Do Preworkouts Cause Headaches?

Preworkouts are ubiquitous. And just as ubiquitous are the number of ingredients that go into them. I’ve done some posts on them in the past. You can find one on Tyrosine and Taurine. Another on caffeine. Yet another on whether or not preworkouts are necessary.

When I was first experimenting with myself and preworkouts, I came across the amino acid tyrosine as a possible enhancer. Tyrosine can be converted into dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine and excreted in the urine. Levels go up and because you have increased catecholamines (dopamine, (nor)epinephrine), your cognition, power and overall feeling of awesome go up, including during the workout.

This is all well and good.

On paper it makes sense. I should be able to take this, in conjunction with some caffeine, and have one killer workout, feeling good, lifting weights through the roof, getting my insane pump (I know I know, those two ingredients aren’t pump ingredients), and more or less just killing it at life. So, I added some to the mix.

I don’t remember the exact dose but I want to say it was around 3g tyrosine. Along with about 200mg caffeine.

15 minutes later and I started feeling the effects of the beta-alanine. My face and ears started to tingle and I felt the warmth that typically accompanies the tingles. I was ready!


About 20 minutes in I was killing it. Continuing my awesomeness for all to see and mid way through a wicked set of benching, I noticed something. It started in the front of my head and slowly enveloped the whole thing. And no, it wasn’t tingles or a nice warm feeling, quite the opposite. It was as though someone was slowly pushing a shiv into my eye and then through my skull. I figured it was pressure from not breathing at the top of my rep or something, so I took a few deep breaths.

Normally when I get a headache, I need to breathe.

This time it only got worse.

A sip of water. Nothing.

Walked around the gym. Still nothing.

When the pain didn’t subside, I sat down. Little relief. I decided to give another set of benching a go. Why not?

The pain only increased.

I got to the point that I had to stop and head home. 800mg of Ibuprofen and a nap later and the pain finally started to calm down. I recognized the migraine that was coming on. It was nasty. And scary.

My science mind wanted to experiment to make sure it wasn’t a fluke. So I mixed the preworkout again, but this time no caffeine. Tyrosine again at 3g. I had the same feeling of tingles but not as much warmth. The workout went fine with no problems.

So I did it again 2 days later, but this time with caffeine and no tyrosine. Again no problems.

2 days later I tried the caffeine/tyrosine combo again. Within 45 minutes I was getting the migraine again. I tried 2 more times, one with just tyrosine and the other with the combo. The headache returned with the combo.

After that, I never used tyrosine again. I couldn’t see the benefit of using it for anything else. My diet was in good shape and I was suffering from cold intolerance. And any benefit was going to be masked by the fact I was on creatine and caffeine.

Tyrosine and tyramine are very similar chemical structures. The latter is well known by migraine sufferers as a trigger that causes headaches.

The combo for whatever reason caused me some serious pain. Pain I don’t want to relive.

If you are a migraine sufferer, look at the ingredients in any preworkout you take. Tyrosine by itself or in combo with caffeine may not be a great combo for you.

For some it may be a great boost, but I can only honestly speak for myself.

Either way remember that what you put into your body is your responsibility. If something you ingest causes pain, knock it off!

I couldn’t find any studies supporting this so for now it remains anecdotal. But for me, my anecdotes are my most powerful study tools. Keep an eye on things when you try something new, or keep a food journal and symptoms of whatever it is you suffer from and find patterns. It’s hard in our day and age. When different food stuffs are in supply virtually year round, it may be hard to find patterns that would normally show up seasonally, like allergies, rather than year round, making a diagnosis difficult.

In the case of the preworkout, it was fortunately simple.

Enjoy your workouts, don’t suffer with migraines during them because your body doesn’t agree with an ingredient. The same goes for diarrhea. Lots of people complain about having to pay homage to the porcelain goddess 30 minutes after taking their preworkout and missing valuable pump time. If your preworkout does that to you, look for a different one or stop it all together. Diarrhea is a sign of something your body doesn’t like. And having intestinal hypermotility is a horrible thing to have, especially when you’re squatting!

Be careful and enjoy your life!



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.


Does Magnesium Help Sleep?

In last week’s post we discussed some of the possible benefit of giving up electronic screens before bed to avoid blue light. Some people may even wear yellow/orange visors to filter out the blue light.

Today I want to talk about something I’ve mentioned before, and something that many people lack; magnesium.

Magnesium is a metal that is required in the body for over 300 different reactions. It is found in many different foods in various quantities and sold in you local drug stores, supermarkets and everywhere else. The substance has been used for numerous ailments, and rightly so, since it has a wide variety of uses in the body.

So does it help in sleep?

