Are Pre Workouts Helpful?: Theanine

This will be the last post in this series. If you’ve missed the other posts take a look at them as I covered some of the other supplements that are taken pre workout to help energize and otherwise allow you to increase performance.

Today we’ll take a look at a substance that many people already consume but might not know it. I’m talking aboutL-theanine which is yet another amino acid that some pre-workouts use in their formulations. Theanine is also very common in teas but not found in coffee. Green tea is probably the most popular but not by any means the only source of this stuff.

Theanine...just another white powder? Maybe not!

Theanine…just another white powder? Maybe not!

Theanine is best known for its ability to calm the nerves and kind of acts as a de-stressor. It can also be used for mood enhancement and focus. It even improves the sleep of boys with ADHD. [1]

So why would you want this before going out to pump iron, kick the soccer ball or ride your bike through the hills?

Well to be quite honest you don’t. But to be brutally honest no pre workouts are ever “really” needed. You can work out and progress and do just fine without them. In fact the only things you really need to progress in training are good obtainable goals, good food, good rest and a good attitude. I know that doesn’t sell supplements but I’m not selling supplements.

So should we just stop the blog post there and call it a day. Nope!

Theanine has this ability, when paired with caffeine, to make the caffeine jolt not quite so jarring. For some it can stop the jitters but the science says that’s probably not going to happen. It also stops you from going into full freak out mode when you get the caffeine. I remember the first time I had an NO-Explode. After about 15 minutes I was bench pressing while simultaneously running around the indoor track and doing push ups while squatting, the whole while breathing like I’d just run the fastest 100m in human history. Ok so maybe not quite like that, but it FELT like I was doing that.

Theanine helps level that out. I don’t take caffeine everyday, nor everytime I work out so to help me keep it even keel the theanine is what I prefer.

What does Theanine do?

Theanine actually helps dopamine release in the brain but also releases other chemicals that cause the “restful” effect. In the frontal cortex dopamine is thought to play a role in attention. Some believe that a reduced level of dopamine in this area is part of the cause of ADHD. For myself this is the effect I notice when taken with caffeine. The caffeine amps my brain energy, so to speak, and the theanine is able to focus it or direct it better than with caffeine alone. But this is just my anecdotal experience and may not be yours.

I couldn’t find any studies that show that theanine is an ergogenic aid with one exception in mice. Mice given theanine were able to swim a bit longer than the placebo group. Researchers attributed this effect to increase dopamine and decreased serotonin. [2]

Taking theanine on its own will likely not help you lift more or heavier, run longer or help muscle recover more quickly. The drug to accomplish all of that is called testosterone and I’m definitely not recommending that.

What theanine does do is allow the brain to recover from exercise. [3] When given 50mg theanine after initiation of exercise. Brain wave patterns of cyclists decreased in intensity and shifted to lower frequencies with theanine administration. It decreased the time to onset of mental regeneration. In other words it helped the cyclist calm down their minds more quickly.

Another thing theanine does is help with immune function. In a study done with distance runners, researchers looked at immune function of runners with cystine/theanine combo vs placebo. The combo kept the immune system running better than the placebo after 10 days of training. [4]

Another study shows the same thing in resistance training in men. [5]

It should be noted in these studies that a combination of theanine and cystine was used which means we can’t extrapolate the effect solely to the theanine. We’d need another study using just theanine to be able to say that.

So theanine can help mice swim longer, make people have better immune function in combo with cystine after exercise, helps the brain recover after exercise, and according to yours truly can help focus your caffeine jolt (this last one is unscientific).

Theanine has also been shown to help relieve stress. In a study done with theanine, caffeine and placebo, subjects were given mental tests and their blood pressures recorded at intervals during the tests and after. They were also submitted to a cold pressure test (submerging your hand in ice water for a minute) which is used to raise blood pressure.

