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If you want to take pre-workout to boost your mental clarity and performance, but you’re worried about becoming addicted OR if you’re already addicted and wondering how to overcome it, I’ve got the answers you’re looking for.
You can get definitely get addicted to pre-workout. The ingredient that has been shown to create dependence is caffeine, but you can still experience psychologically addictive impacts even without caffeine, resulting in depression, irritability, and anxiety if you miss a dose or can’t get your pre-workout.
I want you to experience all of the performance-boosting benefits of pre-workout, without any of the downsides of pre-workout addiction, so I’ve written this article to help you recognize and overcome pre-workout addiction.
- Pre-workout addiction is best overcome by decreasing your usage slowly over time, rather than trying to go “cold turkey” (stopping abruptly).
- Stimulant-free pre-workouts can be used to help ease the transition when reducing the use of pre-workout, minimizing symptoms of withdrawal.
- The best ways to avoid becoming dependent on pre-workout is to only use it when you really need it and to focus on improving your performance by incorporating better nutrition strategies and prioritizing recovery.
What Makes Pre-Workout Addictive?
Regular caffeine consumption can cause you to build up a tolerance to it, meaning you need more and more caffeine to feel the same effects.
That said, some people enjoy the taste and sensation of even their stim-free (no caffeine) pre-workout so much that they feel as though they are addicted to it because they are reluctant to give it up.
The main difference is that if you become dependent on caffeine and stop having it, you would experience physical withdrawal symptoms, whereas with stim-free pre-workout you wouldn’t actually experience physical withdrawal symptoms.
6 Signs That You’re Addicted To Pre-Workout
Here are the six warning signs that you could be addicted to pre-workout, either in terms of true physical dependence or even just an addiction of “habit” that is more mental than anything else:
- Headache: one of the most common signs of caffeine withdrawal is an intense headache when you don’t have it every day, especially when the headache disappears as soon as you take your pre-workout.
- Lack of focus: if you’re experiencing a lack of focus and/or difficulty concentrating without your pre-workout, these are also signs of caffeine withdrawal.
- Fatigue: increased fatigue and lack of energy during both your workouts and your everyday life can be a sign you’re addicted to pre-workout.
- Depression: if you feel depressed or moody when you miss a day of taking pre-workout, or when you run out of your pre-workout supplement, you could be addicted.
- Irritability: if you feel irritable or agitated without your pre-workout, you could be addicted.
- Anxiety: if the thought of not being able to take your pre-workout makes you feel anxious, it can be a sign of psychological addiction, even if you don’t have a true physical dependence.
Dangers Of Pre-Workout Addiction
The biggest risk associated with pre-workout addiction is when it leads to dangerously high levels of caffeine intake.
Consuming more than 400 mg of caffeine is not considered safe, and can lead to adverse health effects such as high blood pressure, chest pain, heart attack, and even death.
The good news is that you CAN overcome pre-workout addiction.
How To Overcome Pre-Workout Addiction
The best way to overcome pre-workout addiction is to slowly decrease your usage of pre-workout over time.
If you’re dependent on caffeine, start using a stimulant-free pre-workout some of the time, and gradually decrease the number of days you use pre-workout overall.
Check out my recommendations below for the steps to follow if you’re currently taking a pre-workout with caffeine (stimulant pre-workout) or a stimulant-free pre-workout (no caffeine).
If you’re currently using a pre-workout product that contains caffeine every day, start by switching one day per week to a stimulant-free pre-workout product instead.
Then, after 1-2 weeks, switch another day to stimulant-free pre-workout so that you’re having 2 days per week that are stimulant-free.
Continue this pattern until you are taking a stimulant-free pre-workout every day or most days.
Then, if you still feel as though you’re addicted to or over-reliant on pre-workout, follow the steps for stimulant-free pre-workouts.
If you’re currently using a stimulant-free pre-workout product, but you still feel like you’re addicted to it because you can’t imagine being able to perform without it, start by not taking any pre-workout on your rest days (because you shouldn’t take pre-workout without working out anyway).
Once you stop taking pre-workout on your rest days (if you were), then it’s time to stop taking pre-workout on your lower-intensity workout days. This will show you that you CAN work out without it.
Then, you can experiment with only taking pre-workout when you really, really need it.