In your brain there is a neurotransmitter called GABA  which is responsible for some of the calming actions in the brain. If the brain had an “on” and “off” switch, GABA could be likened to the off. That is a very basic view of it and there is more involved to it, but for the purposes of this talk lets keep it simple. If you’re interested in some heavier reading, or if you want to read it to put you to sleep, you can go here:

In the evening, in the hypothalamus, GABA is used, as well as another transmitter called galanin, to calm the brain down. It does so by inhibiting the arousal areas of the brain. It’s kind of like when you had a friend spending the night at your house and you’d get a bit loud, then your dad came and banged on the door or wall telling you to pipe down. GABA kind of does the same thing.

Here’s the thing; GABA is potentiated by magnesium [1].

People who have chronically low levels of magnesium may have problems falling asleep and staying asleep. I can’t speak to the number of people who come into the pharmacy for things like zolpidem for sleep, but I’d love to see what their magnesium levels are and if something like a supplemental magnesium would help. I do know we over prescribe sleep agents.

From a personal note, I have had better sleep with magnesium and know people to whom I’ve recommended it get better sleep as well. I know this is anecdotal, but it is strong enough evidence for me to recommend it.

In a small trial in Italy, researchers looked at supplemental magnesium with zinc and melatonin in patients living in long-term care facilities. They found that this combo helped the patients get to sleep faster and it was more restful. [2] The downside is that in this study, because they used 3 supplements together, we can’t extrapolate the benefit just to the magnesium, especially as we know that melatonin can also help people with sleep.

Magnesium can also address issues of restless leg [3], muscle cramping and twitching, and cold hands.

As a side note, here’s a list of drugs that deplete magnesium in the body:

-Birth Control Pills

-sucralfate (Carafate)



-corticosteroids (ie prednisone, dexamethasone, fluticasone)

-divalproex (Depakote)

-phenytoin (Dilantin)

-triamterene/hydrochlorothiazide (Dyazide)


-hydrochlorothiazide (HCTZ)

-levetiracetam (Keppra)


-furosemide, torsemide, bumetanide

-gabapentin (Neurontin)



-senna (Ex-Lax)

I’ve said this before but it bears being repeated: Don’t take magnesium oxide! Magnesium oxide just doesn’t get absorbed well. If you want to use it to induce a visit to your nearest commode, then by all means, but if you’re actually looking to get magnesium into your blood there are better options.

There are lots of forms of magnesium. Be sure to get a good one.

There are lots of forms of magnesium. Be sure to get a good one.

Magnesium comes in various forms. Here are a few and some general uses:

1. Mag Oxide: As stated above this is good for getting a great laxative effect. This was the form used in the Italian study. It would have been interesting to see if another form had been used if it would have been even more effective.

2.Mag Glycinate: This one is well absorbed because of glycinate transporters in the gut. Both magnesium and glycinate have calming effects and may make this a good candidate for muscle hypertonicity and chronic pain. It has a small laxative effect compared to others.

3.Mag Malate: This one could be used for fibromyalgia as malate is a substrate for energy production. It is also well absorbed.

4. Mag Citrate: Well absorbed and a good all around option. Can still produce some loose stool though. This is the form I take.

5.Mag Orotate: This may be good for heart health as orotates get into the cell membranes easier and may benefit in cellular repair and energy production. [4,5] This may be good for people with cardiovascular disease

6. Mag Sulfate: This one is usually injected intravenously. It is also found in Epsom Salt baths.

These are just a few and there are more but if you stick to the above listed, minus the oxide, you’ll probably be just fine. 200-400 mg/day is likely what most people would need. You’ll have to titrate the dose depending on if you have really loose stool or not. Try some a couple of times a day without food.

If anybody has had any experience with magnesium and sleep please let me know about it. I’d love to hear what has worked for you.



1.  Uusi-Oukari M, Heikkila J, Lovinger DM, Luddens H, Korpi ER. Magnesium potentiation of the function of native and recombinant GABA(A) receptors. Moykkynen T, . Neuroreport. 2001 Jul 20;12(10):2175-9

2.Rondanelli, Mariangela, et al. “The Effect of Melatonin, Magnesium, and Zinc on Primary Insomnia in Long‐Term Care Facility Residents in Italy: A Double‐Blind, Placebo‐Controlled Clinical Trial.” Journal of the American Geriatrics Society 59.1 (2011): 82-90.

3.Hornyak, Magdolna, et al. “Magnesium therapy for periodic leg movements-related insomnia and restless legs syndrome: an open pilot study.” Sleep 21.5 (1998): 501-505.

4.Stepura OB, Tomaeva FE, Zvereva TV. Orotic acid as a metabolic agent. Vestn Ross Akad Med Nauk. 2002; (2): 39-41.

5.Geiss, K-R., et al. “Effects of magnesium orotate on exercise tolerance in patients with coronary heart disease.” Cardiovascular drugs and therapy 12.2 (1998): 153-156.


