Can Pre Workout Side Effects Include Depression?

Can Pre Workout Side Effects Include Depression?

Anyone who’s anyone takes a high-quality pre workout before a big gym session.

Athletes and bodybuilders alike consume these powerful supplements in order to enhance their performance, ramp up their energy levels and take their strength up a few notches.

Factor in that they also increase your time to fatigue, boost focus and alertness and target blood flow and nutrients to your working muscles, and you’ve got enough reason to take one too.

But while pre workout supplements are safe to use and have been rigorously tested under lab conditions, some people do still claim that certain ingredients can cause side effects in a small minority of people.

Is this article we take a look at pre workouts and depression. Is there a link you need to be aware of?

Let’s take a look…

Understanding Your Pre Workout

Pre workout supplements have one goal – to enhance the way in which you attack the gym in order to help you reach your goals quicker.

To do this they contain a blend of ingredients that cover you from all angles.

  • Stimulants – nutrients such as caffeine help you use energy more effectively by elevating epinephrine levels.
  • Cognitive enhancers – ingredients such as theanine help with focus and mental clarity.
  • Vasodilators – nutrients such as citrulline malate and beetroot help to directly increase blood flow to where its needed most, meaning more nutrient delivery and a better pump.

When do you take a pre workout?

When combined, these nutrients help to increase performance – both physically and mentally. As you’ve probably guessed, pre workout supplements are taken prior to your gym workout, sports event or fitness class.

Although there’ll be slightly different recommendations from individual manufacturers (based on the type and quantities of each ingredient), you should consume these products 20-30 minutes prior to your session.

Athletic young woman in sportswear holding a pair of dumbbells ready to work out
  • Key Point: A good pre workout will make all the difference to your gym sessions – increased endurance, more strength and elevated energy.

Is there a dark side to pre workouts?

The problem with the supplement industry is that it’s all about the trust.

And while some manufacturers are transparent about which ingredients they use and exactly how much, less honest manufacturers choose to add in banned or illegal substances to make their product more ‘potent’.

Some choose to go down the proprietary blend route as well.

This is when ingredients in the pre workout are listed under a made up brand name such as ‘Thermo Nuclear Mutant’ or whatever. And by listing as a blend, these companies are then only obliged to tell the user which ingredients are in the supplement, not the specific doses.

By choosing a product that potentially contains banned substances or picking a products that’s decided to go down the shadowy route of a proprietary blend, you just don’t know what your getting.

And that is when you’re looking at an increased risk of side effects.

How do you avoid these products?

Don’t choose a supplement with the term proprietary blend on the label. You just don’t know if it’s under or overdosed. For all you know, you could be getting well over the safe dose for some nutrients, and under on others.

And never choose to buy a pre workout that is unlicensed – check the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) websites and take your time going over each ingredient.

Do your research and choose carefully and confidently.

If one of the ingredients in your pre workout is on either list then don’t go anywhere near it – they’re on it for a reason.

Athletic man doing one-handed push-ups in the gym

Can Pre Workouts Cause Depression?

Again, it really comes down to the individual ingredients that make up your supplement. If they are chosen by manufacturers with your health in mind then no they won’t.

There are however a small number of ingredients that have been found in some pre workouts that could cause depression.

Here are the main ones you need to know about…

Which supplements can cause depression and mood swings?

Dimethylamylamine (DMAA)

DMAA is a molecule originally developed and sold as a nasal decongestant. It is classed as an indirect sympathomimetic drug due to its neurological stimulant effect on the central nervous system.

The safety of this drug has always been in question, but more and more case studies are showing that it may be linked to onset of depression.

One study [1] used a type of research method called netnography to collect data from over 1,000 internet forums. They used key words such as ‘DMAA’ and ‘depression’ to collect information from forum discussions, message boards or online social interactions and links between the two words.

And the results were quite clear – there were a number of comedown effects from using the drug. These included:

“All users reported fatigue and depression lasting several days”.