Challenge yourself to get enough sleep and to eat balanced pre-workout and post-workout snacks and meals so that you feel energized even without pre-workout.
What To Expect When You Stop Taking Pre-Workout
When you stop taking pre-workout, it’s normal to feel a dip in mood or slightly lower energy levels in your workouts. However, if you decrease slowly over time and focus on getting adequate sleep and nutrition, you can minimize these effects.
Following my suggestions for overcoming pre-workout addiction (above) will help you kick the pre-workout habit with little to no side effects.
You are more likely to experience negative side effects from stopping pre-workout if you were taking a lot of pre-workout to begin with (such as twice per day), and/or if you cut back your intake abruptly instead of gradually.
- Related Article: Do You Crash After Pre-Workout? Causes + Fixes Explained
How To Avoid Becoming Dependent On Pre-Workout
While it’s generally safe to take pre-workout every day (as long as you don’t exceed the recommended daily limits for ingredients, especially caffeine), one of the best ways to avoid becoming dependent on pre-workout is to only take it when you really need it.
Get Sufficient Sleep
Pre-workout shouldn’t be seen as a replacement for getting at least 8 hours of quality sleep each night.
Make sure that you’re going to bed early enough to allow for at least 8-9 hours in bed before you have to wake up the next day.
Get Adequate Nutrition
Similar to sleep, pre-workout isn’t meant to replace or make up for a balanced diet that provides energy through an optimal blend of protein, carbohydrates, and fat.
The name “supplement” means that it is meant to be supplementary, so it should be used after you’ve already developed a solid foundation of nutrition to optimize your performance.
If you’re not sure what a balanced diet should look like for your goals, our team of Registered Dieticians and Nutrition Coaches is ready to help.
Follow A Periodized Training Plan
In a properly structured training plan, not every day should be a max effort, high-intensity training day.
To ensure maximum results over time, each week should have some days that are lower intensity than others, as well as recovery days.
Only take pre-workout on the max effort days when you feel like you really need it, and skip it on the recovery and lower-intensity days.
Since certain ingredients in pre-workout do need to be taken daily for maximum effectiveness (i.e. creatine), it’s best to buy these as separate stand-alone supplements rather than as part of your pre-workout.
That way, you won’t have to take pre-workout every day to get the benefits.
You can avoid becoming dependent on pre-workout if you use a stimulant-free (“stim-free”) formulation that does not contain caffeine since caffeine is the only ingredient that actually causes physical dependence.
- Related Article: 9 Pre-Workout Alternatives That Won’t Make You Crash
Non-Stim Pre-Workout Recommendation
If you’re looking for a non-stim pre-workout to ease the transition or to avoid caffeine from the get-go, then I recommend Transparent Labs Stim-Free Non-Caffeinated Performance Formula.
And, I’m not the only member of FeastGood raving about it: check out my colleague Jennifer’s review – as a supplement store owner for over a decade, she knows the best pre-workout supplements inside and out, and she loves this one.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the potential side effects of pre-workout supplements?
While pre-workout supplements can boost energy and performance, they can also cause side effects like jitteriness, increased heart rate, headaches, and digestive issues. These are often due to high caffeine content or other stimulants.
Are there natural alternatives to pre-workout supplements?
Yes, there are natural alternatives to pre-workout supplements. Foods like bananas, oats, and beetroot juice can provide energy and enhance performance. Hydration and a good night’s sleep are also crucial for workout performance.
Can long-term use of pre-workout supplements lead to tolerance?
Yes, long-term use of pre-workout supplements, particularly those containing stimulants like caffeine, can lead to tolerance. This means you may need to consume more of the supplement to achieve the same effects, which can increase the risk of side effects.
How can I safely stop using pre-workout supplements if I think I’m dependent?
If you believe you’re dependent on pre-workout supplements, it’s important to seek advice from a healthcare professional. They may suggest gradually reducing your intake rather than stopping abruptly. It’s also beneficial to focus on natural ways to boost energy, such as adequate sleep, a balanced diet, and regular exercise.
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About The Author
Lauren Graham is a Precision Nutrition Level 1 certified nutrition coach. She focuses on helping busy professionals balance healthy eating and purposeful movement. Lauren has a background in competitive swimming and is currently competing as a CrossFit athlete. She has a passion for training, teaching, and writing.
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