Are Pre Workouts Necessary?

For the final post in this series I will be brief because there is no need to go into a long post about something that’s rather simple, at least in my brain.

Are Pre workouts necessary to have the most explosive and awesome workouts and to lose weight and look like a fitness model? Of course not. Does that mean you shouldn’t use them? Of course not.

Trust me when I tell you I’m not trying to be Smeagol/Gollum from Lord of the Rings but the two above statements aren’t conflicting. It’s analogous to asking “Do you need to run to be healthy?” Of course not. Does that mean you should never run? Of course not…unless you don’t want to. There’s plenty of other ways to stay healthy in terms of movement. Running is a tool, just like a pre workout. It’s useful when applied or used correctly. But just like a pre workout can mess you up big, so can running if done improperly.



The purpose of the post previously done was to talk about ingredients in pre workouts that are actually helpful rather than ones that probably don’t do much. I realize that I covered the helpful ones. There are lots of other ingredients like aspartic acid which probably don’t do a whole lot that I didn’t cover because writing about pre workout ingredients can get boring over time.

I do realize that I could have done a single post and covered most everything but I wanted to flesh out the evidence and give you readers something to actually consider.

Pre workouts are definitely a great tool to energize and power through a heavy sprint session or help increase gains in strength over time, but at the end of the day you are the person that still has to sprint or lift or yoga or whatever. No one else can do that. Others can encourage and motivate. Others can meet you at the gym and workout along side you. Others can help you navigate proper food choices, but ultimately it rests on you. You are the true vehicle for change. Pre workouts just help that along.

Do I use pre workouts? Yup. But I don’t use them everyday and I respect that they are a tool and nothing more. I made the decision to change my lifestyle. You have the same power. It’s really cool to think about. No one can take that power from you, no one!

If you really want to make some changes then go ahead and do it. Taking a pre workout in the morning isn’t going to change you. It might jump start you and make you feel like you could run 1000 miles, but you still get to decide to do so.


Instead of watching Dr. Oz talk about weight loss, go for a 30 min walk. While I think knowledge is absolutely important, so is keeping your body moving.

You might feel like Homer at first but you'll be glad you're not wasting time watching something lame on TV.

You might feel like Homer at first but you’ll be glad you’re not wasting time watching something lame on TV.

Rather than watching your favorite weekday tv show from the couch, do some 30 sec planks on the floor during commercial breaks. See if you can up it to 1 min over time. 3-4 commercial breaks/30 min equals a couple min of planking. Your core will be strong in no time.

Instead of boringly tossing your salad and putting your casserole into the oven, put on some music and dance in the kitchen. You’ll be burning some extra calories but more importantly you’ll be having some fun. We do this in my home often. It’s fun watching the kids look at their dad and wonder what the heck is going on, but they sometimes join in.

Dance like no one's watching, even if they are.

Dance like no one’s watching, even if they are.

Have fun finding ways to spruce up your life and you’ll be rewarded. Let me know how you all spruce up your lives.


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.

Are Pre Workouts Harmful or Helpful: Tyrosine and Taurine

Lets talk two amino acids today and kill two birds with one stone. Tyrosine and taurine are up to bat today so lets review them and see what benefit or detriment they may offer.


Tyrosine is an amino acid that is formed from phenylalanine and thus is not an essential amino acid. It is a precursor for other compounds such as dopamine, norepinephrine and epinephrine.

Tyrosine is marketed as being used for increased cognition and stress intolerance. This makes some sense seeing as how it helps replenish the norepinephrine in the body. Reading comments from people who have bought and used the supplement you are bound to see things like, “It has helped me with morning fog” or “I feel so much more energized in the morning” or “I don’t feel like killing my kids..”. Ok so the last one was made up but you get my drift.

Does tyrosine really help, at least from a scientific standpoint?

In a study of cyclists, researchers gave 4 different drinks; placebo, tyrosine, tyrosine with carbs, and carbs at 6 different times before and during a 60min ride and then a time trial. The tyrosine was dosed at 25mg/kg body weight and the carbohydrate was a 7% solution or 70g/L.

The cyclists who had the carb solution finished the time trial in 27.17 ± 0.92 min while the carb/tyrosine group finished in 26.11 ± 1.01 min. These times were significantly lower than performance times for placebo (34.44 ± 2.89 min) and tyrosine (32.64 ± 3.05 min) [1]

This study makes it look like carbs are likely the key to increased performance, which would make sense especially in a sport like cycling where many calories are being burned. The authors were careful not to conclude that tyrosine has no effect since it’s possible that the manner in which it was dosed might give diminishing returns.

