A quality pre workout supplement can potentially enable better performance during exercise, especially if your workout entails endurance, high-intensity or strength training.
No one approaches every workout feeling well-rested and able to take on the world. Sometimes we need a boost. The pre workout is intended to provide that boost. Pre workout supplements leverage a variety of ingredients known or believed to enhance physical performance.
But are pre workouts necessary or simply a workout fad harboring a dark secret? In other words, is a pre workout bad for you? Below we’re going to take a close look at pre workout supplements and provide an answer to that question.
- Pre workouts provide an energy boost that can enhance workout effectiveness.
- Pre workouts contain vitamins and amino acids that power muscle recovery and growth.
- Pre workout supplements are considered safe for average healthy adults.
Why the Sudden Popularity of Pre Workout Supplements?
Pre workout supplements have been steadily gaining in popularity over the past few years. And the reason for this is pretty simple: pre workouts promise to enable better performance in the gym. Better performance equals a higher degree of fitness and overall health (at least in theory) and in our post-pandemic world better health is something lots of people are interested in.
But do pre workouts deliver on their promise or are they just a dangerous tease? To find out, let’s start by looking at what’s in them.
Pre Workout Ingredients
Pre workouts promise to enhance physical performance enabling the user to achieve breakthroughs in their workouts that may otherwise elude them. To achieve these breakthroughs most pre workout supplements lean heavily on caffeine along with a slew of other energy-enhancing and muscle-building ingredients, including but not limited to:
Creatine and beta alanine: Creatine and beta alanine are amino acids that play a central role in energy production and muscle mass. Creatine by itself is an extremely popular supplement among bodybuilders as it has been shown to amplify the effects of resistance training (1).
BCAAs: BCAA stands for Branch Chain Amino Acids. These compounds are essential to muscle growth and countless people swear by them. However, the scientific literature regarding the efficacy of BCAA supplements is inconclusive at best (2).
L-Glutamine: Glutamine (3) is the most common amino acid in the human body and acts as a building block for proteins, which in turn are the building blocks of muscle. L-glutamine plays a key role in repairing muscles damaged during an intense workout. So after the caffeine enables you to push the workout envelope the glutamine should help speed your recovery.
Taurine: Taurine is another common ingredient in pre workout supplements. Taurine is a sulfonic acid found in animal meat that is known to help the body metabolize fats while reducing oxidative stress (4).
B-vitamins: B-vitamins are included in many pre workout supplements because of their role in boosting energy production and muscular efficiency. They also play an important role in boosting metabolism in the long-term, regulating cholesterol production and staving off anemia (5) by increasing red blood cell counts.
Nitric-Oxide boosters: These include arginine and citrulline which have been shown to improve blood flow thereby increasing the delivery of nutrients to the muscles and helping to ward off muscle soreness that often follows a strenuous workout (6).
Is Pre Workout Bad for Your Heart?
It depends largely on your own health when you start taking it. The FDA does not regulate supplements, other than to ensure they do not contain any illegal substances. Therefore, manufacturers are free to ramp up the amount of whatever ingredient they see fit.
In most cases that means increasing the amount of caffeine in an effort to back up marketing claims that their pre workout supplement is particularly potent. There are numerous pre workout supplements currently on the market that deliver up to 200mg of caffeine per dose.
While that is a pretty hefty amount, studies indicate that an average healthy adult can tolerate up to 400mg of caffeine per day without any adverse health effects, including adverse cardiovascular effects (7).
That said, pregnant women and people with pre-existing conditions such as high blood pressure, cardiac arrhythmia and coronary artery disease should consult their doctor before using a pre workout.
Can You Take Pre Workout Everyday?
There is no reason why a healthy adult should not be able to take a pre workout every day (as long as they confine themselves to the recommended dosage). Just make sure you take it as directed 30 minutes to an hour prior to the start of your workout. That said, if you are particularly sensitive to caffeine you might want to talk to your doctor before incorporating pre workout supplements into your exercise routine.
Benefits of Pre Workouts
When taken as directed most healthy people can expect to enjoy some or all of the following benefits from pre workout supplements:
Increased energy levels: Pre workouts boost energy levels through the presence of caffeine, creatine and beta alanine. If you want to optimize the effects of the caffeine in your pre workout remember to take it 30 minutes to an hour before exercising.
Mind/body harmony: Athletes live to get in the zone, that place where their body and mind are working in effortless harmony. The best pre workout supplements will provide the energy boost necessary to reach the zone quicker than you otherwise might.
Fat Loss: The more effective your workout the more effective your fat burning efforts will be. By powering your high-intensity exercise routine a pre workout may help you burn off unwanted fat at an accelerated rate (8).
Faster recovery: Intense workouts can create pronounced muscle soreness for days afterward. While this is normal (9) it can discourage a person from returning to the gym. An effective pre workout with L-glutamine can help your muscles recover faster and more effectively.
Potential Pre Workouts Side Effects
Because pre workout supplements are a fairly new product and do not contain regulated substances they have not been the subject of any dedicated health studies. Therefore, when it comes to potential side effects, we must rely largely on reports from people who have actually used the product. Besides insomnia and jitters from the caffeine some users have reported the following side effects:
Tingling in the hands and feet: This is believed to be the result of the amino acid beta alanine, which can be found in numerous pre workout brands. The tingling, or paresthesia (10), is typically harmless when associated with pre workouts, but some may find it distressing.
Water retention: Creatine is another common ingredient in pre workouts as it is known to help build muscle mass. However, part of that mass is likely to be the result of increased water retention (11).
Digestive issues: Creatine and caffeine are known to cause upset stomachs in many people. Magnesium, on the other hand, has been shown to have a laxative effect (12), meaning regular use of a pre workout that contains magnesium (not all do) may lead to diarrhea.
Headaches: The amino acid citrulline is added to some pre workouts to improve blood flow which is important for an effective workout. However, that increased blood flow is not confined to the muscles. It may also affect the brain causing headaches.
There is ample scientific proof that at least some of the ingredients found in pre workout supplements are capable of providing benefits such as improved energy levels and endurance, reduced post-workout soreness and increased muscle mass (13). That is, of course, as long as you are willing to do the heavy lifting (literally).
Caffeine, besides providing more energy, is also capable of enhancing a person’s concentration and focus. While reduced oxidative stress from ingredients such as taurine is likely to be beneficial to the skin.
On the other hand, some users have complained that pre workouts produce side effects including headaches, insomnia, jitters, diarrhea and tingling of the hands and feet (paresthesia). Though it should be noted that most people experience no negative side effects when using pre workouts as directed.
So is a pre workout bad for you? As long as you take the pre workout supplement as directed, avoid potentially dangerous fads like “dry scooping” and do not have any pre-existing conditions such as high blood pressure or heart disease, pre workouts are considered safe and effective.