“Many users reported ‘feeling poisoned in the purest sense’ by DMAA”

One user even suggested that it caused intense paranoia, stating “DMAA has something very dark about it”.


This African supplement is made from the tree bark of the Pausinystalia Yohimbe plant. It has a high affinity to alpha 2-adrenoceptors, meaning it has an effect similar to caffeine.

Yohimbe is one of the more common overdosed nutrients in pre workouts. And whilst there may be some evidence that it can help with erectile dysfunction, it has a strong stimulatory effect that can cause irritability, anxiety and low mood.

It has also been associated with seizures and manic episodes.

Woman sat on the floor with herhead in her hands feeling depressed

Artificial sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners such as Aspartame have become part of the mainstream food industry over the last few years.

But there is an emerging body of research that has found a relationship between using these common pre workout sweeteners and a range of neurobehavioural effects – cognition, depression and changes in mood.

In one study, 28 volunteers were given either a diet high or low in aspartame over an 8-day period [2]. The volunteers were then asked to rate their mood using a Self-Rating Depression Scale (SDS).

Those participants that were fed the aspartame diet were significantly more depressed than those that didn’t. And 3 of the 28 who took part scored over 49 on the depression scoring system – this would make them clinically depressed. 

Anabolic steroids

Not a pre workout as such, but these drugs are used are certainly used by some people to boost workout productivity.

Anabolic steroids are essentially synthetic testosterone hormones. They are often taken to increase size, strength and power, as well as to boost endurance and energy.

The problem is though that these drugs are some of the most risky workout supplements you could wish to take.

They are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular, liver and kidney disease, reproductive issues and severe acne. They can cause man boobs and belly fat too.

There are also a large number of cases where steroid users reported alterations to their psychological well-being – steroid dependence, suicidal tendencies, aggression and schizophrenia.

A study into steroid use in athletes [3] found that steroid withdrawal in particular can cause feelings of not only severe depression, but also feelings of:

  • Central nonadrenergic hyperactivity including anxiety and irritability
  • Insomnia, hot flashes, sweats, chills, anorexia, muscle pain
  • Nausea, vomiting, high blood pressure and elevated heart rate
  • Anabolic steroid craving

  • Key Point: There are a small number of pre workout supplement ingredients that can increase the risk of depression.


Pre workout supplements help to improve your athletic performance by boosting energy, increasing blood flow and elevating your strength, endurance and muscle-building potential.

But not all pre workout ingredients are made the same. Whilst some help you reach your goals with little or no side effects, others can have drastic implications for your mental health. Some have been shown to increase the chances of depression in clinical trials and case studies.

We suggest that in order to maintain your health while taking a pre workout, you avoid supplements with higher risk ingredients and instead, focus your attention on safer, more effective alternatives.

Smash Your Workouts With 4 Gauge

4 Gauge is an exhaustively researched, all-natural pre workout designed to rip the lid off your gym sessions, sports games or workouts.

Packed with performance-enhancing nutrients such as caffeine, L-theanine and creatine, 4 Gauge will take your training to a completely new level.

  • Smash your workouts – feel your nervous system firing on all cylinders
  • Cell-splitting muscle pumps – harness the power of vasodilation and deliver more nutrients to your muscle cells
  • Determination like never before – feel unparalleled focus and motivation
  • Relentless energy – train for longer without fatigue


  1. Van Hoot, MC et al. ‘‘Plant or poison’’: A netnographic study of recreational use of 1,3-dimethylamylamine (DMAA). Int J Drug Policy. 2015; 26: 1279-1281
  2. Lindseth, GN et al. Neurobehavioral Effects of Aspartame Consumption. Research in Nursing & Health. 2014; 37: 185–19
  3. Maravelias, C et al. Adverse effects of anabolic steroids in athletes: A constant threat. Toxicology Letters. 2005; 158: 167–175

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