In another study of men performing different activities, tyrosine was administered at 150mg/kg of body weight 30 min before exercises were performed. These included load carriage treadmill sessions, pull-ups, stair stepping with weight and handgrip strength. There were not significant differences between groups. [2]

Tyrosine is often noted in marketing to help with recovery or mental alertness. One study shows this latter effect in military personnel who were subjected to high altitude and low temperatures. Subjects were given 50mg/kg tyrosine just before tests and 40 min later. They were subjected to multiple tests and their reaction times as well as tolerances to multiple things were measured as compared to placebo.

Cold tolerance was improved as well as muscular fatigue, perceived distress, sleepiness and headache. [3] So, at least in conditions of cold and high altitude, tyrosine may benefit an athlete from a fatigue perspective as well as focus, but for the rest of us not studying or running stairs in the inter-mountain west, tyrosine may not be super beneficial.

In another look at psychological factors, women were given a stress test 5 hours after having been given a drink with amino acids. The “placebo” contained all essential amino acids, 1 group had no tryptophan, and the 3rd had no phenylalanine or tyrosine. Women in the 3rd group experienced more feelings of depression, anxiety, feeling tired, hostility, being unsure and confusion. [4] The change was noted only after the stressors.

So again tyrosine may be beneficial for some focus and/or good feelings, but it doesn’t appear that it will help you lift more or run any faster. It may help you push through a workout much like caffeine may help a person perceive less exertion and push through a tough workout.

Because of how tyrosine works, it’s a good idea to avoid it if you do decide to take it if you have heart problems. Because it increases norepinephrine and epinephrine the potential to cause problems in people predisposed to them is higher. I read one report once about a man who took tyrosine 500mg with his Adderall on accident and his blood pressure and heart rate went up significantly. While this supplement has been used for things like ADHD it is something that should be respected. Consult a competent medical provider who has experience with these before doing something you might regret if you have heart problems.


Taurine is an amino acid that plays a role in facilitating the digestion/absorption of fats (via formation of bile salts), maintaining cell volume (osmoregulation), neurotransmission/neuromodulation, antioxidant functions, anti-inflammatory/immune functions, anti-arrythmic/cardiac functions and neurological/retinal development.

To say it’s unimportant is like saying pies don’t need filling. It’s utter nonsense and will likely have you thrown out of my house, especially around my birthday because hey, cherry pie. (During this time of year I’ll also accept peach, strawberry rhubarb, pumpkin, coconut cream and a whole host of others, just no pecan)

Even with all of these important functions will taurine give you that edge that you so desire on the field or in life?

Red Bull is a popular drink that markets taurine as part of the formula to help with energy and focus. I think it’s funny that there is the myth that taurine is from bull’s testicles. Definitely “broscience”.

Some people actually think taurine comes from bull testicles. Mmmmm no.

Some people actually think taurine comes from bull testicles. Mmmmm no.

There was a study done by some researchers who had been working with Red Bull and showed that taurine with caffeine increased stroke volume and diastolic inflow (the heart was working more efficiently) compared to two other drinks, one containing no taurine and the other without caffeine or taurine (placebo). [5]

This study had the drinks supplied from the Red Bull company which is a ginormous red flag. Only 12 participants were in the study which doesn’t lend a lot of credence because of the small size and the fact that in the group that took the placebo had a higher diastolic inflow velocity than the caffeine group. That’s almost like comparing two camaros, one with nitrous and one without and saying the camaro without is creating more horsepower. Is it possible? Well if the workers at Chevrolet decide they’re gonna start putting corvette engines in the base camaro model I guess it could happen.

The reason that last point is so interesting is because you would’ve expected it to be lower than the caffeine group because we know caffeine has this effect by itself.

In a similar study, caffeine was given with glucoronolactone and taurine (essentially Red Bull) and compared to placebo while looking at stress tests with motor reaction times and also recorded feelings of well-being. Not surprising, the active group reported more feelings of well-being and had quicker reaction times. [6] But again this doesn’t prove that taurine does anything beneficial as it’s mixed with the other two components.

Another study showed that a drink containing a combination of branched chain amino acids, creatine, taurine, caffeine, and glucuronolactone increased the total reps and volume of exercise. But again in this study the effect cannot be attributed to taurine alone.[7]

Some studies show that taurine may help reduce muscle damage and oxidative stress. [8-10]

One study shows there may be benefit to people with heart failure who exercise if taurine is used.[11]

Taurine doesn’t seem to be quite the ergogenic aid that the supplement companies want you to believe it is. One benefit of taurine is that it can help you keep your levels up if you constantly use beta alanine as they both compete for the same receptors. So if you decide to use beta alanine it might be beneficial to use taurine to keep from becoming depleted. If you have a healthy diet including plenty of quality meat and liver and fish this may not be an issue.

