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If you use a caffeinated pre workout supplement and experience extreme fatigue or drowsiness after your workout, you might be experiencing what’s known as a “pre-workout crash”.
So, what is a pre-workout crash? A “pre-workout crash” is the aftermath of excessive caffeine intake resulting in fatigue, irritability, drowsiness, or difficulty concentrating. It is caused by a buildup of the molecule adenosine in the brain, which signals sleepiness. It typically sets in a few hours after ingesting greater than 200mg of caffeine.
As the manager of a supplement store, I talk to dozens of customers weekly about how to integrate pre-workouts into their lives to maximize workout results without negatively impacting other aspects of their lives.
In this article, I’ll dive deeper into:
- Why you crash after taking pre workout
- 9 alternatives that won’t make you crash
- 3 tips to avoid pre-workout crash
- Should you take a stimulant-free pre workout?
Why Do You Crash After Taking Pre-Workout?
To understand how caffeine causes a crash response in the body, it’s important to first understand how caffeine works in the body.
How Caffeine Causes a Crash
In the brain, you have a molecule called adenosine that signals drowsiness or sleepiness. Adenosine is created when Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) is broken down in the body. ATP is the body’s energy molecule, so the cycle works something like this:
- The body is working hard and requires ATP for energy
- ATP is broken down, creating Adenosine
- Adenosine starts to build up in the body, signaling the body to become drowsy
- The body rests (i.e. sleeps), ATP replenishes, the body is energized again
When caffeine is ingested, it blocks adenosine in the brain from binding to the adenosine receptor sites. Essentially, this tricks the body into thinking that there isn’t any adenosine build up, delaying fatigue.
Once the caffeine wears off, though, those receptor sites become accessible. The large amount of circulating adenosine is now able to bind to these receptors, suddenly signaling the body to become extremely tired.
How Much Caffeine Causes a Crash?
The amount of caffeine it takes to cause a crash will vary from person to person but a dose as low as 200mg can be enough to elicit a crash response. One of the most important factors influencing a crash is whether the caffeine was taken all at once, or spread out throughout the day.
9 Pre-Workout Alternatives That Won’t Make You Crash
If you are experiencing pre-workout crash, or are worried about it, I am here to help.
In this section, I’ll discuss pre-workout alternatives that you can take to increase endurance, mental focus, and strength that won’t make you crash, and also, won’t break your wallet.
The 9 best pre workout alternatives are:
- Green Tea
- Lion’s Mane
- Beetroot Powder
- A Good Pre Workout Meal
Beta-Alanine is an amino acid that can be found naturally in meat and animal products. It is non-essential, meaning that for day to day life, our body creates enough beta-alanine on its own and it doesn’t need to be obtained through our diet.
If you want a performance boost though, supplementing with beta-alanine can increase strength and endurance.
When you exercise, lactic acid builds up causing fatigue in the muscles (i.e. the burning sensation you feel). An amino acid called carnosine helps to buffer that lactic acid, delaying fatigue.
Beta-alanine is a key ingredient supporting the synthesis of carnosine, so supplementing with beta-alanine means more carnosine production, which equals delayed fatigue.
- Related Article: Why You Shouldn’t Drink Pre-Workout Without Working Out
Citrulline (found in supplements as either L-Citrulline or Citrulline Malate) is another non-essential amino acid meaning that our bodies make enough of it to survive and it doesn’t have to be obtained through the diet. There are, however, benefits to supplementing with doses of citrulline higher than those found in foods.
In the body, citrulline is transformed into Nitric Oxide and another amino acid, Arginine. Nitric Oxide helps your blood vessels dilate, increasing blood flow and therefore increasing the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the muscle tissues.
- Related Article: Can You Get Addicted To Pre-Workout? (Yes, Here’s Why)
Creatine is a substance that is found naturally in muscle cells and in foods like red meat, dairy, and seafood. It is a primary source of energy for the muscles.
In the body, creatine is stored as phosphocreatine with about 95% of it being stored in the muscle cells. During physical activity, the body breaks down phosphocreatine to release the phosphate molecule which goes on to form ATP.
If you have more creatine in your body, you can store more phosphocreatine and therefore have more potential energy available for physical activity. This results in an increase in strength, muscle mass, training volume, and recovery.
- Related Article: Pre Workout vs Creatine
4. Green Tea
The amount of caffeine in a cup of green tea is around 28mg, lower than a cup of coffee (40mg) or a pre-workout (170mg-425mg).
A key attribute to green tea however is that it naturally contains the amino acid L-Theanine, which exerts a calming effect on the body and can slow or reduce the effects of caffeine in the body. For this reason, you should notice either a reduced crash effect from green tea, or no crash at all.
There are three strategies that you can use to get performance benefits from green tea.
- First, you can drink two to three cups of green tea approximately 90 minutes prior to exercise. This will give you the caffeine + theanine combo to give you lasting energy without a crash. (The downside to this is that drinking two to three cups before exercise might mean extra trips to the bathroom)
- Secondly, you can supplement with the EGCG compound on its own to get the fat metabolism and energy benefits. Recent studies have used doses of 200mg-300mg of EGCG (the equivalent of 5 or 6 cups of green tea).
