehydration if you are not replenishing those electrolytes. Dehydration can mess with your athletic performance and even lead to heat-related problems, like passing out during a workout. So make sure to hydrate, you can even look for formulas that include electrolytes!


Key Takeaways:

  1. Understanding Pre-Workout Supplements: Pre-workouts can provide substantial gains at the gym by boosting energy levels and enhancing performance. However, it's essential to choose supplements wisely and be aware of their ingredients and potential effects on the body.

  2. Stimulant vs. Non-Stimulant Options: Stimulant-based pre-workout supplements can offer significant energy boosts but may lead to side effects like jitters, especially for those sensitive to stimulants. Non-stimulant alternatives provide sustained energy without the risk of jitteriness.

  3. Ingredients Matter: Look for pre-workouts with transparent ingredient labels, avoiding proprietary blends, and hidden additives. Ingredients like creatine, beetroot, EnXtra, ginseng powder, and vitamin B12 can enhance workout performance and overall health.

  4. Personalized Approach: What works for one person may not work for another. Experiment with different supplements, dosage, and timing to find what suits your body and fitness goals best. Prioritize safety and informed decision-making throughout the process.


FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions - Pre-Workout Supplements):

  1. Are pre-workout supplements safe to use? Pre-workout can be safe when used responsibly and in moderation. However, it's essential to be aware of potential side effects and consult with a healthcare professional if you have any concerns or underlying health conditions.

  2. How do I choose the right pre-workout? Consider factors like ingredient transparency, stimulant content, and individual sensitivities when selecting a pre-workout. Look for products with clear labels and clinically dosed ingredients to maximize effectiveness and safety.

  3. What should I do if I experience jitters from a pre-workout? If you experience jitters or other adverse effects, consider switching to a non-stimulant alternative or reducing the dosage of stimulant-based supplements. Consult with a healthcare professional if symptoms persist or worsen.

  4. Can I combine pre-workout supplements with other dietary supplements or medications? It's essential to exercise caution when combining pre-workout supplements with other substances, including medications and dietary supplements. Consult with a healthcare professional to ensure compatibility and minimize potential interactions.

  5. When is the best time to take a pre-workout? The timing of pre-workout supplementation can vary depending on individual preferences and workout routines. Experiment with different timing strategies to determine what works best for you while considering the duration of the supplement's effects.

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