So tyrosine may help with some focus and mental energy and taurine may help with exercise if you have some heart failure. I’m not discounting the fact that having a mental energy jolt isn’t helpful while doing things like lifting heavy or sprints, but it’s possible to get the same effect from caffeine. This is where N=1 studies come in handy. You can try both or one or the other to see if a difference exists. If not you can change it up accordingly.

I personally don’t use either of these. I think the benefit of both can be had from proper diet and/or the right pre workout. But you be the judge. If you have any experiences let me know in the comments.


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.Chinevere, Troy D., et al. “Effects of L-tyrosine and carbohydrate ingestion on endurance exercise performance.” Journal of Applied Physiology 93.5 (2002): 1590-1597.

2.Sutton, Erin E., M. R. Coill, and Patricia A. Deuster. “Ingestion of tyrosine: effects on endurance, muscle strength, and anaerobic performance.” Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab 15.2 (2005): 173-85.

3.Banderet, Louis E., and Harris R. Lieberman. “Treatment with tyrosine, a neurotransmitter precursor, reduces environmental stress in humans.” Brain research bulletin 22.4 (1989): 759-762.

4.Leyton, M., et al. “Effects on mood of acute phenylalanine/tyrosine depletion in healthy women.” Neuropsychopharmacology 22.1 (2000): 52-63

5.Baum, Michael, and M. Weiss. “The influence of a taurine containing drink on cardiac parameters before and after exercise measured by echocardiography.” Amino Acids 20.1 (2001): 75-82.

6.Seidl, R., et al. “A taurine and caffeine-containing drink stimulates cognitive performance and well-being.” Amino acids 19.3-4 (2000): 635-642.

7.Hoffman, Jay R., et al. “Effect of a pre-exercise energy supplement on the acute hormonal response to resistance exercise.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 22.3 (2008): 874-882.

8..Dawson Jr, R., et al. “The cytoprotective role of taurine in exercise-induced muscle injury.” Amino acids 22.4 (2002): 309-324.

9.Silva, Luciano A., et al. “Taurine supplementation decreases oxidative stress in skeletal muscle after eccentric exercise.” Cell biochemistry and function 29.1 (2011): 43-49.

10.Zhang, M., et al. “Role of taurine supplementation to prevent exercise-induced oxidative stress in healthy young men.” Amino acids 26.2 (2004): 203-207.

11.Beyranvand, Mohamad Reza, et al. “Effect of taurine supplementation on exercise capacity of patients with heart failure.” Journal of cardiology 57.3 (2011): 333-337.

Is Caffeine in Pre-Workouts Harmful or Helpful?

In the previous posts we’ve discussed citrulline, beta alanine, and creatine. You can find those here if you missed them:

Today lets talk caffeine. Most people have had some sort of caffeine in their lives. It’s pervasive in many drinks from coffee to soda to energy drinks to gun etc etc etc.


No doubt many of you have heard people complain about needing their morning boost and how they can’t think or do anything or maybe they’re just in a bad mood until they get their coffee. Maybe you’re that person. At any rate caffeine is popular and has been so for a really long time.

Does it help the workout though? And is it safe? And can you have too much? There are lots of questions. I’m hoping to answer a few in this post.

First some biology 101. I know that may sound boring but it is much more interesting than organic chemistry. Trust me.

One effect caffeine is thought to exert in the body is the blockade of adenosine in the brain. Adenosine is a neurotransmitter that gives us feelings of sleepiness. Basically it tells us that maybe, just maybe it’s time to go lie down and get some Z’s. Researchers think caffeine exerts its wakefulness effects by blocking adenosine so that other neurotransmitters predominate. This in turn wakes us up.

So caffeine blocks adenosine which is like saying caffeine blocks our “go to sleep signals” in our brain. So far so good.

Like all chemical messengers adenosine has a receptor that it binds to send the signal, like a lock and key. This is where caffeine exerts its effect. By blocking the receptor adenosine can’t bind and transmit it chemical signal.

So caffeine blocks the adenosine receptor which stops adenosine’s signal. Ok still good.

The body doesn’t like it when things get out of balance. By not getting the signal for adenosine, the cells with those receptors upregulate them. It’s like little kids when they aren’t in sugar balance. You know, when kids yell and scream until they get enough sugar. So too do our cells scream they want more adenosine to keep the balance. (Maybe not the best example, but you get my drift)

After a few days of upregulation, more caffeine is needed to achieve the same effects as before. Many people notice this with chronic coffee consumption or other forms of caffeine. One shot espresso just doesn’t seem to cut it anymore and a double shot is needed. More receptors needs more caffeine to block them.

When caffeine isn’t ingested people feel incredibly sluggish and can’t seem to function at all. It’s because adenosine receptors are being met by all the adenosine and the sleep and rest signal is very strong. This is usually coupled with a nagging headache. Yup, use of caffeine regularly will cause this. And the only seeming cure is more caffeine.

