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Can Pre-Workout Cause Erectile Dysfunction?

Kelly Brown MD, MBA

Reviewed by Kelly Brown MD, MBA

Written by Geoffrey Whittaker

Updated 03/14/2024

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.

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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.

Pre-workout can:

  • 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.

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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?

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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) doesn’t comment on erectile health, but recommends 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.

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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. 

7 Sources

  1. Martin SJ, Sherley M, McLeod M. Adverse effects of sports supplements in men. Aust Prescr. 2018 Feb;41(1):10-13. doi: 10.18773/austprescr.2018.003. Epub 2018 Feb 1. PMID: 29507454; PMCID: PMC5828928. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5828928/.
  2. Lopez DS, Wang R, Tsilidis KK, Zhu H, Daniel CR, Sinha A, Canfield S. Role of Caffeine Intake on Erectile Dysfunction in US Men: Results from NHANES 2001-2004. PLoS One. 2015 Apr 28;10(4):e0123547. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0123547. PMID: 25919661; PMCID: PMC4412629. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4412629/.
  3. Gerbild H, Larsen CM, Graugaard C, Areskoug Josefsson K. Physical Activity to Improve Erectile Function: A Systematic Review of Intervention Studies. Sex Med. 2018 Jun;6(2):75-89. doi: 10.1016/j.esxm.2018.02.001. Epub 2018 Apr 13. PMID: 29661646; PMCID: PMC5960035. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5960035/.
  4. Sooriyamoorthy T, Leslie SW. Erectile Dysfunction. [Updated 2022 May 27]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK562253/.
  5. hollowc2. (2022, September 1). Is pre-workout powder safe? does it work? Cleveland Clinic Health Essentials. Retrieved October 19, 2022, from https://health.clevelandclinic.org/does-taking-a-pre-workout-actually-work/.
  6. Harty PS, Zabriskie HA, Erickson JL, Molling PE, Kerksick CM, Jagim AR. Multi-ingredient pre-workout supplements, safety implications, and performance outcomes: a brief review. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2018 Aug 8;15(1):41. doi: 10.1186/s12970-018-0247-6. PMID: 30089501; PMCID: PMC6083567. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30089501/.
  7. How much physical activity do adults need? | Physical Activity | CDC. (n.d.). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/adults/index.htm
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Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references. See a mistake? Let us know at [email protected]!

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.

Kelly Brown MD, MBA
Kelly Brown MD, MBA

Dr. Kelly Brown is a board certified Urologist and fellowship trained in Andrology. She is an accomplished men’s health expert with a robust background in healthcare innovation, clinical medicine, and academic research. Dr. Brown is a founding member of Posterity Health where she is Medical Director and leads strategy and design of their Digital Health Platform, an innovative education and telehealth model for delivering expert male fertility care.

She completed her undergraduate studies at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (go Heels!) with a Bachelor of Science in Radiologic Science and a Minor in Chemistry. She took a position at University of California Los Angeles as a radiologic technologist in the department of Interventional Cardiology, further solidifying her passion for medicine. She also pursued the unique opportunity to lead departmental design and operational development at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, sparking her passion for the business of healthcare.

Dr. Brown then went on to obtain her doctorate in medicine from the prestigious Northwestern University - Feinberg School of Medicine and Masters in Business Administration from Northwestern University - Kellogg School of Management, with a concentration in Healthcare Management. During her surgical residency in Urology at University of California San Francisco, she utilized her research year to focus on innovations in telemedicine and then served as chief resident with significant contributions to clinical quality improvement. Dr. Brown then completed her Andrology Fellowship at Medical College of Wisconsin, furthering her expertise in male fertility, microsurgery, and sexual function.

Her dedication to caring for patients with compassion, understanding, as well as a unique ability to make guys instantly comfortable discussing anything from sex to sperm makes her a renowned clinician. In addition, her passion for innovation in healthcare combined with her business acumen makes her a formidable leader in the field of men’s health.

Dr. Brown is an avid adventurer; summiting Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania (twice!) and hiking the incredible Torres del Paine Trek in Patagonia, Chile. She deeply appreciates new challenges and diverse cultures on her travels. She lives in Denver with her husband, two children, and beloved Bernese Mountain Dog. You can find Dr. Brown on LinkedIn for more information.

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