Drinking This Before a Workout Can Increase Your Stroke Risk, Experts Warn

Having just one of these drinks can trigger the serious brain condition.

If you're going to work out, it's only natural that you want to get the most out of it. But experts say that some athletes push the boundaries of safety in the name of achieving peak performance. They warn that one drink commonly consumed before workouts may put you at heightened risk of having a stroke—not to mention a slew of other serious side effects. Read on to find out which beverage you should never drink before working out and what to do instead to get the most from your exercise routine.

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Drinking energy drinks before a workout can raise your stroke risk.

Man athlete opening can of energy drink

Though some tout energy drinks as the answer to a workout slump, medical experts say you should think twice before mixing the beverages with exercise—or consuming them at all. The CDC warns that energy drinks typically contain excessive amounts of caffeine, sugar, additives, and stimulants such as guarana, taurine, and L-carnitine. This combination of ingredients has been known to trigger strokes in otherwise healthy individuals.

"Energy drinks have megadoses of caffeine and sometimes other stimulants. We find that some people who use them come into the hospital with strokes or severe brain hemorrhages," rheumatologist Rula Hajj-Ali, MD told the Cleveland Clinic. "These are typically young, otherwise healthy people in their 30s and 40s," she notes.

Hajj-Ali explains that if your body is sensitive to the ingredients in energy drinks, you may experience a problem the first time you consume one, but this is not always the case. "Some people who have been drinking energy drinks for some time become more sensitive to them as time goes on," Hajj-Ali warns.

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In addition to strokes, this may lead to death in certain individuals.

MRI digital x-ray of brain with team radiologist doctor oncology working together in clinic hospital. Medical healthcare concept. (MRI digital x-ray of brain with team radiologist doctor oncology working together in clinic hospital. Medical healthcare

Drinking an energy drink just before you work out is known to cause a condition called reversible cerebral vasoconstriction syndrome (RCVS). This occurs when the blood vessels in the brain suddenly spasm, restricting the brain's blood supply or causing hemorrhage. Though most people recover from RCVS and its effects are considered reversible, the condition has, in rare cases, resulted in patient mortality.

The Cleveland Clinic notes that the majority of individuals who suffer from an RCVS episode are between the ages of 20 and 50. When not associated with the consumption of energy drinks or an underlying health condition, RCVS is frequently the result of illicit drug use. It is also sometimes associated with the use of antidepressants, certain migraine medications, immunosuppressants, and more.

Look out for these symptoms of RCVS.

Man at gym with bad headache

The single most important symptom to recognize in cases of RCVS is what experts describe as "thunderclap headaches." These are sudden and intense headaches that appear abruptly and typically last for at least five minutes.

In addition to a sudden headache, you may experience changes in vision, new confusion, trouble speaking, tingling and numbness, or weakness on one side of the body, experts at Cedars-Sinai explain. These are all signs that you should seek immediate emergency care, and that you are at greater risk of a possible stroke.

It's also important to note that symptoms of RCVS are similar to a related condition called central nervous system vasculitis (CNS), but that the treatments for the two illnesses differ greatly. If you experience these symptoms after consuming an energy drink or another known trigger of RCVS, be sure to relay that information to your doctor.

Skip the energy drinks in favor of these safer options.

Side view of muscular woman running on treadmill.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there's no shortage of side effects to energy drinks. In addition to RCVS, these include damage to the nervous system, heart problems, severe dehydration, anxiety, insomnia, hypertension, and changes in breathing. For this reason, the CDC says it's important to "educate athletes about the difference between energy drinks and sports drinks and potential dangers of consuming highly caffeinated beverages."

In lieu of energy drinks, you can prepare for your workout by getting enough sleep and staying hydrated. The Mayo Clinic says you can achieve your best performance by fueling up on a balanced diet that includes carbs, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals. A small amount of caffeine (a single cup of coffee, for instance) is safe to drink, too. After your workout, the clinic recommends replenishing your body with protein-rich food and—you guessed it—more water.

In short, skip the energy drinks for a safer, more sustainable workout plan.

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Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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