Ok so that was today’s biology lesson. What about pre workouts you ask? Well….

Caffeine is definitely present in many preworkouts. Many. In fact it is probably the most used stimulant on the planet. This is the compound in pre workouts that give the boost of energy to really get rolling.

How effective is it?

A review of studies looking at endurance concluded that caffeine does increase endurance in time trial studies. [1] They reviewed 21 studies with 33 different treatments but only 15 had significant effects. The average mean improvement was  3.2%. Not a ton. There was quite a bit of variability between studies including ingestion times and types of exercise employed.

The researchers concluded that doses between 3-6mg/kg were the most effective while doses at 9mg/kg were no more effective and those may be potentially problematic, especially if consumed regularly. That range for a 75kg person is 225-450mg.

One study looking at these doses saw no difference between 3mg/kg and 6mg/kg but both were significant over placebo. [2]

In another study looking at 5mg/kg in users of caffeine (300mg/day) and non-users (<50mg/day), researchers found that non-users responded more favorably than users. [3] While the heart rate was significantly higher in the caffeine group, it was by 3-6 bpm higher than in the placebo group and to me doesn’t seem like a cause for concern. That is of course provided you don’t have any pre-exisiting heart conditions in which case I’d say stay away from caffeine.

These results lasted  up to 6 hours in non users but were not seen for so long in the regular users.

Remember the adenosine we talked about earlier? It is this blockade of adenosine that seems to be the cause behind the better endurance, or at least perception of it according to the authors. 10 min after the start of exercise perceived exertion was significantly lower in the caffeine group than in the placebo group.

Perceived exertion was also less in the non-user group vs the user group which might indicate the idea of the receptor upregulation talked about. The authors concluded that although blood glucose was increased during exercise in the caffeine group, there wasn’t any evidence that the ergogenic effect of caffeine wasn’t from increase in fatty acid metabolism or utilization as has been previously thought.

What about muscle strength?

Caffeine has been tested on muscle strength in numerous studies. A meta analysis was done to see if there was overall a significant effect. [4] Researchers found that there was a significant increase in strength in knee extensors by about 7%. This effect wasn’t seen in other muscle groups. Endurance was also significant in open end point tests. In other words how long you could hold contraction vs intermittent contraction that you would normally see in regular activity. Doses ranged from 1mg/kg-9mg/kg.

In another study looking at the bench press, subjects were assessed as to their 1 rep max and then separated into placebo and caffeine groups. They were then asked to perform as many reps at 60% 1RM until failure. The caffeine group performed 22.4 +/- 3.0 reps vs 20.4 +/- 3.4 in the placebo group. They also lifted more weight, 1147.2 +/- 261.4 kg vs 1039.4 +/- 231.7 kg over placebo. [5] The dose used was 5mg/kg.

While the results of this study are significant I want to point out that most lifters don’t do one set to failure on bench and stop. While it’s certainly possible that this study could translate over into a more normal regimen of 3 sets of 10 or 5 sets of 5 we can’t be for sure based on this alone. After all if you do 3 sets of 10 reps spaced out with rest you are likely to achieve this same volume without caffeine or more.

In another review caffeine ingestion did increase some measures of sports teams performance. 11 of 17 studies showed beneficial effect of intake but it was more common in the well-trained athletes who hadn’t used caffeine. [6] The mean improvement was 6.5%.

In the strength portion the studies did also show significant improvement. Many endpoints were in the form of torque produced or total number of reps. There is some differences so it’s hard to gauge an overall effect and in what setting that caffeine will definitively produce results.

Other possible confounders are that these studies are free-living which means the subjects intake of food or supplements isn’t monitored. That always increases the chances that the results may be skewed.

It certainly does seem plausible however that caffeine could increase strength or power but the effect doesn’t seem to be as beneficial as with endurance, at least in my view.

Also because individuals are susceptible to caffeine at different levels, it’s hard to know if caffeine will actually make an individual perform better or not based on the studies. It’s like everything else with research; it tells us a good average, but where you as an individual fall on that continuum is up for debate.

Bottom Line

While I know this review isn’t comprehensive, there does seem to be enough evidence for the use of caffeine in performance sports where endurance is required and may be beneficial in overcoming mental blocks. I do have a few words of caution.

Everyone is different but taking caffeine in the evening may not be a great idea if you don’t already. Some people will have little problem getting to sleep but others will be staring at the ceiling making friends with the thousands of sheep they’ll be counting trying to get to sleep.

Most studies with no effect were below 3mg/kg. Many that were at 3mg/kg saw positive outcomes as the 6mg/kg. In other words if this is something to try don’t start at 6mg/kg. Start at 3mg/kg and see what happens.