In the groups there were high responders and low responders. In the high responder group there was a significantly less increase in blood pressure with the mental tests with both caffeine and theanine, but not with placebo. There was no difference with the cold pressor test. In the low response group there were not differences noted between the 3 groups. [6]

one interesting finding was that in the high responders group caffeine actually reduced blood pressure which is somewhat counterintuitive to what a person might initially think. This didn’t hold with the low responders group. It’d be interesting to do a study and see what mechanisms make those different.

This study shows that there may be some people who just don’t respond to theanine like others which is important to note. Just because you take theanine doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to help reduce your blood pressure from the pangs of psychological stress.

Another study looked at similar parameters but with the addition of caffeine and theanine together. In this study caffeine alone increased blood pressure, jitteriness and alertness. When combined with the theanine the blood pressure increase wasn’t present but the jitters and alertness persisted.[7] This is similar to what I’ve experienced just less jitters. I don’t really get jittery with caffeine anyway.

On a stress study of pharmacy students going out to do rotations in clinical settings, researchers gave students placebo or theanine to two groups. The baseline stress levels were significantly higher in the placebo group and after use of theanine the subjective stress was less in the theanine group.[8]

The problem with this is the baseline of the 2 groups. If the placebo group had higher initial stress levels it’s possible that the results were due to chance or the treatment group actually just had naturally lower stress levels that the theanine might have accentuated. It would have been a better study had randomization taken place and made the baseline equal between the two groups.

How much?

In the stress studies mentioned above 200mg and above were used. In the mental regeneration study a dose of only 50mg was needed to ilicit an effect. In the study of boys with ADHD it was 200mg twice daily with food. i was once listening to a pharmacist at a national pharmacy convention talking about using a couple of grams before her talk to help calm her nerves down. She said it worked!

A dose of 200mg would probably suffice for most people. If you have higher stress levels a higher dose might be required. I haven’t found any real side effects except for maybe nausea but I’ve personally never experienced it and have not heard any complaints from anyone.

Theanine isn’t required for a pre workout to be a great one. But it does seem to have some ability to regulate caffeine and focus. I find the focus helpful during intervals but others may not. Only trying some can really tell you for sure. It shouldn’t hurt you though to try some and if you’re not looking for a pre workout but something else to calm down in the evening or need something to help during the day, theanine may be your answer.


Disclaimer: All info on this website is for education purposes only. Any dietary or lifestyle changes that readers want to make should be done with the guidance of a competent medical practitioner. The author assumes no responsibility nor liability for the use or dissemination of this information. Anyone who chooses to apply this information for their own personal use does so at their own risk



1.Lyon, Michael R., Mahendra P. Kapoor, and Lekh R. Juneja. “The effects of L-theanine (Suntheanine) on objective sleep quality in boys with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial.” Altern Med Rev 16.4 (2011): 348-354.

2.LI, Min, Xin-nan SHEN, and Guo-ying YAO. “Effect of theanine on delaying exercise-induced fatigue and its mechanism [J].” Acta Nutrimenta Sinica 4 (2005): 019.

3.JÃger, Ralf, et al. “Improving mental regeneration after physical exercise.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 5 (2008): 1-2.

4.Murakami, Shigeki, et al. “Effects of oral supplementation with cystine and theanine on the immune function of athletes in endurance exercise: randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial.” Bioscience, biotechnology, and biochemistry 73.4 (2009): 817-821.

5.Kawada, Shigeo, et al. “Cystine and theanine supplementation restores high-intensity resistance exercise-induced attenuation of natural killer cell activity in well-trained men.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 24.3 (2010): 846-851.

6.Yoto, Ai, et al. “Effects of L-theanine or caffeine intake on changes in blood pressure under physical and psychological stresses.” J Physiol Anthropol 31 (2012): 28.

7.Rogers, Peter J., et al. “Time for tea: mood, blood pressure and cognitive performance effects of caffeine and theanine administered alone and together.” Psychopharmacology 195.4 (2008): 569-577.

8.Unno, Keiko, et al. “Anti-stress effect of theanine on students during pharmacy practice: Positive correlation among salivary α-amylase activity, trait anxiety and subjective stress.” Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior 111 (2013): 128-135.


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