- Third, you can pair both options together to get even more benefits. The 2-3 cups of green tea will give you 60-90mg of long-lasting caffeine, and the EGCG capsules will bump up the dose of EGCG to a clinically studied one without requiring you to drink five or six cups of tea.
Guarana is a plant native to the Amazon that contains caffeine, similar to coffee. In fact, even though the beans are the same size as coffee beans, they contain twice as much caffeine as coffee beans.
There are some unique attributes to guarana that could mean that even though it’s a source of caffeine, you won’t get a crash. Guarana contains compounds called tannins, which slow the release of caffeine in the body.
It is also suggested that because guarana doesn’t completely dissolve in water, this further slows the release of the caffeine meaning it is even less likely that you will experience a crash.
In fact, the supplement company, Sudden Rush Guarana, boasts that their product is slow digesting and will not cause a crash.
Typical dosing for guarana is 75-100mg and can be taken in a capsule or as a liquid shot 90 minutes before your workout. Note that doses over 400mg or prolonged use (daily for 4 weeks or more) have been associated with possible side effects including insomnia and stomach irritation.
Cordyceps is a fungus that grows predominantly on caterpillars in the high mountains of China. Studies indicate that cordyceps may be good for physical endurance or stamina by reducing fatigue and improving oxygen uptake (the amount of oxygen the body can take in and use).
7. Lion’s Mane
Lion’s Mane (aka Hericium erinaceus) is a mushroom that grows on the trunks of dead hard wood trees. This mushroom boasts a ton of scientifically backed benefits including decreasing fatigue, increasing endurance, increased fat metabolism, and improved memory and mental focus.
Like cordyceps, its effects can be felt in as little as a few days, but prolonged use (several weeks) will lead to more noticeable benefits.
Many people report feeling its effects immediately mentioning feeling focused and energized without jitteriness or crashes.
8. Beetroot Powder
Beetroot powder, or beet powder, is a bright pink or red substance made from dried, ground beets. Studies have found beetroot powder effective for increasing recovery time and reducing muscle soreness.
Beets contain nitrates, a natural chemical that can help improve blood flow. More specifically, nitrates increase the amount of oxygen a person can use while exercising. As you exercise, oxygen that is brought to the muscles helps convert glucose into ATP, increasing energy output.
Ergo, consuming beetroot powder results in greater energy output during exercise.
9. A Good Pre Workout Meal
Despite the popularity of pre-workout supplements, with some planning and attention you can get everything that your body needs from food.
Before a workout, you want to focus on foods that will provide energy, boost performance, and help with hydration and recovery.
Related Article: Should you eat fat before a workout
Here are a few examples of what a pre-workout meal might look like:
Option 1: Loaded Multigrain Toast
- 1-2 slices of multi grain toast
- 1 banana or ⅓ cup of berries
- 1-2 tbsp peanut butter or 1-2 hard boiled eggs
Option 2: Greek Yogurt Parfait
- Greek Yogurt
- ½ cup whole grain cereal or granola
- ¼ cup berries
Option 3: Smoothie
- 1 scoop protein powder
- 1 cup spinach
- ½ cup fruit
My Top Product Recommendations
If you’ve got the patience to do so, a great option is to experiment with different combinations of the individual ingredients mentioned above to create your own custom pre workout that gives you exactly what you’re looking for, without the crash.
If you would rather take a supplement that comes with several crash-free ingredients combined (that likely tastes a lot better than one you would make yourself), here are three recommendations:
This product contains citrulline, beta-alanine, and creatine in relatively high doses to help with strength, pump, and stamina. This pre workout also has added B12 and Magnesium which will provide energy and improve hydration through your workout.
As an added bonus, this product has the Informed Choice Checkmark making it safe for drug-tested athletes, and uses no artificial colors or dyes.
This product will be great for pump, offering 5g of citrulline per serving plus 2g of arginine (which offers similar benefits). This product also contains 1000mg of beetroot powder per serving to help with additional blood flow and muscle contraction.
You can take up to 2 scoops of this product if you want the full clinical dose of beetroot powder, but you’ll likely see great pump and endurance benefits from just one.
Four Sigmatic offers a variety of products and blends, but three specific ones I want to highlight are: Cordyceps Elixir, Lion’s Mane Elixir, and the Focus Blend.
The Cordyceps Elixir offers 1500mg of cordyceps per serving which is one of the highest dosed cordyceps products available, from a company that focuses on quality and purity.
The Lion’s Mane Elixir has 1500mg of Lion’s Mane per serving, well within the clinically studied dose range and certain to give you excellent natural energy and mental focus without the caffeine.
The third option, The Focus Blend, contains lower doses of Lion’s Mane and Cordyceps (at 500mg and 250mg, respectively), but is an option that combines both ingredients without any caffeine.