Also if you are a regular consumer of caffeine, you may need to back off completely from caffeine for a week or two to see any benefit at all. Caffeine intake probably needs to be cycled as well to maintain any benefit. If you do need to stop intake for a bit, it is probably wise to back off over  a few days. A caffeine withdrawal headache might be in your future if you don’t.

People with abnormal heart rhythms would be wise to avoid caffeine, especially in the doses used for these studies. Caffeine is a stimulant and can cause big problems where small ones already exist and may be undetected. It’s this latter case of not knowing where an dramatic increase in caffeine is unwarranted and a slower approach is wise.

Further caffeine can be taxing on the adrenals if higher doses are maintained over a period of time. This makes cycling a good idea. Be careful with anything that can stimulate your brain that has to be ingested. And having caffeine multiple times per day every day is probably not the best idea.


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.Ganio, Matthew S., et al. “Effect of caffeine on sport-specific endurance performance: a systematic review.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 23.1 (2009): 315-324.

2.Desbrow, Ben, et al. “The effects of different doses of caffeine on endurance cycling time trial performance.” Journal of sports sciences 30.2 (2012): 115-120.

3.Bell, Douglas G., and Tom M. McLellan. “Exercise endurance 1, 3, and 6 h after caffeine ingestion in caffeine users and nonusers.” Journal of Applied Physiology 93.4 (2002): 1227-1234.

4.Warren, Gordon L., et al. “Effect of caffeine ingestion on muscular strength and endurance: a meta-analysis.” Med Sci Sports Exerc 42.7 (2010): 1375-87.

5.Duncan, Michael J., and Samuel W. Oxford. “The effect of caffeine ingestion on mood state and bench press performance to failure.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 25.1 (2011): 178-185.

6.Astorino, Todd A., and Daniel W. Roberson. “Efficacy of acute caffeine ingestion for short-term high-intensity exercise performance: a systematic review.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 24.1 (2010): 257-265.



Are Pre Workout Supplements Harmful or Helpful? : Creatine

We discussed in the last two articles about beta alanine and l-citrulline and their benefit in pre workout supplements. Now lets take a look at one of the most known white powders used by beginners and pros alike; creatine.

If you missed the last two articles you can find them here:

Creatine is a chemical that is primarily located in human muscle. It helps the formation of ATP in the body which is our main source of energy. It is this energy that we all need to do anything and everything. Without ATP we die. Period. If we weren’t able to create ATP even for a couple of minutes, we’d fall over and probably die. That’s how crucial it is.

Creatine has been popular for several years and no doubt if anyone has been to a gym in recent memory you might have seen someone sucking down creatine in just about any color of the rainbow. There is a reason that so many people take it. It’s because it works.

One study showed that 1 rep max in arm flexion increased significantly more over placebo with creatine loading and maintenance. Fat free mass also increased in the creatine group but no difference was found in the placebo group. [1]

In another study, total work done during 3 Wingate tests. For those unfamiliar with the Wingate test you can find out more about it here:

One rep max on the bench press increased significantly by 6% and total lifting volume was increased. [2] These effect took 2 weeks of supplementation to achieve.

In a group of seniors (over 65 years old) creatine increased fat free mass and strength compared to placebo over 14 weeks of training. No significant side effects were noted. [3]

In another study 1 rep max on bench press, leg press and maximal reps on preacher curls was increased in the creatine group over placebo. [4] This study looked at two forms of creatine, the monohydrate and the phosphate forms. There was no significant difference between the two indicating that the form of creatine one takes isn’t important.

Another study found yet a similar increase in strength in knee extensions and time to fatigue, but noted no differences in hand strength, leading the researchers to conclude that creatine helps large muscle groups but not small ones. [5]

In one study of patients with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), creatine was loaded as is typically done with weightlifters. Maximal voluntary isometric muscular contraction was increased after 7 days of supplementation in 70% of patients in knee extensors and 53% in elbow flexors. [6] While not a cure creatine may be helpful for some of the symptoms of ALS.

So if you get an Ice Bucket challenge, maybe along with a donation you can give someone with ALS some creatine.

Another trial showed similar results for people with Parkinson’s that were weight training. [7]

Football players were divided into a creatine group and placebo group and given 5g/day creatine with no loading phase. They trained for ten weeks. Bench press increased by about 3kg, squats by about 25kg, and power cleans by about 7kg over placebo. [8] One conclusion from this study is the lack of need for a loading phase if someone is to take this in the long term.

In a meta analysis of 22 studies, researchers found that,

the average increase in muscle strength (1, 3, or 10 repetition maximum [RM]) following creatine supplementation plus resistance training was 8% greater than the average increase in muscle strength following placebo ingestion during resistance training (20 vs. 12%)” [9]

The average increase in weightlifting performance was 14% greater with creatine.

