Is the mental boost worth the money?
If you’ve ever wondered about the real benefits and risks of pre-workout, you have come to the right place. Gymaholic investigates the mind and body energizing supplements.
What is a Pre-Workout?
For those who don’t know, a pre-workout supplement is (usually) a drink, a specialty powder mixed with water. The powder usually comes in a big tub, and the amount of powder and water depends on the directions of the supplement, but usually is around 1-3 scoops mixed with 6-12 ounces of water. Usually the supplement is taken 25-40 minutes before the workout. It’s a wide range because some powders are more… Potent than others, and require you to mix it with more or less water.
What Does it Do?
Since the components of that powder can vary, so can the benefits. Generally though, Pre-workouts are meant to increase your energy, concentration and focus, while reducing tiredness (fatigue).
Pre-workouts do NOT usually increase muscle power, endurance, or strength. You may feel like you’re king of the world, but biologically, your strength and power don’t normally increase, just your mentality towards your workout!
Due to this mental boost, that increased motivation, it could increase your will to stick to a program, or ace your workout! Of course you may experience increased lean muscle mass and reduced fat mass eventually, but that is likely because you’re sticking to a program and working hard to earn it.
If a pre-workout supplement claims to do any of the above, it could very well have added ingredients that do support this (Like creatine, for possible increased power), but it could also be a big fat lie. There is very limited evidence supporting pre-workouts that increase power, endurance or strength.This limited evidence is found in intensive athletes and maximal power anaerobic exercise.
The problem is that these claims are usually supported hypothetically, based on the ingredients, not the full product. Also, everyone reacts to supplements like pre-workouts differently, and have different levels of training.
A good example of this is creatine (mentioned above) which is often promoted heavily for its ability to increase power output. Truthfully it only increases output when you’re training maximally for intense anaerobic (high power-short duration) exercises. Also, creative has no effect whatsoever on some people, because of their genetics or body composition.
Pre-workouts are also not really meant to fuel the workout. Considering they have between 5-10 calories per scoop (depending on the product), and calories are a measure of energy value, it’s quite obvious that isn’t the purpose.
Just for the sake of completing that thought and answering the question that follows, eating a small snack or meal that has minimal fat, moderate protein and moderate carbs (Simple or a mix of simple and complex) approximately 1.5-2 hours before your workout should provide enough fuel. Regarding what to eat, there are several nutrition articles that cover that.
Are Pre-Workout Supplements Safe?
Generally, yes. As long as you take it according to the directions. They are there for a reason, and so is the large paragraph under the section called “Warnings:” found on most pre-workout labels. Make sure you read it and if you need to, clear it with a healthcare professional.
The components of a pre-workout can vary, but might include things like caffeine, creatine, Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA’s) or a mix of some amino acids, different forms of sugars and nitrates… And a few vitamins and minerals.
It would take pages for me to go through the various brand and chemical names of ingredients found in different pre-workouts, and googling a chemical yourself may lead to a ton of added confusion or misdirection.
The biggest problem and potential risk of pre-workouts is the caffeine content! This is the cause of most of those warnings on the label. Most pre-workouts contain at minimum 200mg of caffeine per scoop, which is approximately 2 cups of coffee! --And many contain much more than that.
To counteract that and other possible risky content, make sure you consume enough water and you read the warnings. Consuming more pre-workout than is recommended is not only reckless, but also has very little added benefit.
If you’re looking at supplements, remember:
Pre-workout is a powder mixed with water taken before your workout.
Pre-workout can increase your energy, concentration and focus, while reducing tiredness (fatigue).
The better mentality may help you better stick to a workout program!
Any other claims should be investigated, but it could potentially increase endurance and power.
Make sure you stick to the directions and read the warnings to make sure you don’t put yourself at risk.
Get pumped up!
Kedia, A. William, et al. "Effects of a pre-workout supplement on lean mass, muscular performance, subjective workout experience and biomarkers of safety." Int J Med Sci 11.2 (2014): 116-26.
Joy, Jordan M., et al. "A multi-ingredient, pre-workout supplement is apparently safe in healthy males and females." Food & nutrition research 59 (2015).
Calcote, A. E., et al. "THE EFFECTS OF PRE-WORKOUT ON ANAEROBIC POWER OUTPUT AND BLOOD LACTATE LEVELS." International Journal of Exercise Science: Conference Proceedings. Vol. 11. No. 3. 2015.
Jagim, A. R., et al. "Effects of acute ingestion of a multi-ingredient pre-workout supplement on lower body power and anaerobic sprint performance."Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 12.Suppl 1 (2015): P49.
Outlaw, Jordan J., et al. "Acute effects of a commercially-available pre-workout supplement on markers of training: a double-blind study." J Int Soc Sports Nutr 11 (2014): 40.