Furthermore, The Focus Blend contains Bacopa Monnieri, which may help boost brain chemicals involved in thinking and memory and Rhodiola, an adaptogen which will help control anxiety and stress hormones and increase physical stamina.
3 Tips for Avoiding a Crash After Taking Pre-Workout
Maybe you’re not willing to part with your caffeinated pre-workout just yet, despite the risk of a crash afterwards. (No judgment here, I get it!) Here are 3 strategies that you can try in order to reduce or eliminate the effects of a pre-workout crash.
1. Pair Caffeine with L-Theanine
L-theanine has a calming effect on the body and, when paired with caffeine, it can slow or reduce the effects of the caffeine.
By taking L-Theanine with your caffeinated pre workout, you can decrease the likelihood of symptoms like anxiety and jitteriness. By slowing caffeine’s effects, L-Theanine can also eliminate the crash after taking a pre workout.
To harness these effects, take 200mg of L-Theanine alongside your pre workout. You can also try a pre workout supplement that has theanine already in its formula.
- Related: My review of Alanin Nu Pre-Workout
2. Take Smaller Doses of Caffeine Throughout the Day
A possible reason you might be experiencing a caffeine crash is from taking too high a dose of caffeine all at once. Doing so will result in a fast and pronounced energy increase, but can leave you feeling the effects of a substantial crash as the caffeine all leaves your system at the same time.
By supplementing with smaller doses of caffeine throughout the day (for instance, taking 100mg three times per day instead of taking 300mg at once), you can keep energy levels elevated and prolong the release of caffeine. This will allow it to leave the body at different rates, preventing a hard crash.
3. Take Smaller Doses
You might simply be part of the population who doesn’t tolerate caffeine well, and as a result notice more significant side effects like jitteriness, heart palpitations and a hard crash, even at lower doses.
This condition is called caffeine sensitivity and those who have it can notice the negative side effects of caffeine in doses as low as 100mg.
If you suspect you might have caffeine sensitivity, reduce the amount of caffeine you consume not just per serving, but the total amount in a day. Switch to tea (28mg per 8oz cup) or decaf coffee (2mg), and take ¼ to ½ scoop of your pre workout in order to keep caffeine intake at or below 100mg per day.
If you have tried all of the tips here and are still feeling a hard crash, it might be time to consider a stimulant-free pre workout.
Should You Use a Stimulant-Free Pre-Workout?
There are several reasons why you might want to opt for a stimulant-free pre workout:
You Workout Late in the Day
It is ideal to stop consuming caffeine within 6 hours before you plan on going to bed to ensure that the caffeine is not having a negative impact on your sleep. For instance, if you go to bed at 11:00pm, you don’t want to have caffeine any later than 5:00pm.
If you workout in the evening and would be taking your pre workout within that five hour window, I suggest switching to a stimulant-free pre workout which will allow you to optimize your time in the gym, without losing out on precious recovery overnight.
You Want to Consume Other Types of Caffeine in Your Day
In order to avoid negative side effects like jitteriness, anxiety, heart palpitations, and sleep disruptions the FDA recommends keeping caffeine intake at or below 400mg daily. It is possible that a pre workout supplement isn’t the only source of caffeine in your day.
A commercial medium sized cup of coffee has around 200mg of caffeine. An energy drink has up to 400mg per can. Caffeinated fat burners can offer 125mg-350mg per serving.
The point being, if you are navigating different caffeine sources in your day, you have to be mindful to stay within the 450mg limit. If you are set on consuming any of the aforementioned drinks throughout your day, opt for a stimulant-free pre workout.
If You Feel Negative Side Effects From Caffeine
Caffeine intake is associated with jitteriness, anxiety, heart palpitations and restlessness. Each person’s metabolism is different, and so the way each person will process caffeine is different.
Some people can take a lot of caffeine and feel no side effects, where others might feel side effects in doses as small as 100mg. If you are in the latter group, it’s best to stick with a caffeine-free pre workout.
There are certain situations where caffeinated pre workouts should be avoided, period.
If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or on certain medications (including medication for diabetes/blood sugar, asthma, blood thinners, heart medications, or antidepressants), choose a more natural option that has little to no caffeine.
Always check with your doctor before taking any new supplements to make sure there are no interactions with any medications or medical conditions you may have.
Other Pre Workout Resources
- Is It Bad To Take Pre Workout Every Day?
- Caffeine Pills vs Pre Workout: Which Is Better?
- Pre Workout Sickness: Causes & How To Fix
- How Long Does A Pump Last
- Why Is Pre Workout So Expensive?
- Pre-Workout At Night: How To Take Without Negative Effects
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About The Author
Jennifer Vibert is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, Nutrition Coach, and supplement store manager. She has a Bachelor of Kinesiology with a major in Fitness and Lifestyle and a minor in Psychology from the University of Regina. She is a Certified Nutrition Coach through Precision Nutrition, with a passion for helping clients learn the fundamentals of nutrition and supplementation in order to build healthy, sustainable habits.
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