As far as dangers with creatine…well I’m not aware of any. Some claim that it will hurt your kidneys. Well from all the studies I’ve seen that’s just not going to happen. There are anecdotal stories about people having kidney problems and while I’m not one to dismiss anecdotes I think that if it were a kidney killer the FDA would’ve stopped it by now especially since it isn’t regulated.

There are many more studies that looked at creatine. It is probably one of the most studied strength enhancing supplements around. Bottom line is that it works and is effective.

Do you need to take creatine? That’s up to you. I’m not advocating for or against on this one but if you choose to it should be safe and not cause problems.

Some people don’t like creatine because they think it makes a person look “puffy” and that the muscles just are getting inflated because of the water weight. It is true that creatine does pull more water into the muscle cell. This is important for the muscle to get stronger and function properly. This is also a cause of dehydration if you’re not adequately drinking water.

Many people will load creatine when they start taking it, but as seen in the football players this is probably unneccessary if taken for many weeks. Some people do experience nausea during the loading phase. If this is the case reducing to a maintenance phase dose should take care of that.

Because of how it works, it isn’t necessary to supplement with creatine just before workouts like caffeine would be. That means you can take it at night before bed if you want.

Creatine appears to be better utilized in the presence of insulin, meaning that many take it with juice or other high glycemic carbs. Whey protein can spike insulin quite high too. [10-11] So taking some whey right after might be one way to increase utilization.

Some people are of the opinion that creatine should be cycled. I haven’t seen any data one way or the other and seeing as how most studies of this nature don’t last more than 14 or 15 weeks it’s hard to know for sure. Cycling may be wise in the long term using it for 2 months and then off a month.

Review Points

-Creatine is effective at increasing strength and power with weight training

-Likely no loading phase is necessary

-Side effect profile looks safe

-5g/day is the typical given dose

-8% increases are the average in strength augmentation

-Creatine will likely increase fat free mass

-Because of osmotic effects it is important to stay hydrated while supplementing

-Taking whey or high glycemic carbs may increase uptake in the muscles

-Cycling might be a good idea in the long term


I’d like to hear from you. Have you noticed a difference with creatine? Have you had any adverse effects from it?


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.Becque, M. Daniel, John D. Lochmann, and Donald R. Melrose. “Effects of oral creatine supplementation on muscular strength and body compositioin.” Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 32.3 (2000): 654-658.

2.Earnest, Conrad P., et al. “The effect of creatine monohydrate ingestion on anaerobic power indices, muscular strength and body composition.” Acta Physiologica Scandinavica 153.2 (1995): 207.

3.Brose, Andrea, Gianni Parise, and Mark A. Tarnopolsky. “Creatine supplementation enhances isometric strength and body composition improvements following strength exercise training in older adults.” The Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences 58.1 (2003): B11-B19.

4.PEETERS, BRIAN M., CHRISTOPHER D. LANTZ, and JERRY L. MAYHEW. “Effect of oral creatine monohydrate and creatine phosphate supplementation on maximal strength indices, body composition, and blood pressure.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 13.1 (1999): 3-9.

5.Urbanski, R. L., W. J. Vincent, and B. B. Yaspelkis 3rd. “Creatine supplementation differentially affects maximal isometric strength and time to fatigue in large and small muscle groups.” International journal of sport nutrition 9.2 (1999): 136-145.

6.Mazzini, L., et al. “Effects of creatine supplementation on exercise performance and muscular strength in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis: preliminary results.” Journal of the neurological sciences 191.1 (2001): 139-144.

7.Hass, Chris J., Mitchell A. Collins, and Jorge L. Juncos. “Resistance training with creatine monohydrate improves upper-body strength in patients with Parkinson disease: a randomized trial.” Neurorehabilitation and neural repair 21.2 (2007): 107-115.

8.PEARSON, DAVID R., DEREK G. HAMBX WADE RUSSEL, and TOM HARRIS. “Long-term effects of creatine monohydrate on strength and power.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 13.3 (1999): 187-192.

9.Rawson, Eric S., and JEFF S. VOLEK. “Effects of creatine supplementation and resistance training on muscle strength and weightlifting performance.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 17.4 (2003): 822-831.

10.Claessens, Mandy, et al. “The effect of different protein hydrolysate/carbohydrate mixtures on postprandial glucagon and insulin responses in healthy subjects.” European journal of clinical nutrition 63.1 (2007): 48-56.

11.Morifuji, Masashi, et al. “Comparison of different sources and degrees of hydrolysis of dietary protein: effect on plasma amino acids, dipeptides, and insulin responses in human subjects.” Journal of agricultural and food chemistry 58.15 (2010): 8788-8797.