Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 12/18/2022
If you’ve ever stepped foot inside a gym, you’ve likely heard the term “pre-workout.” Some people are fanatical about it and swear that it can give you all the extra reps you need for serious gains, while others think you can get just as much out of a standard cup of coffee.
Still, others think pre-workout poses some unnecessary health risks — notably, to heart health. You may have also seen folks ask the question: Can pre-workout cause erectile dysfunction?
It’s a fairer question than you may think.
There’s a lot that we don’t know about supplements. While many of them do contain ingredients with medically demonstrable benefits, many of those benefits and statements of benefits haven’t been approved by regulatory bodies like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
So what’s going on here? Are those internet rumors about pre-workout and ED true? Is pre-workout the miracle powder it’s reputed to be, or is it worth taking a second look at?
Before we get into the pre-workout and penis question, however, let’s cover some very basic info about pre-workout — starting with what it actually does.
Pre-workout can be a lot of things. As you may already know, there’s no one recipe for pre-workout supplements.
Pre-workout supplements are designed to be consumed before your workout with the intention of boosting both your performance in the gym and increasing your gains.
A pre-workout formulation may contain creatine, caffeine, amino acids, nitric oxide agents, beta-alanine and plenty of other proprietary supplemental ingredients chosen for their evidence-based benefits in the exercise context.
It usually comes in a powder that you mix with a liquid (typically water) and consume roughly half an hour before a workout.
These compounds can do things like improve your muscle performance, repair muscle damage, give them extra energy, increase blood flow and generally make your biological processes for using fuel and performing more efficient.
The largest source of problems in any given pre-workout formula is typically caffeine. Experts point out that some formulations can have the caffeine content of three cups of coffee.
That much caffeine may be okay to drink throughout the day, but when packed into a supplement essentially designed to be chugged, it can cause problems.
Cause your heart to race
Increase your blood pressure
Cause a tingling sensation in your extremities
Cause nausea and diarrhea
More broadly, sports supplements have been linked to other adverse effects in men.
A 2018 study found that they can cause nervousness, insomnia and irritability, and that some ingredients like taurine in supplements aren’t always found in adequate volumes to actually have the effects they claim to provide.
As you can probably see, there are a lot of unknowns when it comes to pre-workout supplements and supplements in general.
And that doesn’t necessarily change when we look at how pre-workout interacts with your erections.
If we were trying to give you the simplest answer to the question of whether pre-workout can cause ED, the best we could offer is “probably not.”
There are no studies showing a direct link between any common ingredients in pre-workout formulations that we could find, and many of the indirect links (like the one between sugar and ED) typically have more to do with a person’s diet and exercise habits as a whole.
Generally, people who take pre-workout supplements tend to, you know, work out.
And if they’re doing so in otherwise healthy ways and eating a balanced diet, a little supplemental sugar shouldn’t have profoundly negative effects on their cardiovascular or erectile health.
But the simplest answer is hardly the most complete. For instance, depending on the formulation, some pre-workout ingredients may actually be doing a few good things for your function generally.
Let’s start with caffeine. While jitters and the possibility of overdose are valid concerns, studies have actually shown that consuming between 170mg and 375mg a day of caffeine is associated with a lower risk of erectile dysfunction overall.
Now, this study looked at coffee consumption primarily, so there are some unanswered questions that need attention before we can say “the caffeine in your pre-workout is just as good for your penis as the caffeine in coffee.”
Some experts, however, think it’s best to just stick with the coffee.
Coffee and other natural sources of the same protein and select vitamins in pre-workout are probably better for your health anyway. The main argument? We don’t always know what’s in pre-workout.
As we mentioned earlier, supplements aren’t as thoroughly regulated as other products because they don’t require the same standards from the FDA. Because of this, it’s been the case that a supplement could contain not all the ingredients listed, or some ingredients that were not listed.
In other words, you don’t always know what you’re getting.
Related post: Will Energy Drinks Cause Erectile Dysfunction?
It’s a good idea for us to talk about exercise in general in this story, at least insofar as it relates to your erectile health. There are plenty of claims about physical exercise and its effects on erectile health. According to the science, they’re valid.
If your erectile dysfunction is related to obesity, metabolic syndrome, inactivity, hypertension or cardiovascular disease, you likely can improve your erectile function with regular exercise.
The numbers aren’t too bad either: about 160 minutes a week of moderate to vigorous exercise for six months significantly decreased erectile dysfunction in most test subjects in one study.
How this breaks down is ultimately up to you, but the study from 2018 we’re referencing suggested 40-minute sessions of exercise four times a week for optimal results.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) don’t comment on erectile health, but recommend that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate to intense physical activity every week.
You can knock that out in one session or you can do 30-minute sessions five days a week. How you get that exercise doesn’t matter, so long as you’re getting active.
There are other effective ED treatments too, of course.
Medications like sildenafil (the generic for Viagra®) and tadalafil (the generic for Cialis®) are oral ED drugs that increase blood flow to your penis and relax the smooth muscle to make it easier for you to achieve and sustain an erection.
You still have to get aroused, of course. All the exercise and ED medication in the world won’t do the trick if you aren’t sufficiently aroused.
So, if you’re struggling to do that in intimate situations, meeting with a therapy provider should be on your shortlist.
You can talk to them about things like performance anxiety and how it may be affecting your ability to achieve an erection.
Or maybe some other things — traumatic experiences, depression, etc. — that are standing in the way of your libido.
Either way, starting a consultation with a mental health provider could be a game-changer.
These are just a few of the ways to proactively treat erectile dysfunction. If you’re doing all of these things, you probably don’t need to worry about the unclear risks of pre-workout for ED, because you’ll already be doing the most to get the hardest.
What did you come here to learn, and why? Do you have ED and worry about your pre-workout? Do you use a lot of pre-workout and worry that it could make you impotent?
Your pre-workout could potentially be safe for your continued use — we can’t tell you for sure.
We would recommend that you keep the caffeine content low, but we also understand that “low” is subjective for everyone.
As for your penis, it may not be reacting to the pre-workout if it’s failing to launch. The only way to find out why it’s giving you performance problems is to talk to a healthcare professional and see what is ultimately causing ED.
ED can have many causes, and many of them are related to other health issues. It’s not just a bad sexual encounter you have to worry about, but your health generally.
If you’re trying to piece things together, get a healthcare professional to help you with the puzzle.
The gym is a great place to take care of your health too — but the same way that you need a spotter there, having one for your health doesn’t hurt either.